Interview: Roy Davis Jr.
Roy Davis Jr. is, in no uncertain terms, a legendary DJ and Producer who has helped define this thing we know as House music.
With a (self titled) “soul-electronic” sound, bringing together the sounds of garage, disco, r&b, house, hip hop and soul, Roy has graced everything from underground imprints to major league labels since the 1990′s, including everything from Defected, King Street Sounds, XL Recordings to Universal, Sony and Warner Brothers.
Initially turned on to dance music by DJ Pierre, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Marshall Jefferson, and Lil’ Louis, Roy Davis Jr. started spinning himself at the age of 12, and by the early 90s was A&R scout for New York’s groundbreaking imprint, Strictly Rhythm. By now, Roy’s travels as an ambassador of house have literally taken him to all corners of the world with such venues as, hometown of Chicago’s, Smart Bar, as well as London’s Fabric and Japan’s Yellow, being amongst the most respected.
Since the 1996 release of the certified anthem ‘Gabriel’ (reissued for the first time today), Roy has given the Chicago touch to a slew of artists, including some of the world’s most recognizable superstars: Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Seal and Morcheeba, to name a few. With last year seeing the release of his latest LP ‘Destroy & Rebuild’ (featuring select vocals by the hallowed Robert Owens), Roy Davis Jr. continues to push boundaries with his DJ sets and ongoing production projects, bringing the soul of Chicago to the studios and decks of the world.
“…the people who are really down with the sound know where to find it.”
Recently, we premiered a cut off your latest EP (DJ Pierre remix of “My Nation”). Here, I’m interested in the start of the creative process: What was the very first element of what would eventually become “My Nation” that occurred to you? What was its starting point?
Well, I was talking to my vocalist Terry Dexter about having a simple track with old school chords but wanted something that wasn’t overly produced, just raw. So we sat down In L.A. and came up with something on the melody tip. We both felt it and the lyrics came super fast. We just flowed that day! I think we did 5 tunes in one day with all vocals cut. All I had to do is go back to Chicago and put my vibe down and mix the record. I tested it out at a few clubs and festivals, got great feedback, and ended up adding it to my last album.
As we premiered the DJ Pierre remix, it is a case of two veteran house music figures providing interpretations of a track. Can you give a little insight into how you approach potential remixers for your work? Also, with an artist like DJ Pierre providing a remix, do you, essentially, just wait for the finished product or is there an element of back and forth between you?
Well, I knew that Pierre would add a good twist to the original, so I hit him up. Being long term good friends, I have always admired his work and felt that he could do a great job. I sent him the track, then he hit me back right away and said “I’m down! This joint is hot”, and turned the remix around in a week. I listened to his mix and knew that it would work right away. So, I rolled with it.
Do you consider “My Nation” to be a political track? Speaking on that, do you find it important for dance music figures to be active politically? Do you think that in the general party environment of dance music, there is a place where political activism can strive?
I really didn’t look at it as a political track, just something to elevate the mind and spirit of the “Destroy & Rebuild” album to let people know not to forget the respect for the Chicago house nation that I helped build, mixed with a little secret love story between me and the people.
I do think as an artist it is important to be open, politically, to refresh the minds of the youth today. You do have a duty as an artist to tap into different ideologies, to help the people grow.
I’m interested to know the evolution of Chicago as a dance music center. Many people are aware of the dialogue going on in (for example) New York City, where gentrification has caused something of a split between velvet rope style Manhattan clubs and more “underground” Brooklyn venues. Do you see the same in Chicago?
Chicago has always been separately segregated culture wise, but people would come together in different parts of the city to dance to house music. We have always had bottle clean cut clubs verses the underground venues too. Nothing has changed in our city compared to New York and what’s going on there.