Singer Dana Vaughns Candidly Speaks Life After Boy Group IM5, Remaining Authentic, and His Debut EP, Familiar Strangers
If you’re a stranger to Dana Vaughns‘ music, with a voice like his, it won’t be long before you become familiar.
The Pennsylvania native has been singing, acting, and dancing his way into our hearts and homes for almost a decade or longer. Now, at age 21, Vaughns only keeps getting better as the years go by.
But… just how did he grow into the triple-threat that he is today?
Since childhood, Vaughns has found solace in the stage. Whether he was making moves in front of major audiences or compellingly caught on big-screen cameras, this R&B/Pop superstar was destined to be in the spotlight.
From the 2009 Hannah Montana movie all the way to Kidz Bop, by the time Vaughns reached adolescence, he’d already made a name for himself in showbiz. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that it was known globally.
His TV and commercial appearances soon catapulted him and his talents to the front of media-raved boy band IM5. It was there that Vaughns’ career took off and elevated to new levels. Crowds of chanting supporters, worldwide acclaim, sold-out performances–the guys were on top of the world.
But, after a successful run and quite a few group changes, unfortunately, the members decided to go their separate ways. Still, Vaughns’ dreams of entertaining never dwindled or died.
In 2017, he went on to drop his first solo single, “Feelings,” which, to date, has surpassed 1.5 million streams. “Feelings” not only put Vaughns on the map again but it officially stamped his own footprints in the music game, individually.
Since then, Vaughns hasn’t taken any breaks. He followed up with songs like “Underneath,” and “DNA,” among others, along with a whole new EP, titled, Familiar Strangers.
The six-track project, which made its debut last year, is memorabilia of love, life, and the lessons that bridge the two together. As passion oozes throughout each and every note, Vaughns gives the fans a personal look inside of his thoughts and emotions.
Without a doubt, Familiar Strangers is the perfect blend of soul-moving lyrics riding over sweet melodies. The talked-about EP features previously-released tracks, “Sweet Tea,” “Rough Rider,” and “Lovey Dovey.”
Aside from music, he’s also been expanding his craft in Hollywood, as he was just recently seen in BET’s American Soul.
“People can expect twenty-five minutes of genuine emotion,” Vaughns said in a press release. “Life is filled with so many filters and a society that takes more pride in what it looks like than what it is. So, it’s only fair to keep it one hundred with my fans!”
It’s safe to say, Dana Vaughns is living life with no filter, and we’re glad to be the ones to witness it all.
Check out our latest interview with DV, as we talked about all things artistry, authenticity, and more!
Parlé Mag: You were formerly a part of popular boy band IM5. However, though you saw a great deal of mainstream success with the group, your career goes a little further back. So, tell us, how did you get into the entertainment business?
Dana Vaughns: It was back in about 2007. There’s a dance convention called Monsters of Hip Hop, where top industry professionals come together for about twenty weekends out of the year… all over the country. I was living in South Carolina at the time. Jamal Sims, who’s done choreography for the Step Up movies, Footloose–anything you could really think of–saw me before I was even looking to turn this into a career or anything like that. I left [the convention] that weekend, and he talked to the owner of the event, like, “Hey! Could you find that curly-haired kid for me?” They called me two days after I left. My mom was like, “What?!”
Parlé Mag: Oh, wow!
Dana Vaughns: The owner was like, “I know this might sound random, but Jamal Sims from Monsters of Hip Hop is calling to put Dana in the Hannah Montana movie.” That was my first real job in the industry. I didn’t even audition for it. Just being able to go to Tennessee, meet Miley [Cyrus], and work with all of those people on such a big set, it was a blessing. From there, I wasn’t trying to do anything less. You have those people who you thank when you’re coming up; Jamal Sims is definitely one of those people I can say, “Thank you for giving me my first opportunity!”
Parlé Mag: You sing, you dance, you act–you literally do it all! Was being a performer something you always knew you’d be doing? On this level?
