By Larry Olsen
John Duff grew up in a suburb outside of Baltimore. After graduating college, he made his way to the bright lights of New York City, where he worked as an actor and partied for six years. He then moved west to Hollywood to pursue his artistic dreams. He has been in Los Angeles for six years and has released an EP, Homo•Sapien, and several hit tracks, including the gay classics “Girly” – who can forget that hilarious video where he battled Bianco Del Rio? – and “High Heels.”
His latest single, “House on Fire,” is a breezy throwback track that seems to signify that romance is alive; however, in true John Duff fashion, there is a more profound message of concealed infatuation within. The singer dives into the song’s creepy subject matter in its chilling music video.
We spoke with John Duff from his home in Los Angeles.
You wrote “House on Fire” about a man you went on a date with once that you fantasized was “the one.” What was it about him that intrigued you so much?
You know, the whole thing felt like some sort of kismet. I was at a friend’s wedding in Tennessee. I left early, and while walking back to my hotel, I stopped at a club I had heard of. Upon entering, I was immediately drawn to this person. He seemed familiar but was no one I knew. We acknowledged each other with glances and stares, as homosexuals do. I was by myself, and he was with a group. Unsure if any of those people were with him, I did a lap. We made eyes again, but no contact. So, I went home. I may have looked at some apps to see if he would magically appear on a grid, but he didn’t. I woke up to a DM from him the day after. He had recognized me but was too shy to approach me. We arranged to meet for dinner. I think when you meet someone on vacation, your walls come down a little faster. That’s why they always go to Fiji on The Bachelor. We talked about our views, goals, and plans – and had everything in common. It was all aligned. But alas, I flew home the next day.
You never saw him again?
It was a geographic crisis. I think gunning for people who don’t live in an accessible vicinity is a sign of unavailability; at least, that’s what my therapist says. So, though we texted and spoke for months, it was always compartmentalized as a fairy tale for me.
Does the wistful melody and string arrangement in “House on Fire” reflect your feelings for the crush?
The song is definitively romantic. The lyric, on its own, is a desperate cry for movement, growth, connection, and commitment. I wanted the ball to roll. I wanted it to snowball into an unshakeable love.
The video is pretty twisted, John.
For me, everything creatively starts with: “You know, I’ve never seen anyone do _____ before” or “I haven’t heard a song like ____ in a long time.” When I create, it’s always an attempt to fill a void. To paint with a palette that isn’t currently in use. The “House of Fire” video is a dramatic portrayal of a one-sided relationship. Essentially, this fairy tale guy was something of a prisoner in my mind, perhaps of his own volition, perhaps against his will. But who is the captive, and who is the captor? Sure, the fantasy lived in my head, but it also consumed me. So, as my production team and I began to treat the video, a lot unfolded, and none of it was accidental. The antihero in the video, played by me, is more than meets the eye. To all of his viewers on the internet, he’s perfect. He lives in a bright and colorful world and teaches people how to fix things. He’s pretty. As we began to unpack this whole hostage thing, we realized it’s rather omnipresent. We’ve all kind of become unpaid employees to the algorithm – and there is no end in sight.
Are we, the viewers, the doomed girl in the video, captive to social media?
That’s sort of how it feels sometimes, right? The only way out of our current situation is to burn the whole system down. Hmm.
What are stories that appear on your social newsfeeds?
A ton of Mariah Carey! So many people send me videos and memes of her because of my first music video, “Girly.” I guess that sort of triggered the algorithm into thinking that’s all I care about. And to be honest, I don’t help. I obviously watch all of the videos.
The TikTok dance that you do in the video is super catchy! What has been the response from fans?
Ya know I’m a little bit of a troll, and my longtime followers get that. The people that have responded love it, and they get it. Most of my followers haven’t acknowledged it, though. They only like me when I’m naked.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a shiny object. As everyone here is aware, life is tough. So, I hope people recognize the strength and bravery it takes to have fun, to walk tall, and to put yourself out there. If nothing else, I’m great at that.
John Duff’s “House on Fire” is available on Apple Music, Spotify, and all digital platforms. Its video is available on YouTube.
Follow John Duff on Facebook and Instagram @ iamjohnduff