Seven Davis Jr is one of the most unique artists around at the moment.
From his ‘Lost Tapes Vol.1’ via various EP’s through to his recently released ‘Universes’ album on Ninja Tune, he has flirted with and seduced more musical genres than Enrique Iglesias has actual women, and created a brand of soulful, gospel infused house that is taking the scene by storm.
Now he’s managed to land a November residency at the cavernous stalwart of Dalston nightlife ‘The Nest’, curating a varied month of line-ups with top artists - from Funkineven to Reginald Omas Mamode IV.
I caught up with him this week to see how he’s been adapting to the UK nightlife, his vision for the future and his plans to turn his residency into the London version of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’:
So how’s it going?
It’s good, it’s good, just hanging out today.
Are you in England?
Yeah, just in London.
Do you have a place here or get put up by your label?
I rent a place here, but I live in the States.
So how did getting signed to Ninja Tune come about?
I was approached by a couple different people and Ninja just seemed like the people who…I dunno, got it the most. They were talking long term, which I liked.
Are there artists they have you feel like you associate more with than other labels?
They have artists on their roster that I’ve been a fan of, and also with their work with Brainfeeder, a bunch of different stuff, Bonobo too…Bus Drivers is on there, somehow, but I never really thought about myself on there. But it was pretty interesting when it happened, and now it has it makes sense for sure.
So how do you find the UK and European dance scene when you first got introduced to it by Kutmah?
Well I’ve been coming over here for like, 3 to 4 years and I’m only just now getting my bearings. Being on tour is just mostly culture shock mode and really soaking up the culture and enjoying meeting the people but when it happened it was just…fast. But I learned to DJ here so a new part of me creatively has been born here, so the integration has been quite painless.
So before being introduced to DJing were you just more performing as a singer? I know you were a classically trained gospel singer.
Well singers are a lot more common in the US so the US was more singing based. I didn’t know what was going on here so when I first came over it was similar to the US, which was just doing vocals over tracks.
What kind of tracks? Like hip-hop beats or house?
Well I like to do both, so whichever I was at I would adapt accordingly, but mostly both. And then I was learning new things from being over here, so when I learnt to DJ it opened up a whole new avenue for me creatively and started affecting the new music I was making so, it’s been really good, really fun.
I remember seeing you play at Corsica Studios back in February and although you were playing mostly house you were also throwing out some techno as well, is that something you learnt to love from the UK or from before?
II had been into Techno before I came to the UK. I had got into techno and house from about 18-19 in the San Francisco/San-Jose area. I came up listening to DJs like Mark Farina and Green Velvet, who used to play a lot with other DJ’s like Miguel Migs and the whole Naked Music crew up there. So I learnt about house and techno from San Francisco.
So what scenes do you think have had a bigger influence on you?
Well I’m not really calculated that way, I think I’m just more bringing what I felt I know and enjoyed into the scenes with my music today, and duplicating what caught me on to it in the first place. But I do feel it’s more active here, y’know?
Do you notice differences in the crowds between the US and the UK?
I think in the first 2 years I felt I noticed a big difference, but now to be honest I think they’re about the same. It’s got to a stage recently where crowds just seem to be up for it, which is good.
Where do you think has been your favourite ever place to play? Like, your favourite ever club, festival or country?
I mean I just go off experience, but I mean, Worldwide Festival was really nice, Italy is always a good place for me to play, London obviously, pretty much anywhere in London is good. I really enjoyed Gottwood festival…
Oh really? I’ve wanted to go for a while, what’s so good about it?
I dunno it was just kind really organic, it was like out in the woods or something? And people were in costumes and it was just really chill.
So how did the Nest residency come about? It’s quite a big thing in the UK to get a residency at a club.
They asked me if I wanted to do it and I thought it was really cool to programme my own night, so I said yeah.
As simple as that?
And in terms of the artists playing, how did you pick them?
I made a huge list cos I had a bunch of favourites, and just went down it asking to see who was available, and it ended up being mostly people I know *laughs*
So do you think you’ll have a different approach to each night in terms of how you play? Or do you think it will be a similar kind of set each week?
I’m just gonna vibe out, have a good time, go with the flow. I’m really just gonna be DJing the first couple of nights.
Like what kinda vibe?
Well I really like to just play unknown stuff, like I do a lot of digging and stuff, but also wanna play a lot of my own tunes - edits that I may never release. I’ll play a bunch of that stuff. I’m just looking forward to the music and having a good time. I’m looking forward to it being the London version of Purple Rain.
*serious lols happening on both sides here*
So you gunna come in with a purple velvet suit and that?
If I can find one!
Bruv, I think I’m gunna come to the Reginald Omas Mamode night, I might bring you a purple velvet suit for you to wear.
So with these sets, I know in the past you've done singing with mixing, or more completely live with a band, so will these just be straight DJ sets or a little different?
Well I know for sure the Omas night I’ll be doing a live show, and some others I might DJ, honestly I know it’s like my residency and stuff but it’s not really about me at all *laughs* like I know I’m playing but really I feel more like a part of staff, I’m really just looking forward to seeing all the people that got booked, cos the combination of people playing is kinda crazy.
