There’s at least one film in the story of Seven Davis Jr’s life & you get the feeling that we’re still really only at the early stages of the tale.
He’s a singer, songwriter, producer and occasional DJ, also known as Sev, Siete and Mean Bacharach. He’s worked as a vocal arranger, ghost writer and ghost producer, recorded six artist albums, released music on Classic, Ninja Tune and on his own Secret Angels label. His vocals and songwriting skills have featured on recordings by artists like Honey Dijon, Doc Daneeka, Detroit Swindle (now “Dam Swindle”) and KON, he’s remixed Hot Chip, Four Tet and Martyn – you get it, Seven Davis Jr. has been around the block.
His productions span various flavors of deep house and often also take in all sorts of other interesting musical genre diversions, from Minneapolis funk, RnB-dusted electronica, soul, leftfield-pop, rap and more. In a fascinating and frank conversation, Seven told us about the ups and downs of his career, touching upon PTSD, sexual assault, depression, industry rip-offs and his successful return to form.
Seven Davis Jr. photo by B. McMillan
So we know lots of people have had enough of talking about it, but we have to ask, how has your lockdown been?
I’ve been in a self-induced lockdown since 2016. Was struggling with depression, stepped away to handle that. Still released music but kept a low profile, barely toured, practicing self-care. Got over my depression in 2019. But was diagnosed with PTSD also and wasn’t feeling like myself in my personal life. Began searching for ways to escape the matrix. I went on a “walkabout” or went “soul searching.” That lead to me relapsing, going through a “fuck it” period. Started drinking heavy, partying hard and entertaining things/people I normally wouldn’t.
Towards the end of that I ended up getting COVID, before it was a pandemic. Thought it was a bad flu. Was sick for about 3 months the first time, one month the second wave. Never been sick that long, haven’t been sick since. Recently got tested and found out I have the antibodies. So while the world started struggling with depression from social isolation, financial problems etc, I was coming out of a 4-year stint of that. Spent quarantine resting, recovering, working out, studying, rebuilding myself. And of course, recording lots of music. It’s been a rebirth experience.
I’ve been disrespected too many times by DJs/producers who think they can get away with murder because I’m “just a vocalist.” That’s why I don’t collab with anyone unless I know them now. Because if one more asshole tries to interfere with my dreams I’m just gonna have to catch a case.
That all sounds extremely intense, glad to hear you made it through ok. Let’s go back a bit, tell us about how your music career began — how and when did you get into singing professionally?
At first I only wanted to sing gospel and jazz, began training for that at a very young age. Things were great until a mentor tried to molest me, a couple times. Had been molested before so I wasn’t having it. The very last time he attempted, I escaped by locking him in his own garage. After that he stopped managing me and kicked me out of a choir we were in (MC Hammer’s choir at the time). Plus during a session with a different gospel group, someone got into an argument and pulled out a gun threatening the lives of everyone in the studio. Then I was like “I’m out.” Figured if gospel was that bad, mainstream can’t be worse.
In my mid-teens, I started being groomed for mainstream R&B. I’d get scouted by talent agents and brought to meet (alleged) label execs only for them to diss me to my face. They told me I sound great but was too weird, too different, looks gay, ugly, too short, you’re not black enough, you’re not hood enough (even though I grew up in the hood). Imagine barely being 16 years old hearing that from adults. Put myself through that hell plus interning, ghostwriting, ghostproducing, back-up singing etc. until finally in 1999 I was like “fuckkk this.” Started recording music for myself, keeping it in my vault. The internet was still new then, there was only MySpace.com and MP3.com. Occasionally I’d upload songs, started building a fan base. Told myself “I’m going to record and whatever happens happens”.
In 2012, checked my email after ignoring it and there were loads of messages wanting to release my music. Next thing I’m playing around the world surrounded by new faces. Even recorded a mini-documentary about it for PUMA on Resident Advisor in Germany. Being an introvert that was a shell shock but I tried to hide it. In between filming I’d have mini anxiety attacks. On tours, sometimes I’d shake before going on stage from anxiety. Even used to wear these big peace sign glasses so people wouldn’t see I had social anxiety. Eventually, I signed to a UK label and that experience was horrible, on the business side of it, so I walked away from a three album record deal. The frustration caused me to have a nervous breakdown, which opened a Pandora’s Box of unresolved stuff, which lead to depression. That’s when I stepped away in 2016 to take care of myself.
Where did you grow up — did it have an influence on your musical development?