Dana Vaughns: I think I knew that I was always going to be performing. I feel like, for me, [reaching] people is my number-one thing. God blessed me with the talent to get to most people because everybody listens to music. So, I just try to keep my ears and eyes open for what’s next. Even when I was a dancer, I never put a cap [off] on myself, like, “Oh, I just want to dance on tour with somebody.” I was very young, so I feel like that would’ve been silly to make that the number-one goal just because that was possible. So, yeah, I knew I would always be in some type of limelight, but not in which area. But, I’m humble about it, and I know I need to be for what I’m out there trying to promote, which is a good lifestyle and all that type of stuff. I don’t want this because I just want it, you know? It’s for the people.
Parlé Mag: Growing up, who were some of your biggest musical inspirations?
Dana Vaughns: I would have to say, Jill Scott. She’s my favorite artist of all time!
Parlé Mag: Jill is awesome.
Dana Vaughns: She’s my favorite writer. She’s definitely my biggest musical influence, for sure. I get inspired by Usher a lot as well. I love the way his career has gone; we can all learn a lot from it–and musically, too. As far as more recently, I’m not huge on recent artists and things like that, but Frank Ocean is an artist I really like as well. I like artists who, especially on the R&B side of things, aren’t scared to do almost-left-field R&B that still gets the same message across but takes a different approach to the production, the way things are brought out. So, I look at [Jill, Usher, and Frank]. If I’m running out of any fresh ideas, I just say, “What did they do at this part in their career?” Then, I’m like, “Oooh, okay! Got it.” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Dana Vaughns: Those three are kind of like my guidelines right there.
Parlé Mag: Being that you were so young when you entered the industry, would you say you missed out on a lot as a child? Talk to us about some of the downsides of being a kid star.
Dana Vaughns: Yeah! Out in L.A., you only see an upside [to the industry]. I was just having this conversation a couple of days ago with some friends. I missed out on the real high school type of thing. I’ve never been to a high school football game, and I’ve never gone to a real prom.
Parlé Mag: Really?
Dana Vaughns: Nope, I haven’t! So, just certain things like that, that are a part of everybody’s story growing up, that makes them who they are, I didn’t get to experience any of it. But, I think, for me, I’ve equally had just as many of those moments… in a different way. I don’t think it would’ve been productive for me to be in a normal high school, to be quite honest. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: May I ask why? [laughs]
Dana Vaughns: [laughs] I just feel like with how I am–people who know me can tell you–and how I thrive, I would’ve run that school!
Parlé Mag: I see!
Dana Vaughns: I didn’t need to be around that school. I would’ve probably had a bunch of little girlfriends! [laughs] So, I didn’t need the high school life. I think it was more productive for me to just be working.
Parlé Mag: Right! You didn’t need that distraction. [laughs]
Dana Vaughns: Exactly! So, there are some downsides that come with this lifestyle, but from the big picture, what I did make more sense.
Parlé Mag: In 2012, you joined IM5, around the age of 14. Looking back on your run with the guys, what did you take away from that experience?
Dana Vaughns: First off, more than anything, I took away some great fans. That was something really big for us. IM5 came out at the perfect time when the internet was a tool for artists, but it wasn’t the only avenue. We hit the timing pretty well. You had One Direction, but anybody lower or smaller than them didn’t have as great of a social gain as we did. You know, being really close with our fans, always doing live streams. I understood how to navigate through it. I’m not saying that it was forced; I don’t try to be forceful on my page. I think people would be able to tell. I post what I want to post, and I post what I need to post. I just think IM5 showed that you could have a good relationship with your fans, and you should because they are truly the ones who are keeping you going!
Parlé Mag: Definitely.
Dana Vaughns: A lot of artists say that, and they know that, but they don’t push into it like that. However, I do feel that there’s a line between the artist, influencer, or whatever, and a supporter. There is a certain line that more artists need to be more careful of, just for their own safety and mental! [laughs] There’s something about being too exposed, too yourself, even. It’s unfortunate, but I see a lot of YouTubers, and over the last five years, they’ve changed. They’re not as exciting, not as existent. Any genuine moment they have, they’re like, “Oh, well, let’s sell it!” It sort of sucks the life out of life when you’re always thinking about posting or something!
