Roy Davis Jr

At a time when dance music is now outselling Hip-Hop, we can shamelessly go with the glass half full analogy and say that the EDM scene is revitalizing the underground. New fans are primed, their ears digging deeper for more sophisticated sounds and their actual genealogy.

Chicago House legend Roy Davis Jr. is imbuing hope and lots of positivity into the mindframe of our current music business, and he’s living proof that success and selling out are still polar opposites.

But he had to go to Europe to relearn the business…

 

 

Around November of last year I was in a state of quitting. I was not feeling inspired, and my sound was almost getting into an EDM type of way and I felt like that wasn’t me.

For me in Chicago, out of the “legends” that have been doing this for a long time, there are really only a handful that have continued to move forward. And you’re definitely one of them. And I think a lot of it is because you collaborate with a lot of new people. Is that safe to say?

I don’t want to stay with the same thing or I get bored. Right now I’m trying to give a fresh breath of air to the younger kids that are coming out and also letting the older people that go out experience something new instead of always the same old classic Chicago House stuff. And right now the UK has a lot of younger kids that come up with different things. Even though some of the stuff might sound like a lot of the ’90s, they’re still fresh to most people so that’s where most of my sets have been gearing towards.

 

Yeah that whole ’90s sound has been huge for a while now. Which is great for me, I love that sound. How much longer do you think that’s going to last?

I don’t know to be honest… There’s a lot of it floating around. A lot of it’s not necessarily good! I mean with a lot of my music coming from the ’90s, it really kind of made me feel like I was going backwards a bit, you know? But at the same time it made me get some of my old analog equipment back out!

 

How do you like working with some of the newer guys like Disclosure? I imagine that compared to working with someone that’s been at it for 15 years, it’s like a complete breath of fresh air.

Yeah it’s kinda crazy! I work with MNEK, he just got signed to EMI in the UK. He’s like 18 years old and he was one of the most talented vocalists I’ve ever worked with. I’ve never worked with a vocalist that could write a song in 10 minutes, then sing the song in 10 minutes and then ask me if he could edit his own vocals. I was very much impressed and I see why he’s one of the hottest vocalists out of the UK right now.

Originally published in 5 Magazine's January 2014 print issue - subscribe here for $0.99/month.
Originally published in 5 Magazine’s January 2014 print issuesubscribe here for $0.99/month.

 

A lot of us producers that grew up together, we would sell a track but there was never any strategy to it. In Europe, they have a strategy from Day One.

Where are they coming from? These producers and artists are getting younger and younger… We used to laugh and say how dance music was kind of the one industry where you were ageless and it didn’t matter, but now there’s almost a reverence for youth.

I think it’s great actually and it’s inspiring to me, because I’m like a sponge when it comes to producers, singers, different talents and genres. And I noticed that the thing in Europe is that they’re younger than the Americans because they have a lot of radio pull. So when new things break, they break there first. That’s why they have a lot of DJ artists coming out that are young because they grew up listening to us, people like myself, Kerri Chandler, you know, and a lot of the Chicago artists. The outlet is a lot easier for them to be popular real quick because the majors in Europe are not like the majors here which is mostly into popular, commercial music like Hip-hop and Pop. Out there they’re pretty open minded. It’s really motivating. I would go out there every other month, and would stay a month.

Around November of last year I was in the state of quitting. I was not feeling inspired, and my sound was almost getting into an EDM type of way and I felt like that wasn’t me. So I needed time to go to some other countries and see what was going on. And I found there is room for good music, when I got there and saw there were three to four thousand people waiting to get into a club for me, I was like, “Wait a minute! I need to adjust my game and really focus on what’s going on!” And then I got a really strong new management team behind me out there, started doing my research and got back up on my horse.

I mean it’s not just an EDM dump out here. Good songs are making it to the radio!

I was traveling a lot because I was getting somewhat stagnated. And it wasn’t about the producers – it was the way our business is being managed over here. There’s really no major labels you can go running to here after you’ve finished a hot House track! [laughs]

 

It’s almost so ironic to me because I never associated major labels with dance music today. I always thought that at least in terms of our music, they were relics and everyone was implementing a DIY ethic.

