R&B artist Davion may come from a musical family that’s produced artists like his brothers SiR and D Smoke, but the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter has carved his own lane by staying true to himself and learning from legends.
“Mary [J. Blige] knows herself inside and out,” Davion told REVOLT. “That made me change and ensure that any record I released that had my name on it represented my life experience.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Davion discusses what it’s like to make music with his brothers, Lena Waithe’s creative guidance within Hillman Grad Records, what it was like to meet Timbaland, and more.
Lena Waithe recently founded the new label Hillman Grad Records with Def Jam. What has it been like working with that label, especially on the recently released “Cypher”?
It’s really been incredible working with Lena and Def Jam. First off, having somebody who is a visionary, has proven they understand Black art, and is invested in telling stories like she is, is dope. I’ve been blessed to be given the freedom of creative license to come up with stories I want to tell in the way that I want to tell ’em. I’m able to come up with the sound. I trust them to help me create the vision to tell the stories I’m making in the studio.
How involved is Lena in the creative process of the music?
She helps in a quality control kind of way. She understands and respects that I have my story. As long as you’re self-aware, nobody can tell your story better than you can. She definitely will step in with a challenge. For example, on the last project, she requested I write a song for my son, which ended up being “Best Advice.” It was a challenge because my son’s grown. You usually hear songs about kids and the kids are babies, like on Stevie [Wonder’s] “Isn’t She Lovely” or whatever. So I had to come up with a more appropriate song that fit where my life currently is. That’s how “Best Advice” came to be. She doesn’t hover in a way that makes me feel like I don’t have the freedom to create.
Is there a song or line you can think of that made you tear up while recording, writing, or listening to it in the studio?
There are a few of them. With the song “Sometimes,” I was challenged to write a song that had nothing to do with love or romantic relationships. It took me a couple of days to figure out what I knew outside of that. I’m a lover boy. I’m an R&B purist. Everything is about love. So I was like, “What the hell do I write about if I’m not doing that?” But everybody has gone through their life struggles. There were times when I was running a recording studio, but I was also living out of it because that’s what I could afford at the time. There were times when I was working as an assistant or whatever else where I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth. I put that into “Sometimes.” I sang, “Took less than my worth, put everyone first. It broke me inside, that’s why I’m only strong sometimes.”
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You cried while you wrote it or when you recorded it?
When I wrote it and when I recorded it.
Take me back to when you were living in the studio. What was that experience like?
I’ve been songwriting for a long time. When I first got my [publishing] deal back in 2007, things were good. That initial advance comes in, and we’re getting placements and all these things. But, there was a time when the art I was making wasn’t getting placed. This was before I started releasing a lot of music on my own. I didn’t want to get what I call a “normal job.” So, I partnered up with my songwriting partner at the time, and we opened up two studios. The first one was called The Red Room. It was in North Hollywood. The second one was called The Sound Temple. She and I both lived at the first studio, The Red Room. It had a restroom there, but it didn’t have a shower. Fortunately, we were only three blocks away from a 24 Hour Fitness. So, we would workout in the morning, shower, and then be ready for the day.
Then, The Sound Temple started to get regular clients, and we started to place records with indie artists. Then, we upgraded to The Sound Temple. That was dope because it was like a house. It was a full studio, but it also had a nice bathroom and a full kitchen. So even though we were living at the studio, it was comfortable. We continued to create and stay with our heads in the music industry space. This is probably the first time I’ve talked about it in an interview.
There’s no better place to talk about living in the studio than on “Studio Sessions.” Onto better days where you recently won a Grammy Award for your work on Lucky Daye’s song “Falling In Love.” How did you guys mesh creatively in the studio?
I wrote with Lucky before he started releasing music. That’s where that song came out of. We were working on Mary J. Blige’s album. He and I had already worked before, so we knew each other before coming to the Mary J. Blige session. Once we got to the session, we came up with the record and thought it was a vibe. She didn’t think the same. It didn’t fit the playlist she was putting together. She liked the record, too, but it didn’t fit the playlist. A couple of years later, he was putting his project together and Eddie Fourcell, Mary’s A&R and Joyce Wrice’s manager, I believe, put that together. Joyce ended up as a feature on the song with Lucky, which I originally wrote for Mary J. Blige. They both put it on their albums, and Lucky won the Grammy.
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Your mother told me in a previous interview that you and your brothers, SiR and D Smoke, have been making music since you could walk. What were the earliest recording sessions like with you and your brothers?
She’s been training us in music theory, setting us around the piano, and teaching us harmony and basic piano stuff and everything for as long as I can remember. But the first recordings with my brothers and me happened when we were in a group. We were signed to DreamWorks Records by Jheryl Busby, who signed Boys II Men and a number of other acts. We still have those songs. The records still sound good. I want to say we were 10, 11, and 12. One of the songs was called “Keys To The Car.” I remember that joint. You just sent me down memory [lane] for a second (laughs).
What is the dynamic like when you three are in the studio now?
It’s dope. We all started at different points. SiR started to write and release music years after Smoke and I got our publishing deals. Once he said he wanted to do this, I showed him how to use ProTools. I showed him how to record himself. We went over basic song structure and then he took off (laughs). Now, he’s a better writer than I am, and I’m ridiculously confident. It makes me proud to see him flourish the way he [is]. We all grew up together, then did our separate lives things, so whenever we have a chance to come back together, it’s always magical.
What’s one of the most memorable studio sessions of your career? What’s one that was a bucket list moment?
I was in Windmark Recording Studios working with a producer named Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, who did “Suit & Tie.” He worked under Timbaland. I remember when Timbaland walked into the studio for the first time, my legs were trembling. I was happy I was leaning on one of the console desks — I had to put more of my weight on my arms.
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You’ve been in the studio with so many legends. Which ones taught you something you still apply today?
Easily Mary. She left a fantastic impression on me. I admired the way Mary very much knew herself. She knew what worked for her. People aren’t always that self-aware, especially people who are in the limelight. I’ve seen people in the spotlight who don’t know what kind of monster they can be or who they are. Mary knows herself inside and out. She knows how to stick to that. She knows how to get the best from herself using what she has to work with. Seeing that was one of the things that made me feel like I’ve been writing songs randomly instead of putting my whole heart into the music I released for myself. That made me change and ensure that any record I released that had my name on it represented my life experience. That is speaking your truth, which is what Mary does so well. That’s what allows people to feel seen, feel heard, and feel understood. Those are the pillars of pure R&B.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
I am going to go out on tour. I can’t say with whom yet, but we’ve already got that worked out. That’s going to be really exciting. I’m already 30 songs into the album. I like to make at least 40 or 50 and then whittle that down in a playlist. I might have so much music that I might put out a little mixtape to keep the people fed. I’m definitely working. We’ll get to a tour before the end of this year.