“My creative quest was to only play the essential notes when I was producing Before I Sing. The moments with the most resonance stayed, everything else went away.”
LiS: You were raised in upstate New York, went to college in Nashville, studied guitar in Boulder, and have toured the country multiple times for years. What encouragement can you give to musicians hoping to travel the country and promote their music in various regions?
D.V.S* Success is a fragile balance between following your heart and having your finger on the pulse of what’s hot and poppin’. My biggest advice is do your research…learn the music style your’e playin’ inside and outside, backwards and forwards, five times over. Then go to the places that appreciate those styles and try to play a gig. Study the sages and masters and dig in. That way when you start touring, your sound is solid and undeniable. And make friends with people in the scene. There’s a social element to it for sure.
LiS: In many areas of the country today rap, hip-hop, and soul music are seemingly played everywhere and listened to by all kinds of people. Your music can be labeled as trip-hop. What do you love about this style?
D.V.S*: What I love about Trip-Hop is that it’s a crossroads of several styles. Hip-hop and electronica dance beats are the backbone; but soul, funk and even classical, folk and various ethnic styles fit in to the equation. This works out for me because I’ve played so many styles live as a sideman: jam, funk, hip hop, motown, mambo, samba, afro-beat, big band, classical; the list goes on and on. It allows me to do fun club gigs and still embrace all that I’ve been in the past, and what I’ve become.
LiS: As a young musician you were influenced by My Bloody Valentine’s unprecedented guitar layering. How does this manifest in the music you produce today?
D.V.S*: When the album Loveless dropped it the face of guitar music was changed forever. Early 90’s shoesgaze has still to this day had a great influence on me. Synths are great, but there’s a power to guitar layering that synths may never have. It’s like a sea of colorful electricity where there’s no clear beginning or end. And there’s so many ways of getting amazing results. Is this five guitars, or one guitar through five channels of effects?
I’m always searching for new ways to make the most wacked-out sounds. Like, how about a guitar played with a remote control through an amp, then reverse it, then splice it and play it on my sampler so it’s like a drum set of guitar sounds. I just made that one up, I’ll try it out and see if it works!
When I was a freshman in college, I used to wake up at the crack of dawn and drive into nature. Sometimes I would take psychedelics by myself and walk around the rivers and woods until sunset. I was always hearing sounds in my head during these experiences. The mental jukebox, so to speak. Much of it was in the MBV style guitar layering style and my feeling was that maybe I was cracking the time space continuum and hearing guitar sounds that I would make in the future. I’ve tried doing it with friends, but it was rarely as clear as when I was alone. So anytime I’m really going for it, onstage or in the studio, I hope to down pull those sounds down from parallel dimensions into this one.
I do a lot of unconventional layering in the studio, and spontaneous looping is always part of my game on stage. Even though it’s very processed, I find these sheets of sound to be much closer to the sound of nature than most other styles of music.
LiS: You seem to be able to play anything, creating any sound you want. Can you describe the various musical elements/instruments that you use in your creative production process?
D.V.S*: Each piece of music starts in a different place. For years it was a guitar melody first, or I’d get a new pedal and get inspired by that. Then maybe a bass line, or some Rhodes, later maybe a certain beat style I was getting into. Hip-hop, drum n bass, grime. A lot of times nowadays its a tempo or a texture, and that allows me to feel really free, ya know? I feel blessed that I come from a background in harmony and melody, and my best friends have always been drummers, so I have strong perspective on rhythmic styles and all types of melodies.
LiS: Possibly my favorite aspect of the D.V.S* tracks I frequent most is the often flawless mix of innovative, electronic beats and sultry soul and R&B vocals. What inspires you to create tracks in such a way?
D.V.S*: It’s like butter on top…there’s something really tangible about the human voice. Our DNA is programmed to respond to it, and our ears are ultra sensitive to it. That’s why I always talk to the crowd a couple of times each set, it bridges the gap.
Even though I consider myself an instrumentalist, I try to incorporate elements of the voice as much as I can. When my wife and I first started dating she was really into this Motown/Soul band she had called 8traC. She grew up on that stuff and we started playing that stuff together, so I was really immersed in that style.
