Deb Never isn’t here to conform

With an unapologetic embrace of her individuality – and her new EP ‘Thank You For Attending’ – Deb Never is taking centre stage. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit The Cut.

Words: Ali Shutler.

“I’ve always had this world that I wanted to create with my debut album,” explains Deb Never. “I know what I want to talk about, I know what I want to do, and hopefully, it’ll take everyone by surprise.”

Before that, though, she’s got a couple more tricks up her sleeve. Her ‘Thank You For Attending’ EP is out now, following on from the release of lead single ‘Momentary Sweetheart’ back in February. “It’s a more evolved version of the past projects but also a step into the album where I can show off another side of me,” she explains.

Deb describes her string of previous releases – 2019’s breakout EP ‘House On Wheels’, introspective lockdown record ‘Intermission’ and 2021’s brilliant ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ as “appetisers” for what’s to come next. “I didn’t just want to show off all my cards at once,” she reasons.

And the original plan was to follow ‘Flowers’ with an album. However, after a period of change, Deb felt like there would be “a chunk of music missing” if she ploughed ahead with a full-length. “It didn’t feel fair to the fans. I want everyone to grow with me as I’m experimenting in real-time.”

The bulk of ‘Thank You For Attending’ was written over the course of one week last summer, and you can hear that in the urgent, boundless music. “It feels good to release it now it’s getting warmer,” she says, apologising for a nearby lawnmower.

“The sun’s coming out, which makes you want to lay in the park or go out and have a good time with your friends.”

As we’ve come to expect from Deb, the six tracks pull from all over. Familiar nods to emo, R&B and hyperpop are given a reworking while there’s a new focus on “organic instruments”. That came about after Deb went back and listened to nostalgic acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and The Strokes. “I wasn’t listening to it for research. I just got overstimulated, so listening to something familiar was a comfort thing.” Songs also take heavy influence from The Prodigy and 90s UK garage and jungle.

Lyrically as well, ‘Thank You For Attending’ blends the known with the unknown. Rather than introspective angst, this record reflects the “love life stuff” Deb was experiencing at the time. It tells a complete story from “that feeling of butterflies when you first meet somebody new, and it’s nothing but fun and rainbows because you’re happy and comfortable” to the inevitable downfall when you “realise it was just a fling. Then you have the whole crisis of the breakup and what comes next,” she says with a grin. Still, there’s a sense of joy across the EP that’s impossible not to get caught up in. “I didn’t want to write more songs about feeling sorry for myself.”

“There’s an ongoing joke between my friends and I that no matter how hard I try to make a happy song, it always just ends up sounding sad,” says Deb, who eventually learnt to stop overthinking things. “There were definitely moments last summer where I was really happy and wanted to make music about that. I focused more on off-the-cuff honesty. It’s more important for the songs to have personality than be perfectly constructed,” she reasons. “You still have to care about what you’re saying and what you’re writing, but I’m trying to have more fun with it now.”

‘Mania & Bliss’ was one of those tracks written in the moment. “I was just on a high, in a ‘fuck it’ mood and wanted to experiment with different types of music. It feels like the soundtrack to an indie, coming-of-age movie,” she says. “It’s one of my favourite records because it was just very freeing. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into it, and it’s just fun.” She’s already excited about playing it live.

“I don’t want to conform to what you think I am”

Deb Never

The lush ‘Paper House’ is another she’s excited to show off. “I feel proud about that one,” says Deb. The track initially sounded completely different, with a load more production thrown on, but in the end, Deb approached it like a ballad. “It’s stripped back and bare. Good songwriting doesn’t need a lot of fluff.”

Throughout the interview and across ‘Thank You For Attending’, there are glimpses of Deb’s newfound confidence. “I’m more comfortable with what I make. I’m less focused on what other people will think,” she says at one point. “There’s a part of me that was always so scared about being misunderstood that I would constantly try and explain myself and my music. With this EP, though, I don’t want to even suggest what someone should take from it,” she reasons later.

“This EP is me saying, ‘I know who I am’. I don’t know if it’s more confidence or less giving a fuck,” she offers. “Maybe it’s both.”

Deb Never started releasing music in 2018 after some friendly encouragement from her friends. Pretty quickly, she’d appeared on tracks by Brockhampton, Lava La Rue and Biig Piig and opened for the likes of The 1975, Omar Apollo and Mura Masa.

That success “does change your perspective,” admits Deb. As soon as a song or a project does well, there’s pressure to follow it up. “You’re constantly asking yourself, ‘do I make something similar, or continue down the path?’ But instinctually, I think you always know [if a song feels right]. As much as it is for other people, you have to be honest with yourself first, and I need to make what I need to make.”

Despite all this self-assurance, Deb still wrestles with imposter syndrome. She’s not sure it’ll ever go away, either. “I’m always going to want to prove myself – whether that’s to the world or to myself.” She isn’t sure if it’s a blessing or a curse but is constantly striving “to be better’.

Her ambitions are the same as they always were, though – “make good music, inspire others, create a world and a community around my music.”

Deb Never is part of a wave of exciting new artists creating music outside of traditional genre lines. “There’s something fun about people not being able to guess what’s coming next beyond it being cohesive,” grins Deb, who’s been called everything from emo-rap to bubblegrunge via bedroom pop. “Like a lot of my peers, you really can’t put me in a box, and that’s something I love,” she continues. “I don’t want to conform to what you think I am.”

“In 50 years, people will look back at this moment in time and see something important was happening. It feels like a movement,” she continues, listing peers like Dominic Fike, Clairo, Omar Apollo and acknowledging there are so many others as well.

“I like to challenge myself and do things that I haven’t done before,” she says of her approach to music. “Keeping people on their toes keeps me on my toes. It just makes the whole thing more exciting, doesn’t it?” We’re not going to argue with that.
Unlike a lot of new artists, though, there’s an air of mystery around Deb Never. She hasn’t revealed her age, no one knows her last name, and we’re pretty sure she’s never shared a picture of her lunch on socials.

“It’s so funny being called mysterious because I’m not trying to be. I just feel like we live in a place where everything is online. Everyone’s business is online, and I don’t feel like I need to explain myself beyond my music, really.”

Still, Deb has spoken about the struggles she faced getting into the music industry. As she previously told Dazed, “being Asian, growing up poor with an immigrant mom, being a girl, being gay… there are so many different things that work against me.”

“It’s important to talk about because it’s representation,” Debs explains today. “Growing up, I never saw musicians that look like me make music like me – whether that’s because of my race or because of my sexual orientation,” she explains. “There’s a lot of factors that worked against me, and I never realised how that affected me until recently.”

“Now, though, I’m seeing so many other artists, so many women, and so many of my peers who are just killing it. It makes me emotional, but it also makes me feel powerful.”

She admits she still gets “so surprised” that people are resonating with her music. “That’s not from a lack of belief in myself either, but because that means there are a lot more people like me in the world. It goes back to growing up feeling isolated and not feeling represented. I still carry that with me. “

It’s not something that she’s talked about with her music just yet, but it’s something that she’s been exploring recently as she looks to that debut. “I feel like I do have a lot to say; I just want it to be presented the right way.”

Deb might not want to tell people what meaning they take from each song, but this project, she explains, is all about “that sense of empowerment.” ■

Deb Never’s new EP ‘THANK YOU FOR ATTENDING’ is out now. Get tickets here. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.