For Portland rapper/singer Dodgr (AKA Alana Chenevert, and FKA the Last Artful, Dodgr), the road to success may have been strewn with some personal heartbreak, but it’s also characterized by an increasingly positive reception from listeners, industry players, and hip-hop concertgoers—and for damn good reason. Having parted ways with record label EYRST in 2016 and shelving the “Last Artful” moniker that was tied to her joint project with producer Neill Von Tally, Dodgr has embarked on a new and notable era that’s seen her confidently hitting her stride and collaborating with high-profile, even legendary artists. With two new singles out (“Hot” and “Wrong Way”), and Dodgr’s first headlining show at the Roseland approaching (Red Bull Presents: Dodgr, hosted by Portugal. The Man), I sat down with the artist at Kopi Coffee on East Burnside to discuss her forthcoming solo debut and whatever else she’s manifesting.The following interview has been edited for clarity.
MERCURY: What sparked the minor name change?
DODGR: Honestly, this was always a part of the evolution. If we wanna go back to 2010 when I decided to go by Dodgr just in my normal life, because I never really related to the name Alana. I didn’t feel like it was my name. I knew that I couldn’t just be like “Dodgr,” I had to be the Last Artful, Dodgr and explain that I am my mother’s last child, I’m the artful of the two, and the whole literary meaning behind the name... At the end of the day I realized they’re all the same and I wanted Dodgr—that’s who I am, that’s how I’ve been introducing myself for almost a decade now.
Would you say that the themes from the Fractures EP and Bone Music are concluded?
It’s definitely done. Because that was a whole different era. I can’t really continue with something that I didn’t create by myself. And that was never a part of the just Dodgr evolution. Another reason I have to just be Dodgr is because the Last Artful, Dodgr is connected to this experimental world which I very much live in always, but I do not just reside there. I have to move about the country and feel free. That is definitely in its own universe, and this universe is its own thing too. And whatever I make next won’t be anything like this.
Cool! I’m so excited for the new era.
I’m so happy. I cannot wait. And half of these songs I feel like I’m gonna play at the show are from the new project. So that’s another reason to come to the show. Portland will be the first place that I ever perform “Hot.” It will be the first place that I perform “Wrong Way.” It will be the first place that I perform so many songs that will eventually make the biggest impact. I’m not just assuming or just hoping, I just know. I know it. I feel it.
How did you write the Pomeranian verse in “Hot”?
It's definitely based on a true story and I pulled from a conversation that I actually had with my ex, about me being a dog... and how I used to poke my chest out, and just be pompous and grandiloquent for no reason. She didn't necessarily call me a Pomeranian, you know, just like doggish. And I just pulled from that experience and knowing that yeah, I'm a dog, but I've been so loyal to you. I've never strayed, I've never cheated, I've never done anything to go against this relationship, yet you've done all these things to me. But I’m the dog. Anyway, it came out so easy. One of my favorite verses for sure.
As a dog lover, I love it.
I want a dog so bad you have no idea. I just don’t have the time.
When the time is right, it’ll happen.
I seen Megan THEE Stallion with four all the time and I’m like, “How? Oh, you got a whole team.”
It takes a village sometimes. What inspired “Wrong Way?” I’m guessing it was another personal relationship thing.
“Wrong Way” was just me getting broken up with again. ’Cause let’s just be clear: I’m not out here like “Big Pimpin’” or anything, and breaking bitches’ hearts left and right. That’s not who I am. I get my heart broken. So, with “Wrong Way,” it was just that. I had been treated... this person who I loved so much and who claimed to love me so much had just fucked with me the wrong way completely, every way, every time. And it just wasn’t fair. And I wrote “Wrong Way” before I was done with that person. And every song that I write is a manifestation, I swear to god. Everything comes to fruition. If it wasn’t happening in my real life at that moment, oh my Jesus, it’s gonna happen to you, homie. So these days I’m way, way, way more hesitant about writing about some fuckshit.
Well, I guess it’s a good time to ask you about your solo debut. What can you tell me about it?
I came up with the concept for this project in May of 2013, during an acid trip, on my birthday [May 26]. I had this acid trip and I knew that I wanted to make songs that were short. Songs that hit in every single way, meaning they hit you in the gut, they hit a soft spot. They bang, a hit. And I knew I wanted them to ultimately be this sensational collection of songs. And then I started meeting random people, and working with new people, and getting sidetracked with this project, and then releasing another project with someone else, and stopped focusing on myself. But because of that, I was able to meet Mark Ronson and all of those people.
You talkin’ about Bone Music?