And as far as the beats go, I’m always searching for new ideas and people to surprise me. The whole LA beat scene is really cutting edge right now, so I’ve been watching all those cats seeing what they’re about. It’s a fine line though, ‘cuz some of the forward thinking “wonky” stuff doesn’t really get a crowd going. Same for dubstep, it can be a big hit or an energy let down after a few sets of it. I think that’s why so many people in the states are digging the music of Pretty Lights right now. His beats are really straight-forward, especially compared to the whole Brainfeeder crew. In my opinion Nosaj Thing is that perfect balance.
LiS: You have performed with musicians such as The Motet, String Cheese Incident, DJ Logic, and 8traC. It seems like you could just pick up an instrument and groove with any musical style/sound. What is that you find most rewarding about playing and composing music?
D.V.S*: The joy of discovery is extremely sweet. For a long time it was the discovery of new things to do on an instrument with other musicians. Lately it’s been more dealing with new compositional frontiers like; can I merge dubstep with rock guitar? That’s one I’ve been laboring with behind the scenes. I’m also searching for really cool ways to use the mandolin in my beat music, because I’m fluent on it and one else is doing that. So far, that one has alluded me. Musical evolution is my love language.
LiS: In addition to D.V.S* and the other groups you frequent, you play in a duo called Chantel with your wife (a vocalist). Which creative prospects do you find you are most passionate and excited about pursuing?
D.V.S*: Anything that is on the path of a musical truth. So lately, it’s been more duo shows with Chantel or a drummer, or solo shows. I find I can really gain a lot of ground creatively with less musical minds involved.
I’ve played gigs for just a few people, but the music and vibe was so right on it didn’t matter. On the flip side, I’ve also done sold out shows for thousands of people where a band rehearsed like crazy and had great production — and aside from the service of entertaining the masses — it almost felt like a waste of time, because the collective musical mind wasn’t coming together. I don’t mean that in a snobby way, but some gigs you’re like, “Yes, I am soooooo onto something..” and then on other gigs it’s like, “Ok, maybe I won’t do that again, back to the drawing board!”
LiS: You released your first D.V.S* album, Before I Sing, in October. On Monday, you released a four song EP, Beyond the Looking Glass, as a preview for a double disc that you are releasing this Spring. Both D.V.S* releases are available for free download and come with a “pay what you want” option on your website. What do you find to be most rewarding about providing your fans and new listeners with your music in such a way?
D.V.S*: I met more people the first month of releasing Before I Sing than I had in maybe the whole previous year. If people dig it, they might wanna pay for of the cuts, or seek me out and come to a show, or turn a dozen of their friends onto my beats. Later on, when a label is interested in me, I can sell my new material, and it’ll be a cool change of pace.
I tend to be prolific, and the album due out this spring will be a two-volume affair. One side will be a selection of music I’ve written for live sets. It has a lot of energy and is fun and rowdy. The litmus test is: will my wife dance in the first two measures of this beat? If so, it’s a keeper.
The second volume will be more beautiful, chill music that I don’t really get to play live all that much. But, I feel that the tunes are really strong and emotional, and I want people to hear them and have them as part of their life. Maybe this second-sided coin of D.V.S* is what will make me stand out.
LiS: I have yet to speak with anyone who has caught a live D.V.S* set. What can I expect from your live performance of tracks like “What About the Ghost” or “Sweetest Hangover”?
D.V.S*: Nice… yeah, those are some real bangers. The D.V.S* sound tends to be a four-part equation. Big beats, soulful vocal elements, guitars/swirly textures, and forward thinking bass. Those are my four food groups.
I really like to improvise and remix all my tunes live, and I think crowds get off on that too. I take a “stems” approach, where I have all the individual instruments of my songs on separate tracks. It’s like being a conductor or bandleader. You can push and pull various elements of your songs at will, which means it’s never going to be exactly the same. There’s an element of risk there too, you might get caught in something undesirable and have to dig your way out! But usually it’s like, “Holy Shit, how did I get here?!!”
A lot of shows I come out and DJ for the first handful of cuts before I even touch my guitar. Then when I pick it up, it feels like the nest step in the set — the next tier — then I kinda bounce back and forth, DJing, playing, looping.
Generally speaking I’m a quick edit DJ, on the fly. If it’s a short set, like less than 75 minutes, I like burning through a lot of cuts. That keeps it fresh. Twenty minute songs are for full bands that have been playing together for years. Two to three minute songs are for the kids ragin’ between 10pm and 4am.
D.V.S*’s first album, Before I Sing, is the single best example of how amazing the fusion of trip-hop and soul can be. Amon Tobin and Nina Simone would be proud to embrace his style as their own. D.V.S* has a versatility which enables him to choose thought-provoking R&B and soul lyrics to pair up with his hypnotic and funky mash-ups. Where many other talented trip-hop artists such as Pretty Lights tend to sample various rap vocals, D.V.S* is already the master of the soul sample. He showcases his unique sound by mixing charming vocal samples into repeating, often stuttering choruses. When layered atop various percussion beats and funk guitar riffs, it produces a really dope effect that any head or square can get down to.
During the track “Crying,” he slows the tempo down on Diana Ross and The Supreme’s classic, “Come See About Me,” while dropping trippy glitch noises all over the place. “No matter what you do or say, I’m gonna love you anyway. Keep on crying baby for you. I’m gonna keep sighin baby for you,” Ross sings as D.V.S* loops her background singer’s vocals and his multiple layers of ebbing beats into one moving piece. Being as much of a vocal freak as I am, it’s refreshing to be able to groove to dirty beats and hear lyrics sung beautifully behind them. On the track, “Being Near You,” Derek’s vocalist wife, Chantel Mead, offers up her skills by singing a long series of notes for D.V.S* to do his thing with.
With such an outgoing and positive attitude and the ability to create such emotional and timely electronic music, I honestly see D.V.S* cementing a place in time for himself. His willingness to commit to grassroots marketing and the “pay what you want” system will result in a loyal and strong following. I myself am a believer, and hope that D.V.S*’s upcoming duel release will only fortify my support in his modern approach to soul music. LostinSound.org appreciates Derek’s collaboration on this article, and can’t wait to see him around in the future!
Here are a few of my favorite tracks from “Before I Sing” and “Beneath the Looking Glass” -enjoy!
Jazz drums and piano into synth and a drum machine beat. Layered with guitar picking and soul vocals. (1:44) D.V.S* shows what he can do with some beautiful slow horns that switch things up. At the midway point of the song, I recognize a strange electronic chime sound that reminds me of one of the new STS9 tracks off of Ad Explorata. Lots of great jazzy layers in the second half of the song; some organic, others synthetic. (4:05) Lots more of that weird electronic chime that sounds like you just picked up a bunch of items at once in some adventure video game. All horns and guitar at (6:00)…really an amazing way to round this track out.
Trip-hop to the maximum. I fucking love to play this song in situations where the sun has risen, sleep hasn’t been found, and folks are sauced. D.V.S* pans the scratchy electronic sounds across your headphones or speakers. “Sweetest hangover. I don’t want to go back,” a sweet female voice sings what I feel. Lots of random vocal samples thrown in this one- like a sexy moan. He throws his signature guitar layer on top of this one at a couple of points.
Subtle bass and slow glitch sounds start this one off. A sultry voices sings romantic, uplifting lyrics, “I was tired of being alone, and then someone came along. Something made me feel so strong.” Gospel-like background vocals join in. D.V.S* then drops an intricate guitar loop atop a sound like a track skipping. The vocals enter again as an additional layer, as all drops out for a small womp sesh… oscillation galore. Like many of his tracks, D.V.S* lets this one drift into space for a bit before transitioning back into the soulful chorus.
“Dubstep Shoegaze!”, as Derek called referred to this track. Things start off heavy and spaced out. The first single off of the new album, and D.V.S* has got the womp down to a science. But like all D.V.S* tracks, the womp isn’t the only sound to pay attention to. Heavy bass sounds buzz behind organic guitar riffs and electronic drums. Makes my shoulders want to drop to the dance beat, but the live sampling really catches my mind’s attention as his guitar sings.
Download your copy of “Before I Sing…” here:
Before I Sing… Debut Album (Pay What You Want Download)
1. Fins & Feathers 04:42
2. Cryin’ 03:26
3. What About the Ghost 03:18
4. Being Near You 04:20
5. Different From the Rest 03:56
6. Sweetest Hangover 03:24
7. Colors of the Atmosphere 05:45
8. Sluggish 02:13
9. Think of Me 02:52
10. Air Shaft 06:48
Download your copy of “Beyond the Looking Glass” here:
Beyond the Looking Glass EP (Pay What You Want Download)
1. Beyond the Looking Glass 03:06
2. The Day Speeds On…. 04:38
3. Attunement 04:08
4. Rüberjunk (2010 Remix) 03:16