“Music to me is my other language. If I’m bilingual, it’s because I speak English and music. As well-spoken as I can be, I feel like I can express myself way better in music.” In a dimly lit meeting room on the fourth floor of Warner Music UK, Paul Jefferies, otherwise known as ‘Nineteen85’, one half of dvsn, has just finished articulating what music means to him. The idea of music in a linguistic capacity seems to be a common trait amongst artists, which is understandable.
Music is not a second language but their native tongue, spoken through emotion, transcending cultural barriers. Lyrics can be interpreted one way or another, lost in translation at times, but a mood, a vibe, can be felt, tapping deep into one’s core. It’s why dvsn, comprised also of vocalist Daniel Daley, have found success in their artistry. Even those with a transient attention span, can be drawn into dvsn’s relatable narrative, such is their ability to convey stories of love, sex and heartbreak.
Ironically renowned for keeping a low profile, being blind to their appearance has led to a heightened sense of hearing. Shadowy, shrouded in darkness, the lone division sign adorning all of their early artwork only furthered their mysterious allure. They were like the new neighbours on a street that didn’t introduce themselves; quietly going about their business. But a sound heard from their house, melodic and familiar was conspicuous enough for the ears of other residents to prick up and take notice. There was a nostalgia for the generation immersed in nineties/noughties R&B, seeking that void to be filled when the sound seemed to be ebbing away. The rich texture and purity of Daley’s voice coupled with 85’s eclectic range of synths and bass enable the listener to straddle the line between the throwback era, and R&B’s sonic future.
Music imbued with maturity and sophistication needs timeless inspiration. Digging through their respective family’s collection of music when growing up in Toronto resulted in listening to the likes of Jodeci, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Prince and more. The conscious decision to delve deeper has fed directly into Jefferies’ understanding of the landscape he is currently contributing towards as a producer. “I spend so much time taking in music from everywhere. Current music, old music, unexpected music… that it gives me a completely different perspective on our music. I can see where it lives in the world, not where it fits in R&B, or the current playlists, but where it fits in the spectrum of all music. I guess it’s a bit of a gift and a curse. It’s great, but it can also make you feel… out of touch. Other people are so in the now, but I’m thinking of the past, present and future. I’m thinking of everything and the effect music will have, long term. Where I feel like, I could be more based on today or the next thirty days, we would probably have a quicker trajectory as far as current trends go. But by doing it our way, overall, we will have a much longer stake in the game…”
The idea of longevity is vital in the pursuit of embodying their aspirations. “We’ve always looked at ourselves like… “Michael and Quincy”… “Missy and Timbaland”… “Kanye and Jay”, they both interchange. “We work well with other people, but we know if we’re both in a room, it’s going to be a completely different vibe than what we can get from working with other people.” Self-comparison to a Mount Rushmore of artistic pairs not only illustrates their chemistry, but their mutual trust. Finding a partner in creation is difficult, trial and error an obligatory part of the process. But once found, the relationship must be protected. The creative symbiosis is key, but equally crucial is the friendship and belief in one another. A reassuring voice can make all the difference in holding back or pulling the trigger.
“When it came to the point of putting out our music for the first time, I felt very… unsure of what was going to happen,” Daley tells me. “I just thought we were going to upload some tracks to Soundcloud, and see if anyone was going to press play. Fast forward two months, every label was calling. Obviously we met with 40 (Noah Shebib), and OVO. He was already confident,” he continues, pointing at Jefferies. “He was telling me, ‘look, we’re going to upload this stuff and you’re going to be singing this for the rest of your life’. And I was like ‘ok buddy’ (laughs). That’s kind of always my thing though. I’m confident until the very end, but at the end, I‘m like, ‘I should delete the whole thing’. And he’s like, ‘Relax. We got this’. Then we push it over the edge.”
Taking the leap and signing that deal with OVO Sound came with its own set of pressures. Drake’s star value has swelled to behemothic proportions in recent years and that can understandably weigh heavy on the heads of the OVO family. However Daley chooses to see the blessing in the affiliation. “One of the biggest and most talented artists on the face of the planet is at the forefront of this thing. So it’s constantly like… ‘how do we live up to this?’ Even if we make the most incredible record, he still has a thousand incredible records (laughs). But it’s a healthy challenge that we try and step to every day.”
