Born on Valentine’s Day and given a studio nickname based on his comfy, pink outfit, David Bowden has quickly become one of the most fascinating voices working in modern R&B. Growing up in the hood of Philadelphia, and steeped in the gospel, soul, and immense talent of the church community there, it wasn’t until his late teens that Bowden began to listen to secular music. Electrified by rappers like 50 Cent and Kanye West, and enamored with the pop sounds of Avril Lavigne and Maroon 5, he eventually began writing his own music and getting into the studio.
From there, his nickname Pink Sweat$ became a whole lifestyle, and a new movement in music with his first major single, “Honesty,” racking up two million streams on Spotify. Now, Pink Sweat$ has two EPs under his belt — Volume 1 and Volume 2 — and a slew of other cult hits bubbling under, like “Coke & Henny Pt. 2,” “Cocaine,” and “Body Ain’t Me.”
After struggling with a rare disorder called achalasia that damages the esophagus and makes it difficult for food and liquid to pass into the stomach, Bowden’s streak of success has continued beyond streaming, and he’s currently touring in the UK with another set of US dates for the Pink Beginnings tour coming up in September. Bringing the legacy of Philly soul into the 21st century with songs about the pains of love and loss in an increasingly digital world, Pink Sweat$ is bridging the gap between old-world R&B and a millennial sound.
Along with all the normal show dates, Pink Sweat$ has also been booked for a number of private showcases, including a recent PBR Sound Society event in Los Angeles and the Songkick Live concert series in New York. We’re premiering a couple of those live performances today, and had the chance to speak with Pink Sweat$ about his recent success, the influence of the church on his music, and the best way to make a song romantic.
Right off the bat with your artist name, your aesthetic evokes a sense of vulnerability and a softer side of things. What drew you to using that name for performing? I know it was an early nickname but are there other elements that drew you to it as a title?
I first got the name from this week I was studio bumming. Just spending all of my time at the studio by myself wearing this same pair of pink sweats. One day someone couldn’t remember my name but wanted to know where I was. He asked, ‘Where is pink sweats?’ and that’s how it first started. I’ve always worn a lot of pink but after that, I started buying more pink every time I saw it. My birthday is also on Valentine’s Day, so I was just born to wear it.
I was at the PBR Sound Society event in Los Angeles where you performed and spoke about your life, so I got to hear you share some about your experience with Achalasia. What is your advice to someone who might be going through a similar struggle with their physical health?
I would definitely say don’t hold it in. I went so long just thinking there was nothing I could do about it, and it just wasn’t a productive state of mind. When I finally spoke to my mom about it was when I went to see a specialist. That was the real turning point.
How did music and working on art help you recover from your physical health struggle? It seems like the link between your musical career picking up came pretty quickly after that battle resolved a bit.
Seeing that specialist led to me getting surgery and having a new outlook on life. The whole time I was sick I definitely found comfort in my craft, so when I recovered it felt like I was getting a second chance to really leave it all on the table and put myself out there. Go for the things I hadn’t gone for the first time around.
Was “Honesty” a song that surprised you with its popularity? Or was there a feeling with that one, that it was special?
Once I finished Volume 1, I knew “Honesty” was the one. “Honesty” and “Cocaine” were the first songs I ever wrote for myself, and it was the first time I had an unwavering personal connection to a record I had made. As a songwriter/producer you want the artist to change things and make it theirs. You want the record to come across as genuine, so you want the artist to really connect with it. For me, “Honesty” wasn’t changing at all. As soon as I made it, it was what it was.
What is your favorite song that you’ve written to date, whether it’s one audiences have already heard or something that’s still coming?
Probably “Body Ain’t Me” or “Cocaine.” Those records feel really beautiful to me, and I really feel it when I’m performing.
Philadelphia has a long history of romantic, soulful music, in the realm of R&B etc., how did that help inform your own creative process? Along with a sense of pride in that legacy, is there a sense of carrying the torch or continuing that tradition?
I think more than anything I learned in the church. You can’t find a more musical crowd than a Philly church. At church people could really play, they could really sing, so it hold you to a high standard.
How did you make song selection for the Songkick Live sessions? I know it’s more of an intimate setting, so does that inform your setlist?
Definitely. I perform with a full band and some songs are more conducive to that setting. When it’s intimate like that you can really try and focus on putting on a vocal performance rather than trying to move the crowd and control the energy.
As a songwriter working in R&B, what elements do you think make a song particularly sexy or romantic? What is something that you didn’t necessarily think would fit into that category, but that still made its way into one of your songs?
To be honest I don’t like to box in genres. I like making every genre of music, and I try to incorporate different elements of each into my songs. What always stays constant throughout is my voice and writing style. I try to bring an honest vulnerability to my music that I think really resonates with my fans. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is “romantic” to me.
I know you’re currently touring abroad and heading back to the US soon for another leg of a tour here. What’s your favorite part of being a live performer? What is one of your all-time favorite venues to perform at?
There’s nothing like singing to your fans and having them sing your songs back to you. Knowing that people care enough about my art to actually come out and be a part of it at my live shows means the most. Playing at Webster Hall (in Manhattan) was definitely a special one for me. When I was first starting to buzz and come up in the scene, I was living in Brooklyn. To have it come full circle and play a sold-out show like that in New York really puts things in perspective with how far I have come.
Is there a songwriter or producer or another artist who you would absolutely love to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to work with yet?
I’ve been getting this question a lot and I always say John Mayer. Trying to speak it into existence.
You’ve released two excellent EPs within the last six months or so, are there any plans for a full-length soon, or is that even something you feel is necessary?
I think I’ll always continue the Volume series. I consider myself a singer/songwriter first and foremost and the Volume series allows me to strip everything back and showcase that. With that said, I never want to limit myself creatively. I play a little bit of every instrument, and my album will let people hear that. I’ve been working really hard and collaborating with a lot of tremendously talented people to put my first full-length album together. I want it to be a masterpiece and I know its getting there. Some of the album records are songs I think the world needs.
To see Pink Sweat$ live check out the upcoming dates for the second leg of the Pink Beginnings tour here.
Pink Sweat$ is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is also an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.