Parlé Mag: I agree! You still need to keep that level of privacy, so I understand.
Dana Vaughns: Right.
Parlé Mag: Do you have any regrets when it comes to the way that things ended with the group?
Dana Vaughns: I don’t have any major regrets. I don’t like to leave situations unsettled, and I don’t like to do anything quick and irrational. I was the one who suggested that we do something [to let the fans know what was going on with us]. Like, “Even if we’re down to three members, let’s do a video for the fans or do something to make them aware of the group being no longer, besides just a long message or stopping this and doing that.” After they’ve been with us for four or five years, [we had] to give them something. It’s like your parents are getting a divorce. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Yes!
Dana Vaughns: You’d want to hear that out of your parents’ mouths. You don’t want to go check on Facebook and see their status has changed. You know what I’m saying? So, that would be the one thing that I would change [about the way things ended with the group]. It wasn’t agreed on by everybody, so I actually went back–I was like fifteen or sixteen at this point–and put up a video on my YouTube. It was like twenty minutes, and I was just sitting there talking to the fans, telling them I appreciate them and letting them know where I was going and all that type of stuff. That’s just how I work. I wanted to, at least, get my message across. It wasn’t even for me; it was more so looking out for the fans, trying to love up on them as much as they loved up on us.
Parlé Mag: I can really tell that you care about your fans! You don’t find that often, so I definitely respect that.
Dana Vaughns: Always!
Parlé Mag: It’s been a few years since the breakup. Your first individual release, “Feelings,” solidified you as a soloist. From there, things really started to take off for you. Did you expect things to happen so suddenly?
Dana Vaughns: I didn’t really have any expectations. I was just at a point where I was like, “Okay, I’ve been out of the scene for basically a year now. I’ve been making my own music, and I’ve got a little bit of my team together, just through the couple of songs that I have.” I wasn’t shopping around, but I wasn’t shy about seeing if it landed in the right spot. When I dropped “Feelings,” it was incredible. I [played] the piano and wrote it all on that same day that I thought about the idea. It all got done really quickly, and it was just something special about it. It’s a multigenerational song. You can be seventy and like it. [laughs] It’s a great song that can play at any moment, but especially in moments of love. It was the first song I put out with no playlisting, no actual curated support, but it still gets a lot more streams daily, which is crazy to me! I’ve put out lots of other songs and had lots of playlisting and things like that, and it still has held itself up! That’s a testament for me to continue making the genuine music that I do because that’s clearly what connects the most.
Parlé Mag: Fans have seen you grow from a boy to a man over the years. I’m a strong believer in the saying, “You grow as you go.” So, now that you’ve gone from one phase of your life to the next, how would you describe your growth? Personally and creatively?
Dana Vaughns: Good question! Well, I can give a lot of credit to my parents for raising me right because I definitely am growing into myself as an adult. But, a lot of the ways that I feel and act, the things that I do have been in my normal for a while. Especially since coming out here at ten years old and really having to grow up, understand contracts, know like, “Okay, my mom’s not here, so I’m not supposed to be doing that,” or “We’ve been working for an hour; I need a break.” I had to know my stuff, but I still think I’ve grown a lot more. Capitalizing on relationships is a good thing that I’ve been doing more of. I’ve always done well at keeping my circle small, but what I’ve done a better job at recently is being around people who–if I want to create or I want to produce right now, get something productive out of us putting this dance together or doing this–I know I’m in a safe spot around. Something else I’ve done a little bit better at is choosing my time and who I’m spending my time with wisely, especially as a creative.