Well, after Bone Music. So Bone Music lowkey got in the way of me making Hits of Today. This project, if it were up to me, it would’ve been out in 2015. I’m so grateful that it never saw the light of day back then, because the music that I had in 2015, you can’t call that Hits of Today. You can’t call any of those “hits” in the sense of something that’ll resonate.... It wasn’t until 2017 that I actually got my head wrapped around it, and what it actually was, and what it meant, and the kind of music that I could produce. I wasn’t ready back then. And then I met Johnny, and we made it happen. And I knew that I was ready. “Hot” is Hits of Today. Like that’s lowkey what it stands for, too.
Very nice! I did not know that.
This project, which is called Hits of Today, I don’t have a release date for it. Just know that it’s been the name for six years. And shout out to Tierra Whack doing short songs, and all of that stuff. I’ve been on it for six years, but just trying to find a way to perfect it. And so now, I have songs on the project that won’t be longer than three minutes. There are some that are straight-up full smashes and won’t be longer than two minutes. And I’m there. I figured out how to simplify my process.
How do you simplify your process?
It’s so easy to be wordy, so it’s that editing process. So if there’s a song and a producer gives me a beat that’s a minute and 50 seconds, and I know that there’s only so many things that I can say, so many points I can get across in that amount of time, and I need to make every single goal in that amount of time and make it feel full. I treat it like a research paper. I come up with the hook first... the hook is the thesis. (Oh my god, there are so many puns that could be done. [LAUGHS]) But yeah, the hook is the thesis so you want to come up with the thesis first, and then you have your body paragraphs, you have to have a conclusion and all of that shit.
That’s adorable. Genius, actually. Are there going to be any features on the album?
I don’t necessarily want any features. ’Cause it’s like Dodgr featuring Dodgr, so you can see I can do everything. I do have a few folks on backing vocals and like, Mark [Ronson] has produced a joint or two. You know, I have friends who’ve helped. But, as far as like the voice goes, most likely you’ll just hear my voice. Unless a feature makes sense. I never wanna force a feature.
You have such a distinct voice, which I think is one of the things that draws so many people to your music, because you sound so different than everyone else. Did you ever used to try to sing like anybody else? How did you develop your voice?
I think that that’s how I developed my voice: by mimicking everyone. And trying to see where my voice fit, and it never fit. Anywhere. Because that wasn’t my voice. So, I can walk around and sound like Cher, or do a Christina like fake little [vocalization], but eventually I just found my voice from being me, and my mom telling me I couldn’t sing. But that’s how I knew, because it wasn’t anything that sounded like anyone else. My voice sits here naturally, so when I sing it’s like nasally and raspy, and a little ambiguous. You have no idea if it’s a man, female, nonbinary human. Are they 15? Are they 40? And if it weren’t for, you know, me having the closest person to me not necessarily big me up for it at the beginning, I don’t think I would have gotten here. And people telling me, “Oh you sound like this person, you sound like that person,” and being compared to Yukimi from Little Dragon, to T-Boz from TLC... But if it weren’t for me having people who kind of sounded different enough, I don’t think I would have been able to get to this level of confidence with it either. It’s like “Oh, okay, my shit’s weird—but it’s just weird enough.”
Are you still independent?
I haven’t signed a record deal, baby.
Oh yeah. Tons. Tons.
How do you feel about the idea of signing?
I love the idea of getting help from people who can... help me get into a position that I’ve never been in before. Let’s be real: Everyone’s not Chance the Rapper. Everyone can’t just wave the independent flag and make it, actually make it. I know I need help. I know that. I just read something the other day about it costing $200,000 for a record to even reach radio and try to get to number one. Just, the breakdown of it: cost of travel, radio, promo, all of that for your team—200 racks, okay? If I have a hit song, which I know I have like 11, how am I gonna get them heard? “Hot” has over a million plays, yeah. That’s a hit song. That’s not enough. Over a million plays is not enough. I need help. I need the people’s help—and if they’re not spreading it as fast, I need a corporation’s help. And that’s real. I can’t sit here and be like “No, no label ever.” When I sign a deal it’ll be done my way, trust me. ’Cause I’ve held out for long enough.
Has fame/success impacted... you don’t think you’re famous?
[LAUGHS COYLY] I think I’m a little known. A few people know me. A few more people know me than I... I don’t know how to put it.
Ok, I won’t call you famous. I’ll call you successful. How do you think success has impacted your relationships or has it?
Oooh. So you remember earlier when I was telling you about manifesting via writing? “Better Safe than Social” was a big manifest. I knew that was my life, but it’s more so of my life now than anything because I don’t know who to trust. I don’t know who’s actually in it for me. I don’t know who’s my enemy, or who’s just smiling in my face and talking mad whatever behind my back. And being [in Portland], I’ve seen it firsthand how people treat someone who gains a little bit of success. I saw that happen to Aminé and what people had to say about him. And I feel it. And it’s not just me hearing what people say but it’s me feeling that energy, and I’m an empath above anything else. But the flip side of the negativity is the positivity. Like, I’m plugged with beautiful humans who I would’ve never met had it not been for this success....If it weren’t for my manager walking down the street in New York one day, I wouldn’t have been able to meet Mark Ronson’s ass. Stuff like that that like I can’t even be mad at my success because it got me here, and I get to perform at the Roseland.