Grew up in between Northern California (the Bay Area) and Houston, Texas. My childhood was extremely cruel, but with extremely beautiful moments mixed in. That contrast definitely influenced my development. Because I didn’t have the “privilege” of an easy upbringing it made me appreciate the full spectrum of life. I’ve been a church boy, homeless street kid, corporate suit, addict, athlete, thug, poor, rich, etc… It’s an unusual blessing that I’ve experienced so many levels but I’m grateful, gives me more to pull from creatively.
I’d get brought to meet (alleged) label execs only for them to diss me to my face. They told me I sound great but was too weird, too different, looks gay, ugly, too short, you’re not black enough, you’re not hood enough… Imagine barely being 16 years old and hearing that from adults.
You’ve produced a wide variety of electronic music in your career — how would you describe the different types of music you make? And can you sum up ‘the Seven Davis’ sound or style? Each song reminds me of my journey. For example, my debut “One” EP was recorded when I worked in corporate sales by day, went to dance clubs at night and was just starting to blend dance into my songs. The “P.A.R.T.Y, Friends and Wild Hearts” EPs were products of my touring-around-the-world-non-stop-like-a-rockstar years. My sounds are different because every time I release something I am different. I’ve learned more, grown more.
So how does the songwriting process actually work for you? How do you go about communicating your emotions through music?
I call my studio the “quantum realm.” Marvel Comics fans know the reference. The quantum realm is a place where rules of time and space don’t apply. Sometimes it takes minutes to write a song, sometimes hours, days, months, years. My most popular song “One” — the instrumental I made in 3 hours and listened to for two years. The song came later when I had free time leftover in a studio session, wrote and recorded it in 30 minutes. There is no set process, I just listen and let it out. Never rush anything, everything is done on purpose. Never sit down and try to make something “everyone will love”. Because you never know which people will gravitate to. So I stay true to the idea and never, ever over do it. I’ve witnessed so many artists overthink it and destroy a song or album. That’s a big no in my rulebook.
And how much of yourself do you put into your songs? Are they confessional?
Sometimes, yeah it’s confessional, sometimes just talking my shit, sometimes retelling encounters, things I wish to manifest or sharing lessons learned. Sometimes just being playful.
Do the lyrics need to be “real” for the vocal to sound authentic? Or can a singer make any lyrics sound emotive?
It can go either way for me. From spending so much time ghostwriting I learned how to perform fiction. Tend to use this on collaborations. For example the collab song “Shots In The Dark” with CJ Jeff and Honey Dijon. The lyrics are about a fictional interaction at a club from male and female perspectives, not about me.
Songs and singers have been central in the development and continued success of dance music — do you think singers and songwriters get the respect and credit they deserve compared to producers and DJs?
I’ve been disrespected too many times by DJs/producers who think they can get away with murder because I’m “just a vocalist” even though I’m a fucking DJ/ producer also. That’s why I don’t collab with anyone unless I know them now. Because if one more asshole tries to interfere with my dreams I’m just gonna have to catch a case.
But it’s different now thank God. Definitely feel singers are getting credit.
The role of a singer in the digital age — is it the same as it ever was or have changes in the industry changed the role of the vocalist?
I think no matter how the world of music changes singers will always have a place. The voice is the original instrument it came before drums, keyboards, guitars, bass and CDJs.
You have a substantial body of work — what do you feel looking back at all the songs you’ve written and sung on? And do you have any personal favorites? If so, why?
They are all my children in a way. I have love for all of them. Not all of them are perfect but they are still my children and I love them.
Although I do regret working with certain people, it’s not about us, it’s about the music.
What’s the question journalists never ask you that you wish they would? And what’s the answer?
“What’s your sexual orientation?” Why? Because that’s a subject on the low and it’s annoying as fuck. Random dudes always think I’m hitting on them. Nah fool I’m chillin, nobody looking at yo dumb ass. Or women talking to me like I’m one of the girls because I’m not fighting for their attention, nah stop it.
The answer… I like women, I date women, but I’m not 100% straight. I’m not gay either. Some might call that bisexual, I wouldn’t. But don’t mind it anymore, there are some legendary bisexuals. Technically I’m asexual — but a rogue asexual.
Finally, what do you have coming up musically in the next few months?
Releasing artists on my Secret Angels imprint. But my own music, it will be some time. I’m really protective moving forward, more selective, reclusive, cautious, building a new team, management, booking etc. Talking with labels again. But self-releasing has been going so well, I’m debating if I should even bother with labels.
Looking forward to sharing my new music when that time comes, God willing. Never know when God will call me to my next destination. And if people don’t appreciate me as an artist while I’m alive, maybe someone will long into the future. Not waiting for anyone. Going to continue enjoying my blessings, minding my business, then bounce. And whatever happens happens.
Seven Davis, Jr’s “Escape The Matrix” is out now — the new single from his forthcoming album scheduled for 2021.