It’s a challenge they have risen to since the release of their debut album, ‘SEPT. 5th’ in 2016. A selection of sultry songs that combine carnal desire with genuine sentiment, the album would introduce dvsn to the world as the unintentional kings of baby-making music. Seductive and passionate, without being lascivious, it is an association that continues to permeate their work, with songs that, “have people needing to go and do their thing.” No other song encapsulates this further than ‘Too Deep’, a patient, slow burner that builds with soothing notes from the female gospel choir, and crescendos into Daley’s explosive falsetto. “When ‘Too Deep’ dropped, people were like “what was that?!” I want to recreate that state of shock every time. The only thing I want them to expect is that they don’t know what we’re about to do. They know they’re going to get great vocals, and great production, but we have no idea how they’re going to give it to us now”.
dvsn have never remained static, and the sonic differences between ‘SEPT. 5th’ and their sophomore effort, ‘Morning After’, were subtle, yet evident. Content wise, heartbreak took the wheel in place of sensuality and the duo pushed the envelope, revealing more of themselves in the process. The title track (‘Morning After’), had a galloping instrumental, a fast paced bounce not experienced previously. ‘Nuh Time/Tek Time’ leant to the Jamaican influence heavily present in Toronto. Although ‘Mood’ was another amorous masterclass in lust, the songs that resonated on a wider scale were the more upbeat ‘Think About Me’ and ‘Don’t Choose’. From the outside looking in, one would see growth, but Daley doesn’t view their new material through the same lens.
“It’s not so much that we’ve grown. It’s more, ‘how much are we willing to grow our audience to show them what we actually can do?’ I feel like you guys have no idea (laughs), like literally no idea. Our next album is designed to show you what we’re capable of. We’ve been spoon feeding you but, this album, will be a big spoon (laughs). Before, we gave you dvsn in… bedroom mode. dvsn in slow jam mode….or dvsn in relationship mode. This album, there’s a dvsn song for everyone. People will be like ‘I don’t know how I feel about this’, but they will have to deal with it. It’s not that we’ve changed, we’re just turning on the lights in the house.”
If ‘SEPT. 5th’ was the house, and ‘Morning After’ invited the neighbours in, then dvsn’s new album, ‘A Muse In Her Feelings’, is well and truly switching all of the lights on, taking listeners on a tour of the hidden rooms they didn’t think existed. A wonderfully diverse and unpredictable piece of work, it is dvsn out of their shell, more exposed, and even more daring than before. There is vulnerability in the storytelling on ‘Still Pray for You’, melancholy over gorgeous strings. They mesh the distinctive vocals of Dancehall legends, Popcaan and Buju Banton with their brand of R&B; the latter’s forceful style complementing Daley’s stunning high notes on ‘Dangerous City’. They capture PARTYNEXTDOOR at his best, on the woozy ‘Friends’, an expression of tranquil confidence. They have music for the club with ‘Miss Me’, and ‘No Cryin’’, featuring “wave emperor”, Future. ‘Muse’ is bread and butter ‘dvsn’, the aforementioned “bedroom mode”, with the wistful Lonnie Liston Smith sample being flipped to produce a teasing escalation. However the funky and fast-paced ‘Keep It Going’, will no doubt be the most surprising addition. Completely left field, it’s exactly what Daley meant when he said that people have no idea what’s coming. It’s artistic risk at the highest level. But are dvsn worried about alienating their fans by entering this unconventional realm?
“No, because we still have stuff that they love and now, we’re giving them more music to love”, Daley explains, before Jefferies concludes. “And I think that’s the part of the excitement of being a progressive artist. If you look at any of the artists that have had impact over time, they all have these moments where their fan base at some point is kind of like, ‘this is not what we knew from you before’. There’s always that initial, ‘we want the old!’ so and so… but, they get over it and love it. But it takes the artists to take those steps…. definitely.”
dvsn’s new album ‘A Muse In Her Feelings’ featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR, Future, Popcaan, Buju Banton, Summer Walker, Jessie Reyez, Snoh Aalegra, Ty Dolla $ign and Shantel May is out now and available to stream here.