See like what’s going on is that people will get their deals over there, and they’ll cross over their deals to America. Like Interscope actually has Disclosure, and Warner Brothers has Rudimental in America now. And that’s how all those guys are getting here and doing all the big festivals, tours and selling out concerts.

So sometimes you think – well how are those guys getting to that level? You have to find your little niche and get in there so you can have a bigger impact and a bigger draw. Because I play Coachella and all of that, but there’s a difference. Roy Davis will play Coachella for maybe 1,500 people, a Disclosure playing is like 20-30,000 people. It’s not like I want to be bigger – I just think that some of these guys have been making this music for a while and they deserve to be on that level too.

A lot of us producers that grew up together, we would sell a track but there was never any strategy to it. In Europe, they have a strategy from Day One.

 

What is that strategy? I know that a lot of younger kids have access to House Music because they’re a lot of under 21 parties that give them access to it.

They’re under 21, and they’re hearing it in the clubs and in the radio everyday. That’s why Marc Kinchen [MK] has a #1 record right now. Because it’s being played 24/7 on a major station.

 

So what changes have you made in the last year?

So last year I was like, “Okay I’m done with this.” I was getting tired of putting out so many records. I had to look at who was managing my career, they were doing more for others than they were doing for me.

So I did a party for Audio Doughnuts – they were a group pretty successful doing big nights, having people like myself, Marc Kinchen, Marshall Jefferson

The guy approached me and said, “I think I can promote for you more than your company’s doing for you right now. Why don’t you let me put together a plan for you?” So we sat down, worked out a year plan with goals…and to be honest we already passed the goal list in like 6 months! And it showed me I was with the right person. Because I needed to make myself current.

 

I’ll concur that they’re doing an amazing job because prior to this interview I was looking to see what was up with you and there have been tons of interviews with you in the past few months. You have more of an international presence right now.

Yeah, I mean we’re dealing with kids that are listening to YouTube all day. They don’t really buy music as much – they just listen to it. So you have to be out there a little more, with press, radio shows, everything.

That’s why I don’t mind promoting a party that I’m playing at. That’s just the way you communicate to the younger generation right now. And if you’re not out there, they won’t know!

 

Man, I was just going to say that you’re one of the few big producers that don’t have that “I don’t need to promote” attitude. You’re in there in the trenches hustling!

I want us all to win, especially Chicago! I’ve been here most of my life and I feel like it’s one of the most talented cities. I just didn’t want to compromise my sound too much where I’m just doing it to make money. That’s why I said I’d rather work a job, putting out tracks when I feel like it than to force a bunch of stuff that I don’t want to listen to. So I thought… How can I make this cool again?

 

Talk to me more about your new manager…

He’s young but very very mature. I asked some of my other buddies what was up with him and they all told me, “Dude he’s the hungriest person in the business… He’s been doing this since he was 15!” And it reminded me of myself when I was 15. I saw his hunger. And he already had two acts that were on a major in the UK and he was having the most successful parties in London. And once we got together, we just made it happen! And he’s not trying to take on a million DJs, not trying to oversaturate himself where he’s got so much work he can’t pay attention to the artist. Because I’ve always been on agencies where there are so many people they can’t focus.

 

You are a success story. There are so many producers out there busting their asses, making all this music. Since you’ve seen a brighter side to this story, what do you suggest to them?

Take this business seriously. And realize that it is a business. Instead of spending a hundred bucks on weed, spend it on marketing yourself. Hire these marketing companies that are out there, type it in Google… There are so many of them out there for the music business. You can be a new artist and hire a marketing company.

A lot of young kids will party off their money instead of using it wisely. I mean the competition is stiff, and you will have to come up with a great record. Or DJ some party that will get you seen and get you more gigs.

Also lastly don’t burn any bridges! With promoters, with record labels or anybody in the business.

 

Roy is currently working on new records with MNEK (featured on the Rudimental’s “Spoons” single out now), UK Singer YASMIN, and remixes for Disclosure’s F FOR U and Rudimental’s “Free” on Black Butter Records/Warner UK, which is out now.

For booking info, email henry@audiodoughnuts.com. You can reach Roy Davis on Facebook and Twitter.

Originally published in 5 Magazine’s January 2014 print issuesubscribe here for $0.99/month.