• Tatiana Swedek

Co-creating a New Reality with Anthony Demby

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

In life, Anthony Demby values balance. Mentally, he strives to turn dizzying dissonance into abundant harmonies. He's humbly showing up with the intention to start a revolution. He's integrating both calm and kinetic energies and unloading in order to make space.


Professionally, Anthony started out in the music industry. He was working as an artist manager for 10 years until, eventually, he found that the job was no longer fulfilling. He quit and immediately launched HumbleRiot. What started as a small brand consulting firm has evolved into an idea shop of music curation and cultural programming. Anthony has created experiences and events for brands like Infatuation and Neuehouse and has worked with artists like Childish Gambino and Questlove - serving as the liaison between brands and artists to ensure it's a meaningful and impactful match.

I heard Anthony on episode 1 of Current Mood in 2019. I had no idea who this guy was before that, but his insights really resonated with me. Fast-forward to EARLY 2020: I do some investigative social media work and find out Anthony and I have a mutual contact. I inquired: 'You know this guy? NEED to have him speak at an upcoming event!' The event was seven months out at that point so the intro wasn't made right then and there. Two months pass. COVID hits. I lose my job. The world turns upside-down. I accidentally launch my own business. And I reach out to Anthony to see if he'd be willing to chat. He kindly made time and we hopped on Zoom in early May.


I was excited to catch up with Anthony this second time around. I appreciate the way he looks at the world. He is very true to himself and genuinely easy to talk to. Ant had just returned to Brooklyn from New Mexico where he spent 5 weeks "watching rabbits eat grass." We covered a lot in our chat: starting HumbleRiot, checking your Ego, navigating the world while two pandemics are taking place, allyship vs. performative actions, and traveling light as we co-build a new (and better) reality.


At the end we also talk about a record he co-produced with a mutual friend. Anthony's voice jumps in elation as he talks about music. That's passion.


You can read or listen! Thank you, Ant!


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TATIANA SWEDEK: For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about HumbleRiot and the story behind you creating it?


ANTHONY DEMBY: I’ve been in the music business for over 25 years now. Initially, I worked in the label system doing marketing, A&R, publicity, sales. Just seeing the full gambit of how that machine works. Then I moved over to being an artist manager and did that for about 10 years. First six years for a company called DAS Communications. While I was managing the artists I noticed that brands are always working with artists in a way that is very transactional. It was really focused on who was killing it right now, who has the reach, who can we get to market this product or endorse this product? The artists we like ‘who has the money?’ Right? The ROI didn’t seem sustainable or meaningful or intentional on either side of it. I noticed that from doing brand deals with my artists. I wanted to kind of function in a translator in a way where I could help brands understand what artists wanted, what they cared about and how they could have a relationship with one another. I started talking to brands about how they could market music in a meaningful way. This is all while being a manger.


I started HumbleRiot and the quick backstory on that was that I was working for this management company and I wasn’t inspired by what I was doing. People had left, we lost artists, the vibe had changed tremendously. I wasn’t motivated. I was with a good friend of mine Damien Smith, who was an artist and manager and managing Raphael Saadiq at the time. He played me this unreleased Raphael Saadiq record and I was so moved by what I heard. It kind of brought me back to why I got into the music business in the first place. It’s because I love music and artists. And I was no longer feeling that way at my job.




At the time, I was interviewing with other management companies. But they were all lateral moves, like same sh*t some place else. There wasn’t anything new. So, I got to a point where I needed to make a decision. The next day, I go into the office and my boss called me down for a meeting. In this meeting we had a semi-uncomfortable discussion around something we didn’t agree on. Before I went downstairs, a voice inside me told me: ‘today is the day. You should do it today.’ In that meeting, we parted ways. I didn’t have a job lined up. I had nothing lined up, honestly. I remember I called my friend Damien and said ‘yo, I just quit my job.’ And he was like ‘I think you’re going to be ok.’ I go home to my apartment in Brooklyn, in Fort Green at the time, and I open my mail and I had something from Chase bank. It was my starter checks for my HumbleRiot business account. I had forgotten I signed up for one a month prior. So I thought, you know, I focus on this for a little bit and see if I can get a job some place. The other job I never looked for again. That was the start of HumbleRiot. It started as a small brand consulting firm at the very beginning. Does that make sense?


