Multi-instrumentalist Steve Davit is well-known for his bass and saxophone work with Marian Hill, but he is also a fine solo artist in his own right who blends jazz with electronica, hip hop, and even video game music-influenced cuts. His first EP, Coniferous, will be out soon.
I spoke with Steve Davit about Coniferous, his work with Marian Hill, jazz, video games, and dreams.
7th Level Music: I’m really looking forward to this new EP.
Steve Davit: Yeah, me too. I’m just about done with the third track. I just need to do some mastering tweaks, making sure it sounds right, and finish up the fourth track.
7LM: Is it going to be four tracks?
SD: It’s going to be four tracks. For physical copies, there’s going to be a bonus fifth track that’s like an improv type of thing. Timeline wise, I don’t think it’s possible to get an actually produced fifth track before I’m going to release it, which is sometime in March. It’s a little nebulous now, but Marian Hill is going on tour in April. I want to have some stuff ready for that, so I came out with four tracks. I figure, if and when I write more music, I’ll just make another EP.
7LM: How long have you been working on this one?
SD: I didn’t intend to make an EP, so it didn’t have a set start date. I’ve been writing music for a while. Early last year, maybe late early 2016. It basically started with me being upset that I hadn’t written any music in a while because I had been doing a lot of touring. I had released an album in May 2012 for my senior project, but I hadn’t released any music since then. So every year, I’ve been like, “I’m going to write more,” but I never did. So I set a challenge for myself that for sixty days I would write a groove every single day.
7LM: Oh wow.
SD: A groove could be four bars, it could be just a drum beat, a drum beat with chords, or [something] more fleshed out. A lot of the beats [were from] me on a plane or in an airport beatboxing into my earbud microphone. I’d record that on my phone and translate that onto my computer. From that I had maybe ten that I thought were pretty cool. I showed them to (Marian Hill’s) Sam[antha Gongol] and Jeremy [Lloyd] because I needed some feedback from the outside world, from people whose opinions I respect, and I trust them. They said, “These few are really cool. You should make an EP.” I thought, “Huh. Okay!” A lot of the music is a long process of having the idea, letting it germinate, [and] building a way to more efficiently write music and create sounds. It’s kind of nerve-wracking that I’m finally putting stuff out there, but I’ve found that it’s really resonating.
7LM: You’ve kind of already answered a question I was going to ask you. I know improvising is a big part of your songwriting structure, and I was wondering if improvisation was part of the process for the EP.
SD: Improvisation to me is, obviously, played out a lot on the saxophone. Some times I would come up with melodies on the saxophone that were cool, but then little germinations would come from it as I would think of some groove. I’d start working with a kick drum pattern here, and that wouldn’t be quite right so I’d tweak that, and then I’d have this beat and [I’d] try to come up with some saxophone line that sits on top of that. That was where the next level of improvisation would come. With Coniferous, that whole drum craziness thing started off with me having an idea for a five-pattern over a three-pattern and then I thought, “What if I remove every other one?” or “What if it’s all weird, rhythmic stuff that just turns into something cool?” I thought, “I should do something with this, because it’s really cool, but I don’t know what.” Sometimes I’ll improvise something and then cut that up and be more meticulous about what it ends up being. That said, a lot of it does stem from me having an idea, recording it, and then translating that or keeping it as is. It’s all over the place, really.
7LM: You mentioned you went to Jeremy and Samantha. I don’t know how you got hooked up with them. Did you know them from way back when?
SD: Yeah, we were high school buds. I knew Sam but didn’t talk to her much, because she was a grade ahead of me and she was a girl. Jeremy was in the jazz band with me in middle school [and] a bunch of my high school friends. We’re all still pretty tight, which is really nice. It’s been great having that connection to Sam and Jeremy. After college, they knew they wanted to work together. I would help them record stuff. Sam and Jeremy would still write, and I would record and try to make it sound good even though I had no idea what I was doing. They made some other tracks where they needed to find a cappella horns, and I said, “I’ll just record it for you.” I sent them twelve minutes of stuff and that turned into “One Time” and “Got It,” and it just kind of grew from there.
