American Idol finalist David Hernandez's new self-released Kingdom: The Mixtape shows a great maturity from 2011's I Am Who I Am. While it explores depression, substance abuse and frustrations with the music industry, Kingdom also celebrates recovery, individuality and above all, authenticity.
Windy City Times: It's been seven years since your first album. How have you seen yourself develop in that time, and how do you see that playing out in Kingdom?
David Hernandez: I've changed so much!
I've had a lot of experiences, I've matured, my writing [and] musical ear has gotten better. I love [I Am Who I Am], though. It's my baby but it was definitely more produced; I had less say in some of the writing.
I wasn't fully comfortable with myself … I had a lot of people telling me to not come out as gay, to always sing about girls. Music is such a reflection of an artist's soul, so if I'm not singing my truth, it's not really comfortable for me. I didn't know what I could say or couldn't say.
For Kingdom, all the f—king rules are out. I talk about sex in there, about heartbreak, about addiction. Kingdom is raw, it's honest, 100-percent me.
WCT: There's an authenticity to that.
DH: Oh, yeah. The first three tracksright away that's like heartbreak.com! And I wrote that about an ex who I was with for almost three years, and there wasn't a solid three days that we didn't go without arguing about something. … I was in a dark phase and taking a lot of Xanax and drinking a lot and my overall vision just became really blurred and I ended up staying in it for so long. It's crazy what you do to yourself.
WCT: "Yourself" seems to be a thematic crux, in terms of individuality and authenticity. A lot of that is directed toward your experience with the music industry, but how does being a gay musician play into this?
DH: What's funny about "Yourself" is I almost didn't put that on the album… [But] "Yourself" has been surprisingly one of people's favorite tracks. I've had people message me like, "Oh, my god. This song spoke to me in so many ways!"
It just resonates with people so well and I think just as a human we all feel like we're not good enough. … In the chorus where I say, "Say what you need/Set yourself free/Gotta be the one who makes you believe"You're the one that's going to believe in you the most out of anyone, so speak it out loud and support yourself.
I wish that I would have learned to love myself quicker, to get to the point that I'm at now … And at 23, 24, as a gay man you're suppressed. I was suppressed in my earlier years and I think there's still that little guy in there sometimes that's still like, "Oh, you just sounded really gay," and I'm still learning to fight that. Now I'm like, "Yeah queen!" I'm comfortable with saying these things now and it's been such a great evolution.
WCT: What advice would you give to people who are going through those issues right now?
DH: It sounds cliche, but find two or three people that love you for who you arejust surround yourself with them all the time. It's getting so much better growing up and having all these different pronouns and identifying as certain things that never were available when I was growing up.
It's gotten a lot easier, and authenticity is way more acceptable now. And from what I've learned, yeah, you listen to your mom and your dad and the people that are positive influences on you, but for the most part where I think I went wrong was I listened to what everybody would sayso many different opinions and it would just stifle me and I didn't know which direction to go … and I'd freak out and all my music would just sit there on my laptop.
But now that I'm in my thirties I'm like, "Screw this! Ain't nobody going to do this for me the way I'm going to do this, so let me just put it out there!" That's why I put out Kingdom and I think that's why it's gotten the response it's gottenit's so real, it's so raw; [with] the political climate, people just want something that's true.
Kingdom: The Mixtape is available at itunes.apple.com/us/album/kingdom-the-mixtape/1436902362 .