TS: Yeah, for sure. When we spoke about it when we last spoke and you said you tried using two different adjectives – like vastly different – and putting them together.


AD: HumbleRiot was really describing the life I wanted to lead from that point forward. I wrote down on a piece of paper two columns. ‘Riot’ was this fight for what’s right, this revolution of changing things. Humble was my demeanor and how I approach the world: being intentional, being cautious, moving slow, being aware. Riot was that revolutionary side. I felt like these two things could exist in the world because that was who I was as a person.


REFRAMING & EGO


TS: Love that. On the episode of Current Mood, which is really how I found you and then low and behold we found out we had all these mutual connections that I didn’t realize, you talked a bit about the Ego and the practice of reframing. That really stuck with me. Can you talk a bit about the practice of reframing and how you’ve been implementing that over the past few months?


AD: This is my opinion, but you’re either in a mindset of abundance or scarcity. Right? It’s always two ways of looking at something. For example: with us being quarantined and confined to our house because of COVID, a scarcity of mind would be like “oh sh*t, I can’t go outside.” Or our business has slowed down based on the way things are moving right now. We lost work, things like that. So, scarcity is that I lost work. And that’s a real thing. But a reframing of that is: ‘wow, I have all this time I didn’t have before.’ You know? To face the things I may have been neglecting because I had been working. I’ve been looking at just reframing my reality. I’ve been doing that for a while but I’ve really been doing that the last couple months.


TS: Right, you have more time.


AD: Yeah, I have more time and I’ve been using that time in ways that are of service to me and things I want to do. Just that reframe has helped me look at things differently and even look at things I’ve done historically and choose to understand them in a more abundant way of thinking.


TS: How about checking your Ego? I think it was about two weeks ago I just had the worst week and it was like all this negative self-talk after negative self-talk. It’s funny because my mom actually, I was texting her, and she was like ‘you know, it’s your ego talking.’ And I was like ‘that sounds really familiar…..ohhhh! I remember Anthony Demby saying that on Current Mood.’ So, how do you keep your Ego in check when a negative though just pops into your brain?


AD: A couple things. One is I read this book a couple years ago called ‘The Unteathered Soul’ by Michael Singer. He talks about that voice in your head. He even refers to it as being your inner roommate. If your voice in your head was a person, more than likely, that isn’t a person you want to hang out with talking all the time. And that voice in your head is designed to protect the algorithm you’ve built for yourself which is your Ego.


So, you know, you’re working on something and you get that crazy email from someone. Your Ego is just like ‘I got this one.’ It’s the first to respond, right? To clap back at that person. Your Ego is the one who can also prevent you from doing stuff. Your Ego is also your protector and demonizes you at the same time. It makes you feel guilty. It tells you not to do something to protect the fortress and then, on the flip side, ‘why didn’t you do that thing? You know you should’ve done that sh*t.’ It’s playing both sides of it. It’s constantly in dialogue.


Life checks your Ego all the time. You can get called out by life all the time. It’s really about are you in a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? If you’re in a fixed mindset, you being checked it’ll be more recurring because you’re going to keep going into the same wall. But if you’re in a growth mindset you realize ‘sh*t, I can do better.’

What I realized was that that book allowed me space to separate myself from that person talking in my head. Look at it as opposed to that voice being me, but being the observer of the voice. By doing that, it’s given me the space to listen to what it’s saying and to listen to what it’s saying on a recurring basis so I can see what those patterns are and step away. I’m not ignoring it because it’s not going to stop. It’s acknowledging that it’s designed to do that in a default setting. I can change my relationship to that thing.