If you are one, you hear this and you understand what it is and what it feels like to be around other people, so you want that always. A lot of us creatives don’t like to be by ourselves, but we can’t jeopardize the quality of our work and things like that for friends. Creatively, I feel like I’m getting better every day and I’ve only embarked on what I’m possible of. I’ve only been writing for like three years now, producing for just under two years. They say you need about ten thousand hours to be a pro; I have five probably passing me up. [laughs] Also, on the creating side, like doing everything behind the scenes, that’s still fairly new, but I’m on the right track.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of growth, your debut EP, Familiar Strangers, shows a lot of that. What inspired the title and the concept?
Dana Vaughns: It was really my whole life that inspired it. The word ‘familiar’ was used because the work in itself is something that you recognize. The words contrast each other because when you’re a ‘stranger’ they’re probably not familiar to you. [laughs] That makes sense if you look at it, listen to the songs and know where I’m coming from with it. It’s basically like a montage of all of these first time love experiences with somebody. That may be as simple as having a nice conversation… with a stranger. Whatever it may be, it’s all new, but the familiar part is the love that’s behind it, or that you’ve been in this scenario, or it feels so good–it feels so right. Kind of like, I’ve been here before; it’s just too good. That was the familiar part. When you listen to the six songs, you really get a sense of that. None of the songs are too forward, but they’re confident. I think that if you can listen to that and hear through it, it’ll paint an even better picture than it already does.
Parlé Mag: What’s your favorite track on the entire project? And why?
Dana Vaughns: That’s so hard! [laughs] Man, it’s so difficult. Ahhh, I really like “Nervous” off my EP. Mainly because it was the last song that I added. It was created from ground-up, from being a brand new idea to recording it. It took about a month, but in this process, that’s really not that long. When I was finishing my EP, I was thinking I was [almost] done but then I came up with this one, and I was like, “I’ve got to put this one on there!” It was fun for me to make. I created the track with my boy Max, and it was an effortless process. It was a different approach for me. I feel like fans have heard this type of content from me, but not like this. So, I just wanted to give them something a little more strong. [laughs] It’s a very strong record and it’s kind of a throwback as well.
Parlé Mag: This body of work definitely shows a more sensual, mature side of Dana Vaughns. So, I’m sure the ladies would like to know, were those songs written for a special someone?
Dana Vaughns: [laughs] These songs were definitely inspired by a certain someone. I’m still very young, in my life and in my relationships, and I’m not the biggest emoter. So, I don’t go through something that day and I’m like, “Ah! Let me write.” I’ll get around to it; I’ll kind of put it in my back pocket like, “Alright. Maybe I’ll write about this one day.”
Parlé Mag: So, you don’t show a lot of emotion?
Dana Vaughns: I don’t like to respond on emotion or respond too quickly. I don’t think I could write the best story about a scenario until I get through it, then I could look at the whole thing like, “Okay, what did I know before it?” or “What was it like going through it?” Now, “What I do know after it?”
Parlé Mag: A lot of times, when members of a group go solo, they don’t get as much support as they did as a collective. Why do you think that is? And how have you managed to still keep your core audience, even after reinventing yourself?
Dana Vaughns: I think we can all think of something in our lives that is like that. It’s like when you buy something, or you get something, in its full form, and then, over time, it’s just not what you saw. It’s not what you wanted at first. Say if you went to a car dealership; you saw the car and you were like, “I’m going to come back tomorrow, and I’m going to get it!” You come back and one of the doors is missing. [You’re going to be like] “This is not what I paid for! This is not what I came for! I mean, I like it, cool. I can think about what the car looked like before, but it ain’t the car right now!” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Exactly!
Dana Vaughns: So, that’s how fans feel when groups split. They’re like, “It’s still great, still drives. I still love all of the parts and the engineering, but at the end of the day, I like how the car looked.” For me, I didn’t rush anything. I really took time; I was out of the industry for nine months [after the group broke up]. Just to give myself some time. I was eighteen and had been blessed up to that point. I was just trying to get my life on track for the next chapter. I stayed genuine. I didn’t put out any music based on a certain demographic. I’ve been very transparent and consistent, and my fans have seen that. I want to give a shout out to Will Jay, who was also a member of IM5. He’s doing a great job–maybe even a better job than I am–at still doing that and keeping up with the fans. We still have thousands and thousands of supporters who came from being in that group. You have to show yourself; you can’t hide behind smoking mirrors, especially when coming out of a group because they’re just looking for clarity.