OK fair play. But I know you just recently released your first album Universes. How do you think that’s gone down? Do you listen to the reception at all or not bother?
I don’t bother, I mean I know it’s doing well, as time as progressed I mean, I know it’s a long album if you get the extended version so it takes time. But I don’t really like to read reviews of even artists that I like.
Because I think reviews can just be too harsh, and I like to listen to music the way, y’know, the artist presents them and I don’t like to criticise it too much, it’s like art. But I’ve heard and been told the albums done well.
So…what do you think of music journalism in general? People like me?
I think it’s beautiful, I mean I went to school to train as a writer. But I mean I feel like there’s journalism and then there’s attacks and insults. I just don’t like reading anything and coming away feeling attacked, y’know? Am I pissed or offended? Nah, I just don’t read it as a result.
So when I listened through your album I was first struck by the intro tune ‘Imagination’. It sounds a lot like D’Angelo who’s a personal fave of mine. Are artists like that still an active influence on your sound today?
So the album is pretty much new, but the interludes are like, old. And the hidden track is old. So all these tracks I made back in southern California, in like, ’07, ’08? So I used to have a little bit of a party problem, and it was recorded around the time I was getting my act together. That song was like the first track I made when I got back in the studio after getting myself together and it’s actually a full song, and it kinda goes into this chant, the song is imagination and you can get it however you want it, it’s nothing, y’know? So I wanted to start the album honestly, and thought why don’t I use something I made when I was first getting back in the studio, and respecting myself and my craft and stuff.
So in terms of that time, it still sounds like you were making amazing music. So has your music changed in line with how confident you feel about yourself from then to now?
I think I was just young. I definitely believed in myself and what I was doing but I was learning, I mean I’m always learning but I think I was just young and it was getting really psychedelic for me *laughs*. But when I listen now I just think “Yeah, those were my psychedelic years.”
See that’s what I thought when I listened to some of your earlier stuff, that maybe you could do more psychedelic stuff, more like prog-rock with soul. Is that something you'd go back to or now you're on the path of house and techno will you stay in this direction?
I would love to go back to more psychedelic stuff, and I’m kind of going back in that direction now, but I’ve always been in that lane, y’know? But, never gonna stop the house stuff, it’s like a love. But with the new stuff I’m making it’s more musical, more prog-rock, more vocal.
So on your next album, and next residency (wherever that may be), do you think you’ll be playing with a live band? And how do you think you’ll be progressing as an artist?
Oh I’m actually recording the second album, I’m working with a lot of musicians and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve loved the music I’ve put out, first of all I’m really grateful it’s been received so well, but I’m always growing, so now that I’ve grown and got my bearings and I’m making the music I wanna make now, but I’ve had to improve myself to get there. So yeah, been working with musicians and looking for band members, trying to sort that out for the next album.
When do you reckon that’ll be?
I reckon 2017.
So 2016 is a year of touring?
Well I’ll be doing a lot of stuff in the background, just you’ll have to look at the credits *laughs*
Is that something you'd get into as well, more production based stuff?
I do but, I’m starting to do it more again. So I’ll be doing not only production but vocal work and writing too so I’ll still be around in 2016, just chilling out a bit, don’t wanna be greedy *laughs*.
So in terms of where you’re playing next other than the Nest, I see you’re playing a Warehouse Project soon as well. How does it feel as an artist to play in these mega line-ups with so many artists and styles so close together? Does it suit your style or take away from it?
I mean, it’s been fun, number one. I’ve grown a lot as well so before I was super critical of that.
Before I was just kind of like, a live act among DJ’s. So before I felt like the whole time, maybe I should DJ? I felt left out. Because as a live act you can only do so much, like, as a live band you’ve only got a ‘set’ set. So I was just trying to wrap my head around it for a while. But now I see it different because now I can adapt more. And I think there are different sides of me; a lot of people know me for the house and up-tempo stuff, but not for the slower down tempo stuff, so now I can switch it up which has proved to be more enjoyable for me and seems to be more enjoyable for the crowd as well which is important.
Do you feed off the crowd when you play or do you just have a set list? I know some people just do what they want and don’t care if it flops at all.
I feel like if you start walking on those grounds, you can’t win. There’s been times when I’ve tried to play to the crowd and some people might think it too cheesy or whatever, but if you just let me get in my zone, I can do the best. I mean I can still engage, but I’m kinda shy, I like to keep to myself. When I first played I used to look out and just scan and be amazed and now I been doing it a while I just look out and people watch.
So do you feel more comfortable to change style or play differently when playing out?
Yeah I think I just feel more comfortable with the whole process. With touring, playing out, making music.
So I know you were introduced to the UK scene through NTS and Kutmah, but are you also in contact with Giles Peterson at all? I know you played at Worldwide…
I actually learned how to DJ at the Brownswood Studio…
Yeah so he’s been really supportive. I used to go there every Wednesday with a mate, and get lessons.
From Giles Peterson?!
No, just a mate, in the space. Do you know Alex Patchwork?
So yeah that was him.
Amazing. Can’t wait for the shows.
Yes man, me too!
Seven Davis Jr begins a residency at The Nest in Dalston, London all through November.