Life checks your Ego all the time. You can get called out by life all the time. It’s really about are you in a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? If you’re in a fixed mindset, you being checked it’ll be more recurring because you’re going to keep going into the same wall. But if you’re in a growth mindset you realize ‘sh*t, I can do better.’


TS: Right. It’s how you use your Ego. Also, over the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about it in the sense that my Ego just lies to me a lot. It’ll make things up. Like ‘oh, this person doesn’t want to talk to you, they haven’t responded to you.’ Well, maybe they’re busy. It’s not that they don’t like you.


AD: Exactly.


TS: Thinking of it that way, it brings a lot of peace. It makes you a little bit more able to live in the moment and live in the present. Which, personally, has not always been my strongest suit. It’s something for everyone to look into.


TRANSITIONS IN A NEW REALITY


TS: Speaking of living in the moment, your background and my background is very much rooted in live events and live experiences and the curation of those. These, obviously, have been severely impacted by the current pandemic we’re in. Last time we spoke, I mentioned my detest of the word ‘pivot’ because, during the time, it was just one big buzzword. Luckily, I have not seen it lately. You had the best basketball analogy to describe whether a business should pivot or transition. Now that people are excited because things are opening back up – I do want to remind everyone that COVID is still a real thing and to wear a mask wherever you go. Business are going to be impacted inevitably whether it’s a pandemic or not. There’s always going to be obstacles to face. So talk a little bit about what you mean by pivot vs. transition.


AD: Another thing first before I go into that: we’re in two pandemics right now. We have COVID. We have what’s happening with the unrest around the killing of Black Lives. Right?


Personally, these things aren’t new to me. They’re an awakening for a lot of other people, right? There’s a lot of unrest trying to deal with that. When I think about pivoting – I was talking to my coach this morning, Bobby [Lyle], and we were talking about how the world has ended as we knew it. That incarnation, right? When you’re pivoting, you’re still in that thing. Half of yourself is in something and half is in something new.


When you’re transitioning, you’ve fully left that other thing into something new. What the world is requiring of us all is to transition. Because what we knew before is no more, unfortunately. It’s hard to say that out loud and reconcile that so we can actually co-create this new reality around what’s actually happening. I think when you’re pivoting in a lot of ways there’s still that element of copy and paste in there. It’s taking what you’ve been doing and putting it on to new stuff. When transitioning, it’s a blank slate. There’s more space to create because you’re not so bound by what you were already doing. That’s definitely a foundation of how you’re thinking but there’s more space to say ‘what can we imagine for this time we’re moving into?’ If we’re pivoting, we’re bringing some of that old sh*t into the new sh*t, right? It’s interesting.


When you’re pivoting, you’re almost missing some of the opportunity. Pivoting is difficult but transitioning is even harder. With transitioning, there’s a different kind of liberation that comes with that.


YOU WOULDN'T GO TO A POTLUCK WITHOUT BRINGING SOMETHING, RIGHT?


TS: I think that a lot of people over the past month have been forced to transition. A lot of this was coming but it was accelerated by everyone being locked inside, losing their jobs, having time to think and having time to act. Right now, even though there’s a little unrest, I would never want to go back to the way things were.


AD: Yeah, you’re right. Honestly, we can’t go back. You can’t unsee what happened to George Floyd. You can’t unsee what happened to Ahmaud Arbery. You can’t unhear what happened to Breonna Taylor. We can’t unhear what’s happening to people who are dying in prisons because of COVID. We can’t unsee that in this country we don’t have adequate leadership. So we have to transition into a new reality.


To your point: we’ve all been in our homes. Seeing that we’re inside, we’ve been forced to go inside of ourselves. There’s stuff in there to clean up, right? We’ve got to clean out: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. That’s uncomfortable. So, we’re sitting with that and we also have time on our hands we didn’t have before. We’re seeing blatant injustice in front of us. That collective energy, that we hadn’t reconciled with, it caused a fervor and it went to the surface. People were out doing what they’re doing. It’s almost like in order to have new life, we have to kill what was there.


A lot of things that were there, as uncomfortable as they were for us, they weren’t serving all of us. There was no equity that was being served to them. So things had to bury into the ground. For me, it’s making me look at a lot of things differently, too. I think the things that Black people have been experiencing, they’re now coming to the surface for everyone else.


TS: Right. And it’s nothing new.


AD: Exactly. There are so many emotional responses to that awakening to everyone else. You know?


TS: It’s interesting. I spoke to my friend who is the Founder & CEO of a hospitality brand. He’s Black and he has struggled for the past few years to get capital. What he was told was that the property he had was not a ‘proper proof of concept.’ Now he’s like ‘no, I know exactly what it was. And now those same people are coming to me since the death of George Floyd.’


AD: Of course. You have to question that. A lot of that is very performative. It’s like: ‘It’s ironic you’re hitting me up about this now – nothing has changed on my end.’


It’s been a challenge having the compassion for someone now seeing the light. But also saying what it is, you know? It’s uncomfortable for everyone. The on-going discomfort that Black people feel in this country has now trickled down to everyone feeling uncomfortable. It has been hard to have the compassion when I have friends who it’s been hard for them to engage Black people right now.


I try to have compassion for that sometimes but also, that discomfort that you’re feeling, we embody that everyday in our adaptive lifestyles for survival in America. We’ve had to navigate that and figure that out. So, I’m confident you can figure that out as well.


TS: Yeah, it’s really interesting. A mutual friend of ours, Marquise Stillwell, he actually today or yesterday his company Openbox put out a statement from him....


AD: Yeah, I read it yesterday.


TS: Yeah. And I thought it was really interesting because he was basically like ‘I haven’t even had the time to sit and think about this and make my own statement because all of my non-Black friends who own businesses were coming to me to help curate their message.’ It’s kind of a double-edge sword there, right? Are you coming because you want to actually approach this properly and actually make change? Or do you just not want to be called out?


AD: A lot of that’s happening. I told someone recently just for some council on what allyship looks like. That had to be a conversation. What I mean by that is: you wouldn’t go to a potluck without bringing something, right?


TS: Mhm.


AD: So for us to engage in this conversation, you have to bring something. Period. It can’t just be me doing all the emotional labor and telling you what to do. You need to come to the table with something. I think that’s important.


TS: Yeah, I agree.


AD: That resonated with me, too. There’s so much emotional labor. Sometimes he and I are in a lot of communities where there aren’t many of us. There’s an emotional labor that comes with that. We love these people; they’re our family. But there’s a lot of emotional labor that we have to carry in regards to being the only one in there or one of few. It’s challenging.


What’s interesting is that the challenge that we face in those settings, it’s never on the surface for us. It’s something we reconcile with internally and we just adapt with and we move with and we deal with, right? No one on the outside feels any of that discomfort. I think what’s happening is that a lot of people are unwilling to shoulder that discomfort internally anymore.

TS: It has changed the feeling of Philly right now.


AD: Yeah, I’ve been seeing that.


TS: Yeah, it’s a lot. And for the better. It’s been really inspiring but at the same time I’m like why did it have to take this for this change to happen? And for us, specifically as a city but also as a nation, to continue having these conversations. It makes you question. We should continue having these conversations and also act and make change but it’s a little worrisome. It feels very, very different this time around. I’m sure Brooklyn feels extremely different, too. How does it feel being back?


AD: I was in New Mexico for five weeks. Out there its’ quiet, it’s expansive. You’re surrounded by nature all the time. It’s almost like I had a system re-set out there and I came back. Brooklyn’s just kinetic right now. Brooklyn’s just Brooklyn and I love Brooklyn. You have the energy of New York summer. You have the energy of protests. You have fireworks every night from 9:00pm to 6:00am. It’s just the energy.


