16th October 2013

Interview: Roy Davis Jr.

Matt Gibney speaks to Chicago house legend Roy Davis Jr. about his musical influences, forthcoming releases and appearance at the Manchester date of the Sound History tour.

While the term ‘legend’ is often bandied about far too flippantly these days, it’s a very apt way to describe American house music producer Roy Davis Jr. Hailing from Chicago – the home of house – Davis is perhaps best known to British listeners for his 1996 single ‘Gabriel’ which became a staple in clubs across the world. However that doesn’t begin to tell the full story of a career which has seen Davis release six albums and countless singles, collaborate with Daft Punk and inspire much of today’s talent in the process.

Davis is quick to recognise the influence his Chicago upbringing had on him musically. “I’d probably be doing something different if I hadn’t grown up in Chicago,” he explains. “House music was our culture. We grew up going to parties where it didn’t matter what nationality you were. Everyone danced together and had a good time. There were no problems at a house music party even though there were situations where you had different gangs or whatever. Gangbangers would come in and they would just enjoy themselves and dance.”

Despite the influence of the city’s house scene, Davis reveals his earliest musical inspiration came from non-electronic musicians. “I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley. It was these people who were the artists I looked up to even though I’m from more of an electronic world. Their strength and courage to say something that was meaningful stayed in my heart for a very long time.”

Sustaining a career in music for over twenty years is a rare feat. Davis puts his success down to his own sense of openness. “You’ll never paint a different picture if you’re always staying the same,” he says. “I’ve always tried to have my mind open to all different genres of music and I think this openness to creativity is what still has me here today. I’m not trying to make a hit every time, I’m just being open and some people happen to enjoy it.”

More recently Davis has been collaborating with Manchester native Zed Bias on his forthcoming album for Loefah’s Swamp 81 imprint. “Everything just flowed really quickly. It’s fun when you come together from two different places and see where you’re at in the studio. A lot of people bump heads but we walked right in, went with the flow and got down.” Fans of both Zed Bias and Davis will be pleased to know there are more tracks in the works. “We already have a few more tracks in the can and it’s just up to us when we decide to release them.”

In addition to this collaboration, Davis has recently finished work on his seventh studio album. “The approach to this album was different. My last few albums had pretty straightforward messages but this one I wanted to be more about fun and I’ve tried to reflect the original sound of house music within it.” He explains. “I couldn’t ask for it to come out any better. My travelling enabled me to see what other sounds are going on out there and I’ve been looking at the whole 90s revival thing which seems to be happening in all of the different countries I’ve been playing.”

Davis is planning to tour extensively over the next twelve months in support of the album – soon to be released on Miles End – amongst other plans. “There’s going to be a lot of touring. I’m also resurfacing my old label Underground Therapy and just having fun enjoying life.”

Fortunately all Manchester-based fans will be able to catch Davis at the Manchester leg of the Sound History Tour at the Antwerp Mansion on Tueday 22nd October alongside Eliphino, Shola Ama, Sticky, Oscar Luweez and Moony. Davis talks excitedly about the show, “When I spin I try to reflect the time period I started through to where I am now. I love playing music – new and old.” What can we expect? “Oh man, you can expect everything! There’ll be some deep house through to Chicago Trax as well as some acid house. Just party music man! Everyone’s gonna have a good time. I’d like to stay on the decks for four hours if I can!”

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