Parlé Mag: Piggybacking off of that question, what would you say are the upsides to being solo as opposed to being in a group?
Dana Vaughns: I didn’t even know the upsides until I became solo. Well, that makes sense, clearly. [laughs] But, what I’m trying to say is, I didn’t know that I was going to have this many upsides [as a soloist] because I wasn’t creating as much, and I wasn’t writing as much. The fact that I have enough knowledge and enough skill now to get out the ideas the way that I want to get them out, that’s probably the biggest upside. More than that, to a certain level, when you’re in a group, even if they say it’s not, it’s always, “Okay, everybody [needs to] be on the same level and be on the same playing field.” That’s what you should do in a group, but I definitely had those moments where–I’m sure we’ve all had those moments–I was almost held back in a way. Like, “Nah, we can’t do that.” For me, I’m just at a point where I’m not trying to hide any of my talents; I’m trying to show them all. So, the fact that I’m able to do that and not have to worry about outshining somebody or this or that, it’s great.
Parlé Mag: Well, you definitely showed that on Familiar Strangers. I listened to the project and I absolutely loved your song, “Sweet Tea.” So, great job!
Dana Vaughns: Thank you! That’s my second favorite. [laughs] It’s so hard to pick!
Parlé Mag: Yes! All of them are great, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would definitely be “Sweet Tea!”
Dana Vaughns: I appreciate that so much!
Parlé Mag: No problem! So, what do you want people to know about Dana Vaughns and his artistry that they may have not known before?
Dana Vaughns: I want people to know that they are truly getting the truest version of me. Beyond what you believe or how you get to God, they’ll just know that that’s where I’m coming from. There are so many artists nowadays–R.I.P. to some of them–who get so lost. To a degree, they have been caught in the same cycle that has a lot of these young kids–high school kids, middle school kids–in the same issues. They don’t know how to express it or cope with it besides speaking their truth, but I want them to know that I’m a responsible artist, in a sense that I don’t have to promote or sell everything I’ve been going through. I’m going to always try to put a positive feeling out there. I don’t ever want anybody to feel bad for me or nothing like that. So, I think they should know that my music really is genuine and the music for them is just as fun for me because I don’t even know what I’m going to create when I go to create. I hope they can just know they’re getting something fresh, a lot of hard work has been put into it, and they should keep coming back for more! [laughs]
Parlé Mag: You recently finished up Jordyn Jones’ “Eyes On Me Tour.” Let us in on what’s in store for you in 2020.
Dana Vaughns: There is a lot in store for 2020! I feel like there’s so much that I can’t even put a finger on it. There are definitely going to be more live shows and music. I can’t say the exact dates or the specifics. I’m possibly working on some things with another artist, to do some shows on the west coast for a little bit. I have a Netflix show coming out sometime in the spring–
Parlé Mag: Congratulations!
Dana Vaughns: Thank you! It’s Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever. I’m on a few episodes of that. There’s a lot of things happening on the music side as well. I’ve been working with great producers, such as 1500 or Nothin’, as a writer and also just for myself. They’ve done projects with Ella Mai, Bruno Mars, Nipsey Hussle, and so many more. They’re some of the biggest producers out there. To be working with people like that, James Fauntleroy [and the whole team], I know there is more coming for me this year that’s even bigger than I’ve ever done before. So, you just have to stay tuned! A lot more content and just more consistency, honestly. I try not to calculate too much because that sort of takes the spark out of what I do. I just encourage everybody to jump on the ride of their lives, but at the same time, jump on the ride of my life because it’s kind of cool and we’re doing cool stuff over here. [laughs]
Catch up with Dana Vaughns on social media!
Readers Might Also Like: