Out of This World: deegeecee finds relief on and off Earth on “Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon” album
deegeecee didn’t expect to find creative inspiration from a set of scientific encyclopedias.
The Ypsilanti hip-hop artist and writer read different volumes on his breaks while working as a substitute teacher at a middle school.
“From one of them, I learned the term ‘anthelion,’ which is similar to a sun dog,” said deegeecee, aka Daryhl Covington. “I looked it up later, and it had a cool picture that was associated with it … and I saw a sun dog.”
That fascination led deegeecee down a Reddit and Google rabbit hole where he learned more about the atmospheric phenomenon.
“It’s all the crazy stuff that happens in the world naturally … it felt cosmically humbling,” deegeecee said. “I was also reading a lot about spirituality and the guru movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s … it was like, ‘What if I could take that mystic feeling and put that in everyday words and stories that made sense?’”
Those words and stories resulted in deegeecee’s contemplative new album, Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon, which features 15 tracks about loss, self-doubt, growth, and change.
“It’s about dealing with loss, whether that’s the loss of a person or the loss of the past,” he said. “It’s [also] about my thoughts on life and the artistic process and coming to terms with the type of artist that I want to be and where that’s going to position me.”
On Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon, deegeecee positions himself in a mystical world filled with poetic lyrics, hypnotic beats, post-rock and film score samples, cosmic imagery, and manga references.
We recently spoke to deegeecee about his background, the creative process for his debut album, his appreciation for manga and Japanese culture, select album tracks and collaborators, and upcoming plans.
Q: How did you get involved in art, writing, and music while growing up in Ypsilanti?
A: I’ve always been interested in writing since childhood; I love to draw and I love to write. In elementary school, I would draw comics during class. I would pay attention … and once I understood what was going on, I would start drawing … and then my friends and I would draw together.
I wrote for class assignments, and the teachers would say that I was a good writer, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. When you’re that young, you’re not looking at anybody else’s writing either. It came naturally to me, and I assumed it came naturally to everybody.
I felt that way until late in my senior year in high school or early college—I wouldn’t admit to having the ability to write. Once I got into writing classes, and I had to translate my thoughts to writing, critique my writing, and critique other people’s writing, then it was like, “OK, this is what different ways of writing are [like].” That put everything into perspective.
Q: What writers and musicians inspired you along the way?
A: When I was a kid, I read a whole lot of manga. I would go to Borders every weekend … and sit there and read any manga I could for eight or nine hours; I’d go home and then repeat. That’s where the Japanese influence in my art comes from.
The first writer that consciously impacted me is Michael Kimball and he wrote this book called Dear Everybody. It’s this story of a weatherman who eventually [died by] suicide, and it’s like his entire life story, but told through newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, diary entries, and cool stuff like that.
It was the first time I had read some fiction that was like, “This is a very weird way to tell this story,” and I really liked it … and the way that [writers] went against what I was told in school. It opened the doors for me to how writing can be whatever you want. I don’t know if that idea was fully formed in my head then, but I think the seed was planted.
As for music, I’ve always been into Motown, Quiet Storm, and easy-listening music. Growing up, I used to listen to [Detroit’s WVMV-FM] 98.7 in the car, which was the smoothest jazz you could find. Those smooth sounds were at the core of everything. Sade is my favorite singer, and when I think of Quiet Storm, I think of Sade. “Smooth Operator” was one of my first favorite songs.
I also like neo-soul artists, like Maxwell, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu, because they take a spoken-word approach to hip-hop more with the aesthetics of everything. It feels like Black-music-meets-Black-poetry and everything is working symbiotically.
Q: How did a jam session with the Detroit artist collective don’t wait until tomorrow inspire you to start writing and recording Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon?
A: don’t wait until tomorrow is a whole bunch of people, and we started making music together. It’s one of my friends, Aaron, who makes music under the name Covier, and he knows a guy named CoffeeBlack, who produces and DJs, and another guy named Justin. They got together one day, jammed out, and made some music. Then Aaron invited me, and they invited a couple more people. At one point we had a full-on band; we had lyricists, singers, a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, a piano player, and engineers.
