Q+A: 5 minutes with Devon James

After a lifetime spent in and around the music industry, soaking up the influences of legends across genres and flexing his musical muscles in all corners of the dance world, Devon James is set to release his debut album this month. Love Reach is a nine-track narrative of self-discovery told through catchy disco hooks, self-assured indie dance grooves, and swinging house rhythms. Sonically, it synthesises a decade’s worth of dance floor elation, global travel, love, heartbreak, and lessons learned into one psychedelic story—his story. James earned his musical education from his family. His grandfather was a celebrated tuba player in nationally recognised Dixie Jazz bands, and his father is the keyboardist and manager of Jamaican ska legends The Skatalites. As a teenager, he learned to DJ and started throwing parties in college. Those parties evolved into RVDIOVCTIVE; the touring event brand James and his collaborators have brought from New York City to Miami, Boston, San Francisco, and beyond. RVDIOVCTIVE keeps community at its core, working closely with local musicians and visual artists to create a liberating, energising, empowering space wherever it blooms. In celebration of its recent 10-year anniversary, James launched Rvdiovctive as an independent label with a compilation that put many of those friends and collaborators together on one release. This, of course, is where Love Reach finds its home. We caught up with James to find out more about the creation of Love Reach, and how his history has informed his sound.


Pre-order Love Reach here


Set the tone for us. Why music?

Honestly, the music chose me. My dad’s parents actually met in their high school marching band. My grandfather continued to play tuba in Dixieland jazz bands all over the county, most prominently as a member of “Your Father’s Mustache” which was a nightclub chain and even performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. He still plays to this day at age 82. My dad has also been playing music his whole life. In March of 1988, he joined the Skatalites and 10 months later I was born. He still tours and plays with them as well as a few other bands. My mother has a deep love for music as well, having gone to Woodstock and getting to see the legendary Beatles performance from atop the Apple Music building in London. I grew up going to club shows and festivals with my dad on weekends and listening to Motown, folk, and classic rock during the week. I’ve played guitar since I was a kid and played in bands all throughout middle and high school. I didn’t really consider music when I was looking at colleges. I also did theatre my whole life and wanted to be an actor so I chose to pursue that…at first. 


Coming from a musical family and being surrounded by artists, was there one specific moment in your life where you realised, “This is what I want to do”?

Before I went to college to study Acting, I got to tour with my dad and The Skatalites for 6 weeks in Europe. I played guitar with the band for a few songs each night, ran the merch booth, and took on some road manager duties. That’s what got me hooked – travelling to new cities every day, seeing these amazing sites, meeting new people, trying all the local food, and learning about new cultures. It’s such an incredible way to live – seeing the world and sharing music with people from all over the world. 


Your debut album ‘Love Reach’ sort of tells this story of self-discovery. When it came to finding the sound of the album, what were some of the references you found yourself turning to and why?

I worked on Felix Da Housecat’s last studio album, Thee Narrative of Thee Blast Illusion, and that was easily one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. We spent about 3 years on that project and set up studios in New York City, Ibiza, London, and Atlanta so we could live together and work on music 24/7. We just enveloped ourselves in the music – we lived, ate, slept, and breathed that shit. That was my first time working on a larger project and it absolutely lit a fire inside of me. It was during those sessions in Ibiza back in 2013 and 2014 that I wrote some of the early sketches for the tracks on my album. Although I had been working on the tunes for almost 10 years, I didn’t decide to package them together until 2020, during the pandemic. I would drive around and listen to full albums like Trouble by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album, as well as their albums Sounds of Silver and This Is Happening, Music Has The Right To Children by Boards of Canada, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, pretty much every album by Radiohead and Brand New, and I also listened to Future Days by Can all the time to study the flow and how one track transitions to the next.


Disco is quite an influential style on the album. Historically, disco has been synonymous with community. Could you speak to us about how the idea of community factors into your work and artistry?

For me, music and community are synonymous. Music is meant to be shared with the people around you. It’s a way to communicate when words just can’t explain what you’re feeling. It’s a way to comment on the world around you. That philosophy has really guided me my whole life with everything I do. I’ve always thought that you get further and can accomplish more by working together with other, like-minded people. Music is a form of expression and conversation. I want to hear different perspectives other than my own so that I can be better informed and better understand my own thoughts and feelings. I think when you share music – you are sharing those thoughts with other people who resonate with ideas and use it to help understand themselves better too. That’s the magic of music.


