There’s this great Miles Davis quote that my uncle put me on game about: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Having spent years in the vanguard playing into the future and pushing the underground culture of Los Angeles to the forefront, singer-songwriter Jack Davey and producer extraordinaire Brook D’Leau are ready to reap the rewards of ten years of hard work as LA eclectic duo J*DaVeY.
The duo built themselves a cult following with their progressive debut The Land of the Lost/The Beauty in Distortion and were one of the first in a young crop of LA artists like Pacific Division and Blu to influentially maneuver their place in Internet-era music in the early 2000s. They translated the uproar they caused throughout the music realm into a major label signing that eventually turned sour. New Designer Drugs in 2011 showed us they were artists prepared to take chances for what a new era of R&B was to be. And if you take a listen to the radio today, you would likely find their early music to be truly prophetic.
Their sound has always been in the same lineage of the space-funk Soulquarian period – of the Betty Davis pioneering epoch that ushered in the ’70s and infused a genre-blurring diversity endemic of existing in the musical melting pot of Los Angeles. What J*DaVeY has been able to do successfully is fuse their fascination and love for electro, pop, new wave, and hip-hop into a sonic landscape that forced listeners to expand their boundaries. If there was a genre name for this, it would be “sex and synths” à la Controversy-era Prince (their friend and early patron). Life has provided them new opportunities and avenues of creative expression that have strengthened them as an artist duo, such as motherhood, writing and music directing for Miguel, and reuniting again to wow us with their new EP, dropping today, POMP (stream it on Spotify here).
POMP allows a chance for fans to see what years of introspection looks like. J*DaVeY shows that with tracks like their new single “Strong Anticipation,” they still have more to say to an audience that has grown up with them, and that there are more sounds to inaugurate new listeners with. Always a supporter of innovation in the music scene here in LA, we sat down with them for The Hundreds and chatted about origin stories, maturing as artists together, and how they refuse to sacrifice their creative integrity.
Left: Jack Davey, Right: Brook D’Leau
SENAY KENFE: [Referring to a manifesto Jack Davey wrote in 2008 about the music industry] So I guess I want to start off by saying that if you would’ve written a manifesto in 2015, how would it have started?
JACK DAVEY: Okay the fact that you know about that makes me cringe. I think it would start, I would start with something that I read in a book recently. So it would be a quote. “Assume that everyone is more enlightened than you are.”
The angst wouldn’t be as—
JACK DAVEY: It wouldn’t be as angsty now. It would be way more calm. If I were to write a manifesto now it would be all about compassion and patience.
Do you think the patience comes from being a mother?
JACK DAVEY: Definitely… but the industry I mean teaches you patience as well. I think our journey has been all about that. Being patient but for good reason – you know because we had a vision and we didn’t really know what that vision was. I don’t think we ever really know but if you are patient you’ll get there.
What is the new method on where we can see J*Davey going and – you want to talk about the new track and how it came about and what you feel like it’s going to present?
BROOK D’LEAU: I feel like, especially with “Strong Anticipation” on like how that was, the set-up was a bit more minimal. But minimal in J*Davey terms. But “High” it was sort of, I just feel like it’s something that’s very fresh and like I said minimal and straight to the point. I think a lot of our stuff recently has been a bit more focused. Even though we still kind of have our tangents and we go wider sometimes that is a great just start to it being something very clear and direct sort of like, hey, this is new. This is not necessarily trying to throw people off right off the bat, just bringing it right up the middle a little bit. Usually we tend to kind of veer off and do a lot of random shit and I feel like this is something that was a bit more direct.
“THERE ARE UPS AND DOWNS THROUGHOUT YOUR ENTIRE CAREER AND YOU HAVE TO MAINTAIN A SENSE OF SELF.”
How do you think for fans of yours since The Land of the Lost/The Beauty In Distortion will be able to connect from that time to now?
JACK DAVEY: I think our fans have gotten older so now our fans, you know people come up to us and are like, “I used to listen to you in college.” So I think they’re older now. They’re older artists or older creative people. So they’ve probably been in their own journeys in their art or their lives, whatever they do, that coincides with our journey. So I think there’s always a similarity. Something that directly connects.
Within the progression of becoming more developed artists, what are conversations you would’ve had with the younger selves of yours?
BROOK D’LEAU: The younger selves, sometimes you may have the tendency to think that you can take your foot off the gas if you hit a stride. If you’re in a car and you’re going downhill, you’re just like, oh, it’s just full speed ahead. Let me just chill, kind of. Not necessarily chill but… let up a little bit.
I think [I would say] do as much as you can on your own at all times, because no matter who’s partnering with you or what kind of team you have, you still have to set the precedent. You still have to work harder than anybody that’s in your camp. If it’s your vision, no one’s going to really understand your vision the way you do. So it’s up to you to set the example. Sometimes you might get blinded by the fact that things are really good at that moment. You might not feel the need to further develop or strengthen your talents. But as a true artist I think you have to continue to do that. Sometimes like I said, it’s easy to feel as if you could coast when it’s really good.