7LM: Your set with Marian Hill was one of the best my wife and I saw at Mamby on the Beach last year.
SD: Thank you.
7LM: You mentioned in an e-mail that your bass rig was having trouble at that show.
SD: Yeah, something happened. I had to unplug my bass because it was making this loud popping noise. Mid-song I’m switching cables. [My bass] just stopped. It wasn’t making sound. I thought, “This is bad,” but I was able to fix it. I’m glad it didn’t show.
7LM: Yeah, no one noticed.
SD: I love performing the music. I don’t contribute to the songwriting or production, but I really like the music. I like being able to interpret that music and perform it live. Festivals are great because people are there to have a fun time, and a lot of them don’t know you so you’re winning them over, and you can see the crowd growing over time.
7LM: That was a crazy festival. Did you have any other odd stuff that happened on that tour?
SD: Nothing that crazy for me, but there was one festival…I play with a clip-on mic on the saxophone. I put that down and pick up the bass and switch back and forth. Sometimes, when switching, it will fall off. So I go to play this solo, and I lift up my horn to be all dramatic and the mic pack just slides off and I grab it and I’m able to clip it and be on for the next downbeat. Sam was like, “I’m really impressed you got that together in time.” She was frozen. She didn’t know what to do. At one point, this is the most terrifying thing, the microphone cable, as I was picking it up from the stand, got hooked on the stand and hooked on one of the keys of my saxophone and it popped out. You don’t need to know much about the saxophone, but if a key pops out it’s bad. Luckily though, it was one of the lowest keys. The lower the key, the lower the pitch. So if that key is just flopping around and not connected, it doesn’t affect any of the higher pitches. I was lucky that I could still play the song without affecting it, but there was this thing jangling around and I was freaking out. There are some songs where I don’t play so I could run backstage and jam it back in and go back out. It worked, but I needed to get it fixed. It was partially messed up for a good two weeks. I’ve been performing for a while, and I know that the audience doesn’t know what you know. If you mess up, they don’t know as long as you play it off. I’m usually able to keep my cool when catastrophic things happen.
7LM: Speaking of audiences, have you discovered that your music is popular somewhere you never thought it would be popular?
SD: Yeah. It’s kind of tricky [because] my current stuff is so new that I don’t have enough data or reach to figure out who found me organically or who found me because I’m with Marian Hill. There are tons of Marian Hill fans who are all over the globe. We have an amazing fan account from Brazil. We’ve never been to Brazil, but this person has their own Marian Hill fan page. The first time we went to France, they were singing along. We were like, “What? We haven’t even been here before and you know our music in English! This is crazy!” Even age range-wise, we have parents with their kids who say, “I love your music. I took my daughter here,” and then you have twelve-year-olds who are in love with Sam. For my music, I haven’t done too much to actively push my stuff out there, so the fact that you came across it is pretty awesome.
7LM: I got a press release about “Forward,” and I was telling everybody that was easily one of my top dozen singles of the year. It just floored me.
SD: Thank you.
7LM: Do you have any influences your fans might find surprising?
SD: Yeah, it’s funny you say that. I was listening to a random mix of songs on Spotify and this one track by Stereolab came on called “Brakhage.” That is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s just a phenomenal song, but it doesn’t necessarily seem to influence a more jazz / electronic musician. That’s kind of a strange influence.
SD: But yeah, I have a lot. Frank Zappa, Medeski, Martin, and Wood…
7LM: Those guys are great.
SD: Bela Bartok, Brian Eno, Steve Reich. Steve Reich is one of the most influential. I got really, really into rhythm and phase shifting and layering rhythms on top of each other, which is what sparked the initial thought of Coniferous.
7LM: I really like how you blend jazz with a little acid house and some electro stuff. It’s a really cool sound you’ve put together.
