Canadian R&B duo dvsn reveal how the BLM movement is inspiring their music

'We’re going to hear these feelings echoed and the residue and the aftershock and aftermath in all of this.'
July 16, 2020 7:00 p.m. EST
July 23, 2020 10:54 a.m. EST
Toronto group dvsn is ready to see if the recent shows of activism around the Black Lives Matter movement will turn into real change and action. Musicians Daniel Daley and Nineteen85 (born Anthony Paul Jefferies) sat down remotely with etalk's Tyrone Edwards to discuss their latest album, A Muse in Her Feelings, the incomparable Jessie Reyez, the current political climate and where we go from here.Ahead of their etalk Open House performance of "No Good," dvsn explained how they're feeling hopeful about the current global momentum against anti-Black racism and what concrete changes they need to see from companies, industries and organizations to truly believe this moment is different. One thing's for sure: you'll be seeing some dvsn music about it in the future.Tyrone: Where are you two checking in from and how are you feeling?Daniel: I’m in Toronto right now and, you know, I feel a bunch of different things. I feel heavy but I feel inspired. I feel tired but I’m still energized. It’s like a weird mix of hope and hurt at the same time. And with all that said, we’re still trying to remember what mode we’re in—we’re in the middle of promoting an album that we just put out. So it’s just kind of an interesting mix.Nineteen85: I’m checking in from just outside of Toronto—Mississauga. I feel very aware right now. I feel like we’re all watching a series on TV that’s very unbelievable but you can’t step away from it. You always feel like, “I might miss something so let me just stay tuned in.” I feel like everybody has that—if you put your phone down for a few minutes, you know, no matter what, pick it up 30 minutes later you’re going to see a crazy headline. I don’t know if we’ve ever, all around the world, felt like that. I’ve never lived through a year like this.Tyrone: Is this experience and political climate inspiring any songs right now?Nineteen85: One hundred per cent. I think for artists like us, the more stuff that’s happening, the easier it is for us to be creative. I think that we kind of need things to not necessarily be the best for us to make the best music. Any time we’re kind of super happy or very content with where we’re at, we’re not even making that much music—we’re just out enjoying life. So anytime we’re going through stuff, we have songs for days.Tyrone: That makes so much sense because if you’re in a great relationship you might get one good song out of it as opposed to if there are complications and headaches and heartaches. Nineteen85: I kind of feel like everybody is like that. If things are going great with your girl or whoever you’re with at that time, you’re not really telling people about it. You’re just out there living and experiencing it. I feel like with artists, it’s so much harder for us to make good happy music—music that’s not sad or from a place of frustration or a place of hurt. Because we’re just living.Daniel: It’s just scary hearing him say that because, what is my life going to be if we have to keep going through the worst of moments to keep the music going? [laughs] I think for me as a writer, I’ve always been the kind of writer where I got to go out and live and then take all that back to the studio for a specific time. I’m not the wake up and just write a song 10 different times a day—I’ve never been that guy. I need to go and live and experience and then bring it all back to the studio.[video_embed id='1995719']WATCH: dvsn performs 'No Good'[/video_embed]Tyrone: Let’s talk about the A Muse in Her Feelings album and how the songs are arranged—there seems to be a flow and the album is broken down into three or four parts.Nineteen85: It didn’t start out intentional—we definitely were just making songs—and then because we’ve never made an album with this many songs, I started saying “Maybe there’s a way we can categorize it to figure out how we describe what each section is to us.” And then from there Daniel’s like, “Yo, why don’t we actually show people that process?” Because most people would never show you how you got to that end result. If you do it like that, anybody can just take the flow of the album and start with the song saying, “I’m not any good at love; I’m no good at this; I probably should give it up.” And then you end on the very last song being, “Alright, I’m ready to go for it again.” You’re literally going to just keep going through the cycle because it’s what we do all the time.Because I think that’s how we approach relationships or just life in general. You get into something, love it or hate it, mess up, and then eventually go, “Okay, let me go and take another shot at this.”Tyrone: I’m pretty sure there’s a connection between how [the last song] “…Again” finishes and then the album starts all over again.Nineteen85: If you’re not paying attention, you probably wouldn’t even realize it. If you have the album playing on loop, the beginning of “No Good” is the same way that “…Again” ends. I did that purposefully so that you won’t even notice, but you just end up back—in a literal sense—in the same cycle. You’re just going to end