Who is someone you’ve learned a lot from in the Portland scene?
Tron/Old Grape God... because he’s taught me how to let go and just let art live. And to release your inhibitions when it comes to your art too. He’s one of the most prolific artists I’ve ever met in my whole life. Just being around Tron and his energy, I don’t know. It’s something that I can’t even explain with words. So yeah, I have to put him above everybody to be honest. Shout out Tron. He would sit in the Bone Music sessions and just sit there. Even though he didn’t say anything, it was his energy.
You’ve had so many big looks, opportunities, and appearances. What accomplishment are you most proud of, and you’re like, “Damn, I did that”?
Oh wow. There [are] a few things honestly. It’s like, “Damn, I did that: I just reached a million streams on my own. Like, by myself. Just my voice. Damn, I did that.” Or “Oh, I played at Moda Center halftime show for a Blazer game? Damn, I did that. Oh shit, I sold out Doug Fir, had people chanting my name, singin’ words to my songs. I did that. I have a song [“Truth”] with Alicia Keys that I wrote the majority of. I have a song that I co-wrote with Anderson .Paak [“Make It Better”], that lowkey is about to be Grammy-nominated, featuring Smokey Robinson. Like, we did that.” I’m so grateful for every moment. I get looks all the time and they’re getting bigger because I haven’t stopped working.
For your upcoming headlining show at Roseland... you said you were gonna perform a lot of songs from Hits of Today?
I’m gonna do like a little transitionary piece, so for old fans, the Last Artful fans, you’re gonna be stoked. New Dodgr fans are gonna be so stoked. You’re gonna hear stuff you’ve never heard before. You’re gonna see some of the dopest performances you’ve ever seen in your life hopefully. Maarquii is performing, Blimes and Gabs, a duo from the Bay and Seattle; Falcons is performing... this is just gonna be a look, something that Portland’s never had before, and I get to headline for the first time ever at the Roseland. And last time I played at the Roseland, I wasn’t able to have my dancers or my set the way that I wanted them to be. And so, I get to do it now.
I hope that when everybody walks into the Roseland on October 19, they feel like it’s not the Roseland. That’s the goal. I mean, I’m a Black queer woman headlining the Roseland, living in Portland right now. I need people to show up and show out. And prove that, like, we can do this.
Do you have anything cooking on the backburner?
Yes. I don’t know how much I can talk about things, but just expect to hear my voice in a lot of places. You know, I worked on the Spies in Disguise soundtrack for the Will Smith movie that’s coming out on Christmas. My song is in the trailer. I got some things brewing.
What changes happened for you in 2019? Any transitions or things you changed about yourself, your approach...?
I think that I’ve become even more open to help. Letting my guard down and letting people in. And that’s really hard for me because I’ve been through a lot. We all go through a lot. And we all lose people to death, and we lose people from death of relationships. So if anything I’ve just opened my heart more and I’m more willing to be vulnerable and expose that part of me.
Is there anything you wanna tell me about that I didn’t ask you about?
I wanna tell you that this is the last show that I’m gonna be doing here for a while, so it’s super important. ’Cause I need to go home, I need to be home. I miss my family.
You’re gonna move back to LA?
I mean, I’m there most of the time now [but] I pay rent here. I wanna own a home [in Portland and LA] eventually, but I’ve gotta start somewhere.... I’ve been dodging LA for a very long time, and I also feel like Portland takes it for granted when people are living in the town. And I really don’t want them to take the opportunity to see me perform this music on the 19th for granted. Because this is the most important show of my life.
That’s cool that you want to own in both places.
Definitely, yeah. I think it’s important for Portland to develop an industry here, and the only way to do that is to have artists who were successful here want to come back and still help build somehow. And I’m from LA, born and raised. I need to get back to my roots before I can worry about somebody else’s roots. So as grateful as I am for this city, I still have to go home because my family misses me. It’s a real thing. And if I’m not being loved or cared for the way that my family would love and care for me at home, why would I stay? ’Cause I love this city and I saw so much potential—and I still see tons of potential, don’t get me wrong—but I think it also has more to do with me having to be at home. I would love to go home and have people love and accept me at home, too. I miss my family, my blood family. I’ve been dodging LA for the last decade. Why not just go back to the root of it all? I feel like in trauma situations, when you go to therapy, they bring up your family life, the beginning, they go back to the beginning. I can’t heal if I don’t go back.