The hardest part was just getting adjusted to the energy of New York cause I had been away from it for so long. Just coming back to a city that was even more uncertain. When I left, it was uncertain just because of COVID, right? I come back and you have that and the uncertainty that’s happening around race. That’s been happening, but now it has come to the surface and it has eclipsed with what has been happening with COVID. But COVID is still there, too. You can’t sleep on that, right? So, you’re moving through these different kinds of energies.


Two weeks ago I was watching rabbits eat grass, looking for coyotes and sh* like that. It’s just a different energy but I’m very appreciative of that. I can come back to Brooklyn and walk to Fort Green Park and have this newfound reverence for the trees I’m looking at because I spent that time in New Mexico communicating with nature. I had space to find the beauty that has been around me this entire time and honor it in a new way. I’m very thankful for that awareness.


At the same time, being back in Brooklyn, I have work to do here. I have work to do to support my community here. That time away gave me space to re-calibrate, to build more capacity to hold what I needed to hold now that I’m back. I’m slowly adjusting to being back. The air is definitely heavier here than where I was but where I was wasn’t my home. I can bring my experience there into my home.


I think life is not about living on either side: the calm side vs. the kinetic side. It’s about what integration looks like. It’s about living in the middle and having that balance.


TRAVEL LIGHT


TS: Couldn’t have said it better myself. Before we sign off, is there anything that is top of mind for you that you want to touch on?


AD: Something my coach and I chatted this morning about is that we’re all moving into this new reality. Whether we like it or not. We’re co-creating it together. What’s top of mind for me right now is what I’m bringing with me into this and what am I leaving behind. What am I letting go of? What am I going to double down on and invest in in this new space? You know, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, professionally. What am I moving into?


To the best of my benefit, I want to move into this new reality probably pretty light so I have flexibility, so I have space to receive, so I have space to take direct action, to be an advocate, to be an ally, and to be an accomplice in the ways that I need to be. To be of service and also to be able to be creative. In order to be creative and be the most impactful, I need to be able to travel light. What can I offload in this world that’s unraveling so I can put that energy into building a new one? That’s what’s top of mind for me right now.


TS: Yeah, I love that. Definitely going to leave me a lot to think about.


AD: Travel light.


TS: Yeah, travel light. I’m also thinking about I need to get rid of stuff, too.


AD: Yeah.


TS: All of that emotional, mental, spiritual stuff. I just need to get rid of physical stuff, too.

It’s always a pleasure and I really do appreciate you taking the time. I actually found out…Paul Heck of cobeep….does that name ring a bell?


AD: Yeah.


TS: Yeah, he texted me yesterday and was like 'you know Ant Demby?' That’s so funny. Are you guys working on something together?


AD: He’s a good friend. We were on a walk yesterday and your old job came up. I asked him if he knew you and he was like ‘oh, she’s the best.’ I actually have a picture of me and him to send to you that we took yesterday.


TS: Awwww, please do!!


AD: Paul and I co-produced this album a couple years ago called Red Hot + Fela. Paul’s been working with Red Hot for years, which is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting AIDS and creating awareness through using pop culture as a vehicle. They have all these albums like Red Hot + the genre. So like Red Hot + Riot was a Fela record he made years ago where he had a bunch of artists re-imagine Fela music. Red Hot + Cool was a jazz record.


We did Red Hot + Fela where we took Fela into different genres of music. We had artists like Brittany Howard from the Alabama Shakes doing a song with My Morning Jacket and tUnE-yArDs but it’s a Fela record.


TS: Wow, that’s cool.


AD: And all of these artists from the continent of Africa but having them collaborate with artists like Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino and teasing the radio with the Kronos Quartet. We worked on that a couple of years ago so we’re talking about doing another project like that right now.


TS: Oh, cool! That’s exciting.


AD: Yeah, so he’s a brother of mine.


TS: He’s a very, very good dude. I was happy to hear from him. Small, small world, right?


AD: For sure.

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