You’ve worked with a number of brilliant artists on this album, including Lee Scratch Perry and Felix Da Housecat. How was collaboration an integral part of the process of Love Reach?

As I spoke about before, music is about community, It is a shared experience. I love working with my friends and supporting the people I actually know and see working hard at perfecting their craft. Seeing the passion in other people motivates me and drives me to push myself further. All of the people I worked with on this album are my longtime friends and family.


You’ve been working on this album for a decade now. Over all that time, how has the music evolved? Did these songs go through many evolutions?

I wrote some of the first ideas as far back as 2013 but I didn’t realise I wanted to make an album until 2020 after the pandemic hit. I had just finished ‘Brighter Day’ and ‘Move, Again’ and sent them to Doorly as a potential release on his label, Reptile Dysfunction. He told me the tracks were amazing but only was interested in taking one for a compilation. I told him the tracks were too special to me and I wanted to do an EP. The pandemic hit a few weeks later. That’s when I started to go back and look at old projects on my hard drives, seeing if I had anything worth salvaging to help me pass the time. Some of the tracks I worked on tirelessly and went through many changes, but there were a few that I nailed after one take or just a few hours of laying down the main ideas. I definitely spent more time mixing and mastering this album than I have previously. It was really important to me to have a consistent sound, while keeping the songs creatively unique and different from each other, while also telling a cohesive story. 


It’s a bold move to debut with an album so personal and autobiographical. Was this your intention going into the project, or did it naturally unfold this way over the process?

It all happened really naturally. I finished ‘Move, Again’ just before the pandemic and then I wrote ‘Brighter Day’ during the lockdown, and that’s when I felt like I had something special on my hands. I started going back to some other tracks I had worked on in the past but got stuck on for one reason or another. With a renewed focus and inspiration I finished a few of those tracks and made them more sonically connected to each other. It all makes perfect sense if you know me. My work is extremely personal and is an extension of myself so it’s only right that I really put myself out there for my first album.


Take us through a day in the recording studio.

It always starts with a kick drum…somewhere between 115-126 BPM. I tend to do a bassline next and try to get something a bit more organic sounding with Kontakt then will add a layer on the Mini V or Diva. I have been super into Rhodes and organs recently and will layer a bunch of chords and evolving pads. A lot of my leads are created with the Arturia model of the Prophet or the ARP2600. I also like using the Juno 106 and ANA synths. I have a lot of talented friends who play instruments and do vocals so once I’ve got a solid base for a track I like to get someone who can add a live element whether it’s a piano riff from my dad or a vocal line from a friend. 


What’s on your current playlist?

I could go on for days but I’ll just give you my top 3 tracks in no particular order…Demi Riquísimo – ‘Wuya A Samu’, Funkadelic, Soul Clap Sly Stone – ‘In Da Kar (XL Middleton Remix)’, and Devon James – ‘Brighter Day feat. Pretty Heavy (SCHROEDS Remix)’. Also gotta mention Gilligan Moss. I really loved their new self-titled album and the stuff they have been releasing recently.


Any emerging artists on your radar?

One of my favorite things is finding new artists and helping to give them a platform to express themselves freely, without creative boundaries. There are so many people that come to mind but some I really want to shout out are Rupert Wall, Will OB, James Ellington, Sumkind, QRTR, Supertaste, Choopsie, NEY x MISS MAK, Alex Cecil, Ian Allen, Nik Thrine, Adrian Hex, and Coffintexts. Almost all of these artists have released on our RVDIOVCTIVE label and are doing some really cool, unique things.


If you could travel back in time and write any song in history, which one would it be and why?

This is a great question but so hard for me to answer, haha. I’m going to say ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ by Radiohead. It’s one of the rawest and most emotionally dynamic records I’ve heard. I really love how the track comes in soft and cautious, but steadily crescendos until it erupts into chaos and then comes back soft and beautiful. It expertly expresses a really wide range of emotions in a perfectly poetic way. 


Famous last words? 

Life ain’t shit without disco, dogs, and pizza. Also, just remember, to fall in love. 


Listen to the title track from Love Reach featuring Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry below.

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