SD: Thank you. I’ve always known that it’s important to listen to a wide array of styles of music. My Dad liked a lot of music. He started his jazz world with Keith Jarrett. Pretty much all the jazz music I listen to came through him. I met up with Medeski, Martin, and Wood. One of the big points that they like to stress is how much world music they like to listen to. I met Bob Moses, who’s a phenomenal drummer. He’s full of crazy ideas. He’d play a solo improv with bamboo sticks, a snare drum, and a weird V-shaped triangle thing. That was back in 2010. It was getting me down non-traditional paths of music and tying that into connecting with a wider group of people. It’s one thing to play really weird sounds and noises and stuff, and ten people in the world like it. There’s a way to take what that thing is trying to say and share it with a thousand people. I can’t remember who it was, but somebody was saying there are so many people in the world now that, for the most part, you can find a million people who like what you’re doing. I just want to be able to make music that’s still me, but comes from a lot of different areas and can reach people. Not be too far out of left field, because I wouldn’t want to listen that necessarily. I want to do something that I’d want to listen to over and over again, and hopefully other people will find it and listen to it.
7LM: I read that you’re a big-time gamer, and I was wondering if video game music influenced you as well?
SD: Yeah. For a while in college, in my free time, I worked with my freshman year roommate and a couple people who were in a video game design class. Their whole job was to create their own video games, and I always jumped on the opportunity to write music for them. A friend of mine, Andrew Aversa, has this sample library company called Impact Soundworks. He started getting me into the idea of making money composing for video games. I went down that rabbit hole for a bit, but decided it was too annoying working for someone else telling you what music they wanted without knowing how to communicate what music they wanted. I would make something and they would say, “Well, I don’t know. That’s not quite right. It’s needs a bit more of this…” A group of people’s senior project was to create a video game that was playable and had music and all these different sound effects. I was in that course as an independent study. I was supposed to have another guy working with me, but he dropped out so all the music and sound effects landed on me. They kept telling me to redo this one track. I had one track for six weeks and I said, “Guys, I want to start making other music.” They were all, “No, this one is really important.” I thought, “I’m just going to make my own stuff and be the boss of what I’m making.” It has influenced me, though, because I listen to a lot of that music. There are certain melodic sensibilities within that, so it’s still in the back of my mind because games have played a big role in my life. I think as I start to make more music I’m going to start pitching to music houses and other places that license music. So, instead of writing specifically for a video game, I’ll say, “Hey, which of you people think this music fits with your game or movie or TV show or whatever?” A good friend of mine was saying “Forward” sounds like the opening theme song for a new Seinfeld.
7LM: Do you have any favorite video games right now?
SD: Zelda: Breath of the Wild is too addicting for my own good. Video games are too easy to access. I deleted all my computer games so I can actually be productive with music. A friend of mine and I have always played Super Smash Brothers together. He recently started streaming video games online. He was having a lot of fun of that. I said, “Hey, I heard this Zelda game is one of the best games ever made. Let’s get it and share it together.” I got it recently and started playing with him. He said, “You can hold onto it for a bit.” I said, “All right.” So I played it a little bit, and I kept playing it. If I’m not careful, it’s going to take over my life. I’m putting heavy restrictions on my video game playing, but Breath of the Wild is absolutely phenomenal.
7LM: I just dug out my old Sega Genesis.
SD: Oh nice.
7LM: In a weird way, I’m thankful I don’t have the cables yet to hook it up to my high-def TV because I’m going to have to ration it so hard.
SD: Oh yeah.
7LM: Is there anything else outside of music you’re really passionate about or just love to talk about?
SD: The biggest one is dreaming.
7LM: Oh very cool.
SD: Yeah, the psychology of sleep and how it affects your life. I’ve been keeping dream journals since at least 2005. I’ve recorded over two thousand dreams. I’m very into dreaming, controlling your dreams, using your dreams to enrich your life and be creative. I’ve come up with some music and in dreams. I’ve come up with game ideas and artwork in dreams, story ideas. I recently found out that dreaming about traumatic events in a normal functioning brain will actually decrease the emotional response to that event. Dreaming is kind of an overnight therapy. There’s a book I’m reading called Why We Sleep (by Matthew Walker).
7LM: Thanks for this. It’s been great.
SD: Yeah, thanks, man.
Keep your mind open
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