We came together weekly to jam and make music, and because we’ve been doing this for a year, we know each other a lot better. We make music on the side, we perform together, and some people have joined a band together. Being around that creative energy was cool and [it was good] to get out of the confines of making music in my bedroom. It was like, “Yo, I gotta get on my stuff, too, like steel sharpens steel. I gotta get my stuff ready … because I don’t wanna be the one dragging anybody down; I just wanna get better.”
The whole mantra of “don’t wait until tomorrow” is what the name started as … because I had been saying I was going to start working on an album for a minute after grad school. I just didn’t know what I wanted to write about and months had passed and I had rough ideas. Once I got together with all of them and saw their motivation, too, I was like, “OK, let’s do it.” I told myself I was going to lock myself in at the beginning of 2023 and just have an album done this year. It also was a big escape … and it was something that I could just focus the rest of my attention on. I felt creatively fulfilled and was able to get my emotions out.
Q: How long did you spend writing and recording the 15 tracks for Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon?
A: I wrote “Weekends on the Moon” last September, but I didn’t do anything with it; it was just a rough demo. Then, I wrote “Patterns (Genesis)” and then I wrote “Sundogs.” Those three helped frame the rest and what I wanted the album to sound like. I spent two to three months getting everything down onto demos … all the way up until June was me trying to be a perfectionist about it and tweaking lyrics and recording files. I tried to be natural and not too obsessive about the recording process, but I was also trying to get everything to sound exactly how I wanted it to.
Q: Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon is divided into two “discs,” and has the feel of a double album. How does one “disc” connect to the next? What do you hope listeners take away from this double-album experience?
A: That was the original idea for the album and technically still is. The only reason it has all the songs straight through is because I couldn’t do anything else with the distributor.
Tracks one through seven are me getting into my head. When I was making this album, I was working as a preschool teacher, and the class that I was in was chaotic. I loved it; it was a lot. When I would go home … my [late] dog had dementia, and he was gradually barking more and more for no reason. It felt like my life was very loud and chaotic, and I tried to deal with loss, change, and everything all at the same time. It was like, “My dog is no longer my dog anymore.”
For me, disc one is Sundogs, and it’s like, “You need to get out of your head, go somewhere else, and reevaluate everything from an external perspective.” That’s where it’s like being on the moon and reflecting on and establishing what I think, who I am, the music that I’ve made, the things that I’ve written, the people I’ve met, and the people I’ve lost over the years.
Disc two is Weekends on the Moon, and it’s like me coming down and … and it’s me moving forward. On “Solanin,” I say, “Everything before was another man’s path, and everything after is me walking away.” I’m thinking, “This time, from the very beginning, I’m coming in making music, making art, and trying to do my own thing and feeling like it’s a beautiful realization.” The second disc has a warmer sound to it. Disc one ends with me going through a wormhole, and I come out, it’s really cold, and I’m walking through the snow, but progressively it just warms up more and more. That’s what I was trying to go for when I made it.
Q: A few tracks from Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon—“Drum Loop,” “Solanin,” and “Disciple of Kenshin”—reference manga titles and characters as well as other aspects of Japanese culture. How have these writings, characters, and cultural aspects inspired you as an artist?
A: There’s been a huge influx in the popularity of manga and anime, especially since I was a kid. I want to show the world how manga has influenced me, what manga I read, and what specific aspects of Japanese culture have influenced me. I want to take it a little bit deeper just to show that I do have this appreciation. Over time, it’s influenced the aesthetic of a lot of the music that I like and the way that I’ve used sounds, too.
Q: The album’s opening track, “Weekends on the Moon,” includes nature imagery, celestial references, and conversation samples of astronauts talking in space. How did reading and hearing about trips to the moon inspire this track and help set the tone for the album?
A: There’s a poem from Langston Hughes, and there’s a line where he talks about how his soul runs deep like the river. I thought that was a cool way to describe somebody who thinks like a writer and has these really deep thoughts. I don’t feel deep in the way Langston Hughes was ... I have a very different kind of writing style.
[The song starts with the lyric,] “I was born by the river on the dark side of the moon”; it’s still beautiful, but it’s a little bit more obscure. I was learning more about the different trips to the moon, hearing some of the different audio, and hearing about all of the different stuff that might happen in outer space, like how some astronauts have heard these weird whistling sounds while they’re out there. It also talks about weird lights that they’ve seen flying past.
