Photo by: Mr. Wattson
24-year-old recording artist IAMDouglas seems to struggle finding the words to explain his story. He became frustrated while attempting to articulate his personal battles. Then he played this for me:
I’m diagnosed depression, paranoia for some bi-polar nights and
I have made some bad decisions
I used to be fearless
I don’t know when it happened.
“Like this is the truth,” he says. “This is honesty. Right?”
For 24-year-old IAMDouglas, music comes from feeling the urge to scream. The smoky-voiced recording artist distills those screams into brooding, tempo-driven hits that telepathize love and loss. But before we can understand that, we have to know this:
IAMDouglas’ parents separated during his formative years. The family relocated frequently, eventually landing in Pittsburgh during his adolescence. This had a profound impact on his mother, his older sister, and himself.
“I spent considerable time in solitude, navigating through [inner and outer] turmoil. This eventually drew me towards music as an outlet.”
Though music would eventually show up, IAMDouglas’ pursuit of solace first led him towards the clutches of addiction. Despite earning a baseball scholarship to Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh as a pitcher and first baseman, he often found himself staring at the bottom of a bottle. And before things got better, they predictably became worse. During his freshman year, a narrative reminiscent of the Delta Blues emerged – a woman, more alcohol, and subsequent anguish.
“[When] my first love ended, [it] triggered a downward spiral into [heavier] drinking,” IAD admits.
At merely 18, he withdrew from college, channeling the urge to scream into musical composition and performances within Pittsburgh’s South Side, where storefronts turned into moonlit stages.
IAMDouglas inspiration: a lyric from Fort Minor he first heard when he was six years old.
10% luck, 20% skill
15% concentrated power of will
5% pleasure, 50% pain
And 100% reason to remember the name.
Remember the Name
“I still listen to it,” he says.
As IAD amassed a local following in Pittsburgh, his music was eventually shared with Walt Cusick via radio executive Mike McVay. Walt Cusick, a veteran Producer-Manager of Atlanta’s Rock-2-Def Music initiated a connection with IAD once hearing the music he was sent. Coincidentally, Cusick had moved from Pittsburgh to Atlanta in 1993 so he understood what it was like transitioning from Pittsburgh to Atlanta in the music business. Cusick found himself playing IAD’s music in his car, drawn to the narratives of authentic pain woven through the lyrics. Thus, their interaction commenced, and despite IAD’s continuing struggles with drinking and depression, an inevitable turning point emerged.
Cusick slowly, over time, built a relationship. But because artists do what artists do, IAD, heavy into drinking, depression and pain that was “never stopping”, suddenly said he’d had enough..
“I was 21 and I was so lost and one day I was like ‘I’m done’. I can’t do this anymore, so I quit. And for the next year, I started building houses.” But managers do what managers do. IAD says, “I was like, ‘Why do you [Cusick] keep calling? I quit music. I’m like, bro, I’m building a deck right now’. He’s like, ‘Can you build my deck in Atlanta?’”
Enter Dallas Austin, a notable music producer-executive based in Atlanta, boasting an extensive roster of hits that encompasses collaborations with luminaries such as Michael Jackson, TLC, Madonna, George Michael, and Deion Sanders. He’s inundated with hopeful submissions daily from musicians vying for his attention, but when Atlanta DJ Castronovaa played an IAMDouglas track, Austin – with goosebumps dotting both arms – found himself struck.
Dallas was struck by IAD’s unusual approach to personal pain. “It didn’t sound like it was self-pity. The pain was more like ‘This is what I’m going through, this is what I am’. It wasn’t like rap music and it wasn’t like country music and it wasn’t like pop music. It is all the combinations of him, expressing himself for you.”
“Dallas never calls anybody,” says Cusick. “You have to find him. But that night he left four or five voicemails wanting to know ‘Who is this guy?’” Austin thought to himself, “Let’s do this. Let’s work on it. Let’s see what we can do.”
Austin explained his method to IAD, “To make sure I get the best out of you – I don’t do that with you being uncomfortable. I can get what I need out of you for your stuff to make you feel like ‘Damn, I’m happy the way that is’ without me attacking you and demeaning you in any way. The studio’s a place where you make mistakes, you know. Studio’s a place we get to know each other and get closer.”
Here’s how they work – they’ll talk, Austin will create a beat, they’ll talk some more, they get an idea. IAD will create the words. It’s totally improvisational. IAD doesn’t write anything down. The approach was just right for the vulnerable IAD who says, “He shows me respect. I learned from him so many different things. I would be doing him a disservice as a friend to call him a producer and I would be doing a disservice to him as a producer to just call him a friend of mine.”
“[IAMDouglas’ music] wasn’t steeped in self-pity,” Austin recalls. “Rather, the anguish came across as a statement of ‘this is my reality, this is me.’ It transcended genres – neither rap nor country nor pop. It’s a fusion of his essence, a raw expression for the audience.”
With ample encouragement, IAD transitioned from Pittsburgh’s South Side to the serene outskirts of Atlanta – an existence he laughingly dubbs “country life.”
“[Austin] treats me with respect. I’ve imbibed numerous lessons from him. To label him merely a producer would undersell our friendship, while to limit him to a friend would undermine his role as a producer.”
Now, diligently bettering himself and his music, IAMDouglas is on the precipice of releasing his new single, “Sex With Strangers.” The dark and undone story chronicles that not-so-long-ago relationship that sent his life into a spiral – both a blessing and a curse for the artist at large. The narrative initiates with an unexpected acoustic guitar that calms the nerves before the throbbing beat begins to mimic a racing heart, an all too-appropriate sonic sensation.
Then, with palpable pain in his voice, IAMDouglas begins to tell the story of a relationship wherein the allure of substances eclipsed affection. If you listen closely, you can almost hear soft screams – veiled suffering – emanating from his smooth, controlled vocals.
Fortunately, as IAMDouglas continues his journey upward and inward – away from the pain of his past and towards new experiences, but always remembering his origins – he harbors an ultimate goal:
“Somewhere out there, a youngster – perhaps in Idaho – is seated in his room as we converse. He might be at that juncture where he feels misunderstood. I’ve walked that path. My ambition is to achieve widespread recognition, so that this young soul realizes he’s not alone.”
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