You can’t really afford to do that because there are ups and downs throughout your entire career and you have to maintain a sense of self. The only way to do that is if you’re constantly working on that.
What would you tell the young Jack?
JACK DAVEY: It’d probably be a combination of don’t be so defensive. You get defensive over your art, it starts to become who you are. So everything that goes against that is like the enemy. So I would say don’t be so defensive – reactionary.
You guys were a part of an overall movement in LA where we saw the advent of blogs and the whole concept of the Internet, this whole connecting a seemingly LA underground scene, and through time [saw] it become mainstream. I don’t want to say you guys are mainstream, but a sound that you guys helped create and envision became mainstream without you guys, the captain of the ship for a lack of a better word. What [are] your feelings about that?
JACK DAVEY: We were just talking about this yesterday, actually. I think it’s great because the underground has always influenced the mainstream. I used the example of you know without Iggy Pop and art rock of the late 1960s in New York there would be no David Bowie… I think that they were the same but it took one to bring that out of the other is what I think what I mean.
BROOK D’LEAU: …It’s never the first person who gets to be the captain.
JACK DAVEY: Nobody wants to be the first.
BROOK D’LEAU: I mean, when we, I feel like when we were first doing it, it was a lot of no. A lot of no.
JACK DAVEY: It wasn’t mainstream, no. But it got there. That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter who brings it, as long as it gets there, that’s the point.
BROOK D’LEAU: But I also think that now is a time where people are searching for authenticity a lot more. But there’s a lot of people, they got to go through some changes just to appear authentic. So it’s rare that you can actually see you know an artist and feel that authenticity. I think that’s becoming a lot more valuable now because with the Internet you can see someone’s daily life almost. At least people feel like they can reach out and touch their idols. And so with that you can find a lot of holes and how authentic people are or aren’t. I think that’s something that is needed now.
“MONEY COMES AND GOES. THE ONLY THING WE HAVE CONTROL OVER IS OUR DRIVE.”
JACK DAVEY: There’s always somebody that’s going to be like, I did that before them. “You weren’t the first!”We drew our references from the same pool. I think it’s just creative minds all think alike. There’s not one thing that I thought about that somebody half way around the world hasn’t thought about. You know that’s the beauty of it all too though.
BROOK D’LEAU: I think now we’re just looking at it as much as there’s so many things happening outside of what we created – where there may be some lineage to it. There’s still nobody who’s going to be able to replicate what we do. That’s where I find solace. As much as somebody [will] be like, “Oh, this sounds like you guys.” I’ll listen to it and not hear it. But I can appreciate the fact that our name has become an adjective.
JACK DAVEY: That to me is way bigger than actually trying to describe what we do. People use our name to describe it.
And also expound on why you feel like it’s more important than ever to be independent?
BROOK D’LEAU: I think independence right now, independence has always been important whether we viewed it as something important at certain times or not is besides the point. But I think now more than ever I’m just seeing how, no matter what it’s sort of touching on what I was saying initially about always keeping your foot on the gas because people come and go.
Money comes and goes. The only thing we have control over is our drive. I would rather do as much as I can, whatever’s within my power and capability to push forward without truly needing anyone, even though it takes a village, you still need to spearhead. But you do need the rest of the arrow, you need the shaft and the feathers and all that kind of stuff in order to make it go further. But if you don’t have that spearhead you’re not actually going to hit anything. So being a spearhead means that you do have to always be focused on forward motion. So I think it’s paramount that you know we also live in a world where DIY is, it appears to be more authentic. Anybody with a budget can do anything. So then how do you know what’s real or what’s not real? …But the authenticity in that drive is what you see over the course of time and that’s what creates longevity.
What do you think is the future of J*DaVeY?
BROOK D’LEAU: I see J*Davey in the future, I see myself getting lots of sleep.
JACK DAVEY: [Laughs]
BROOK D’LEAU: Eating good food.
JACK DAVEY: Eating tasty food. I actually, and I was just talking to somebody about this a week ago who’s another LA creative person but on the filmmaking side – I was like, “We need to do a J*DaVeY documentary. Almost like mockumentary style like Spinal Tap but still with some true shit. Like I could see that in our future. I definitely want to tour a little more.
BROOK D’LEAU: Just a little? [Laughs]
JACK DAVEY: I want to tour.
BROOK D’LEAU: I’m like, you trying to make money?
JACK DAVEY: You know what I would really like to do is I would just like for us to find artists that we want to develop and just bring them in here and Missy and Timbaland and them bitches and put the music out.
BROOK D’LEAU: I want us to move from being an adjective to a superlative.
JACK DAVEY: Oh, good fucking vocabulary. Wow. That’s a good one.
BROOK D’LEAU: Thank you.
JACK DAVEY: Thank you. I’m out!
BROOK D’LEAU: That’s all I got.
JACK DAVEY: I see a very hefty glass of wine in my future. Hefty.
Purchase J*DaVeY’s latest EP Pomp on iTunes here or listen to the album on Spotify now.
Keep up with the duo at wearejdavey.com.
Photos by Nicholas Tatone.