There was a conversation with John Glenn where he was talking to mission control, and he was talking about how beautiful the sun looked over the horizon. Mission control was like, “You’re very lucky,” and I was like, “Most people don’t get to see that, so if I could just take somebody on that kind of journey sonically through space and soundtrack what this ride is gonna be like.”
I had to figure out how I wanted to set the tone, too, and so I wanted to ease into it with the samples and have this beautiful, high-pitched thing going on in the background while my voice is more normal and lower … almost like balancing everything out.
I wanted to show people since it’s been a minute since I dropped Japanese Stamps … and I feel like I’m a much better writer, artist, and rapper. I feel like there’s a certain thing in my writing that I’ve been always trying to break through; and this first track was me trying to show the world, “OK, I’m about to show y’all something.”
When I say, “At long last the diamond in the rough is finally glistening,” it’s like I finally have everything figured out, and … I’m really going to show y’all what I’ve got. I wanted to have something cool to say and a great way to do it. I wanted to start big and say, “This is what we’re doing; let’s go.”
Q: “Letter to Earth” deals with the passage of time, reflects on a past life in Chicago, and returns to the present. How did writing that track help you reconcile the past and move forward?
A: Lyrically, this is one of the more experimental songs on the album in terms of the way I’ve phrased things. I start with “Weekends on the Moon” and go to “Letter to Earth.” I’m on the moon, and I’m happy here, but it feels like there’s also a part of the past that I need to address. I didn’t just get here from nowhere; this is a whole history of things before this that have led me to this point.
The instrumental in the background is sampled from a movie called House; it’s a Japanese movie from the ‘70s. It’s a really weird horror movie. I wanted to do a song where I’m writing these lyrics, and it starts with me having a concrete memory, but it also has the idea of me being scatterbrained, too. It’s all of these other moments and timelines coming in … and they’re all connected because they’re things I’ve experienced. I talk about meeting one person that I dated, then I talk about my best friends in Chicago, and then I talk about writing a whole bunch of poems a week.
In the end, I ended up right back where I was supposed to … with trying to figure out how to write this letter to everything in the past and everything that’s on Earth. This is a song where I feel like I’m sampling my memories, and I’m putting everything in the order that it needs to go in.
I’m also thanking somebody for helping me grieve when my grandma died. That way a couple of tracks later when you hear it open with this voicemail from my grandma, you know, “Oh OK, he’s very much gone.”
Q: “306” questions the choices you’ve made in life and reexamines the path you’re currently taking. How does this track reinforce pursuing your passion in life?
A: That was my address back when I lived in Southgate, and that’s when I first started substitute teaching. At the time, I was trying to work on more music, but I was also going to school and [working]. I was wondering if there was a way I could ever make it out with my art and thinking, “Is my art good enough?”
I was having all these other questions internally while I was at this school teaching and watching these kids. I would weave in and out of other conversations while helping kids and talking to teachers, but I also was very in-depth in my head about my life choices. I was walking myself through that, and by the end, [trying to make] some peace with it.
Q: You also mentioned how the manga series Berserk and its main character Guts inspired “306.” How do you relate to Guts and the struggle that he faces?
A: Guts runs away from this camp that he was at … there was some bad stuff going on. When he runs away, he gets chased by wolves, and he has to run away from them. He manages to fend them off, but he’s hurt, tired, and messed up. He lies down in the grass and just looks up at the moon. It’s one of the most beautiful, contemplative, and meditative manga panels I’ve ever seen. The last section of that song is me putting myself in that panel and just feeling almost like how Guts must have felt. That moment of peace won’t last forever, and I’m so glad to even have had that.
Q: “Just My Luck” references the outcome of two different winter scenarios—one that's potentially tragic and one that’s unexpectedly peaceful. Why did you decide to address that dichotomy on this track?
A: There used to be a Citizens Bank over in Ypsi on Grove Street … and there was one time my dad went there one winter day and had come home. Shortly after that, the bank got robbed, and this song was me thinking about how terrible of a situation it would be if you went somewhere on a cold winter day, you got there, and you had the unluckiest situation [happen to you].
But it was also a fun one, too, because it was inspired by spending a lot of time at Michigan State and just walking from IM West to Brody in the middle of a snowstorm. I’ve always loved singing in the snow and hearing how it softens the sound—making you feel like you’re the only person singing in the world. That’s exactly what I wanted to channel, too; that feeling of me going somewhere singing and figuring out a melody, but catching it in that raw moment aesthetically.
Q: “Sundogs” acknowledges the importance of gratitude, but also spotlights determination and perseverance. How did writing this track allow you to rediscover your purpose in life?
A: Sundogs can only happen when it’s really cold. Whether you’re [actually] walking through the cold or going through a “cold” patch in life, seeing a sundog feels like a spiritual experience. It feels like everything will be OK and you can keep going. That’s why I tried to do the singing on the second half [of the song] and [include] the ethereal, angelic singing on the sample.
There are a lot of vocal samples that are underneath and one of them is of a great post-rock band called a picture of her. They have an album called C that is really good. They did a live performance and interview, and in that section, they were talking about their favorite band being where the inspiration for their band name came from. At the end, there are random claps … I love that feeling you have in your head after any great, impactful performance. I just really wanted to show that after you feel lost and need to get away, things will warm up. I think after “Just My Luck” … “Sundogs” is the first sign of spring coming.
Q: “Open Mic” explores the notions of putting yourself out there as an artist and meeting someone inspirational along the way. How did that person encourage you to challenge yourself and grow as an artist?
A: I went to an open mic with one of my friends since they were going to perform poetry. They left [after their performance], but I stuck around after because I was curious. This was in Chicago last year. I saw this girl in a band perform, and they were really good. After they performed, I told the girl, who was the singer, “You sounded really good,” and also asked, “Do you perform [regularly] or put music out?” The girl said she worked at the bar where the open mic was and that was her last night there; she was moving somewhere else the next day. That was the last hurrah, and that was the whole story of what happened.
I was on break when I was teaching one day, and I needed something to do. I just started writing a story, took that idea, and thought, “What if I stretched this out into a full-fledged thing of me being this person and having a beautiful, creative friendship with them?” The song is me talking about myself and coming to terms with whatever I choose to do with the music and in my career. It’s almost like I’m putting myself in the context of the album … At the end I say, “Until two years later / Receive an email with the demo tape / Seven songs long / But the bonus track makes it eight.”
The Weekends on the Moon [disc] of the album is seven songs and “Return to East Lansing (End Credits)” is the bonus track. I wasn’t sure if I was going to desire or have the time to make this album after going to grad school, which in my head is like having a kid, getting distracted by life, and having to do this thesis. It’s about everything working out and having an album, having it be something that I like … and having it sound the way that I anticipated. It felt like I was a better writer who’s now able to tell these more concrete stories, but can also do these abstract and weird things like I’m doing on “Weekends on the Moon” or “Disciple of Kenshin.” It’s me figuring out everything that I can do as a writer and as an artist.
Q: You collaborated with Dash on “Stop Spinning” and Shawn on “Solanin?” How did they help you elevate those tracks?
A: Dash produced “Stop Spinning,” so that’s what it is. I like to put producers in the feature tag. Shawn is the person I sampled at the beginning of “Solanin.” When I was getting the ideas for the album together, I texted him and one of my other friends, Greg.
I was like, “Do you have any voice memos of you saying anything?” … I wasn’t sure what I was looking for; I just felt like I would know it when I heard it. They sent me some back, and the voice memo [featured in the song] was the one I was resonating with at the time. I realized I could write something in response to it and almost have a back-and-forth between the first verse and the sample.
Shawn and I went to high school together, and I liked his writing a lot. He’s a person that’s directly impacted and influenced my writing journey. It’s cool to have it go full circle because “Solanin” is [based on the manga series] written by Inio Asano, who we both enjoy.
Q: What’s up next for you? Any plans to write or record new material?
A: I think for the fall I’m trying to get a show and a lineup together. I want to create a unique vibe that would be fun for a live show. I liked the direction I went in with Sundogs & Weekends on the Moon; I’m going to keep going more in that direction and see where this sound can take me.
There’s a [two-track EP] that I have done right now called Luna Flip … it comes out October 6. I tried to get even more personal on these, and I liked the production style I had for songs like “Weekends on the Moon,” “306,” and “Sundogs.” I wanted to expand that sound some more, and I finally started working in stereo, so now the sound is a lot bigger.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.