up feeling like, “How did I end up back here again?”Tyrone: I’m trying to understand the title—A Muse in Her Feelings. A muse is someone who inspires so who inspires you to make these songs?Daniel: The women in our lives were the muses and they all happened to be in their feelings. It’s all pretty self-explanatory when you take it in, to be honest.Tyrone: Is it specific to a time? Daniel: No, these are the muses of our lives. Anyone we may have crossed paths with, whether it be a friend or a relationship or a situation-ship, we’ve listened and we’ve learned a lot from the women around us. We tried to put all the situations we were going through and the situations we’re hearing them go through and mix it all up and give it to you guys.Tyrone: Are you also being influenced by the women in your IG Lives? Is this something you’ll continue to do post-COVID?Daniel: I think so for sure—I’ve heard some things doing that live. We go on and we leave this open forum for people, happens to be a lot more women, to just come in, talk about different topics and vibe, listen to music, converse with each other. I think there’s definitely things I’ve learned and heard and been exposed to that will definitely inspire some words moving forward… I’ll find a way to keep it going.Tyrone: I love your collab with Jessie Reyez. How did that come about?Daniel: Jessie is family, man. That’s my sister. We came up at the same time; we had a [friendly] relationship before either of us got into the record business. Her team and our team are all very interconnected through The Remix Project in Toronto. For those who don’t know, it’s a program in the city that brings creatives together and helps them turn their dreams into a reality through peer tutoring.The record “Courtside” was this song we’d been sitting on for close to a year before the album and it was just missing something. It hit us that it was a female vocalist to kind of bring this story to life—about this girl growing up in this world where things are being used and abused all around her and she’s kind of flipped the script and learned how to play the game. She’s not even showing up to the games unless she’s courtside.Jessie really brought that to life. Her voice, her dramatics in her delivery, the verse she added at the end of it—it all really kind of made the story complete.[video_embed id='1987731']RELATED: Jessie Reyez performs 'Kill Us' for etalk Open House [/video_embed]Tyrone: What’s your relationship to music right now?Nineteen85: Kind of all over the place, I guess. I’m making music every day, but the most recent album I listened to was Curtis Mayfield’s Greatest Hits to be in the spirit of everything that’s happening right now.Tyrone: I’ve been thinking about how artists like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye made the switch from R&B relationship-based music to political, radical-uprising music. Nineteen85: I think it was more life-based for them. For us, there’s a lot of us who are just now checking into the political climate of stuff and saying, “Alright, now we have to be more active.” For them, they didn’t have a choice. So if you don’t have a choice, even if you’re the smooth, sultry R&B singer, you’re still in some way affected by the Civil Rights Movement.Daniel: I think this whole year is going to have a lot of content coming out of it. From there being a pandemic to the first time the whole world was in lockdown to the whole world is damn near marching for equality amongst race and the Black race. I think the next couple years, we’re going to hear these feelings echoed and the residue and the aftershock and aftermath in all of this—in music, in art, in film and all those avenues.Nineteen85: A big topic in the conversation has been privilege and who has privilege and who doesn’t. I think a lot of artists—we have to acknowledge that we have a privilege whether we choose to talk on certain things or not. If we’re going to get other people checking their privilege, that checking comes with us checking ourselves to say: “Are we either speaking on things or being active in certain communities to change things?”Not everybody’s voice is the same because I don’t think everybody is as good at talking about certain topics. But if you’re not speaking on it in your music, you need to be speaking on it in your lifestyle.Tyrone: What’s the feeling toward places like [your label] OVO Sound participating in #BlackOutTuesday?Nineteen85: I felt like [#BlackOutTuesday] made it easy for certain people to participate without actually having to do anything that made them uncomfortable. I personally know what’s behind OVO from its inception until now, what they’ve been doing in the past; I know what they’ve been doing in the community. I know that’s not a post—it’s a lifestyle, a mission statement, that’s been since day one. There are a lot of other people in other positions where it became super simple to go, “I didn’t want to say anything but we’re all posting a black square today so cool, I’ve got a black square” and the story sort of ended there.Daniel: I think it also made it easy for a lot of people in the music business, in the music industry to feel like, “Hey, we participated,” when really it’s like, “What did you do besides post a black square and take a day off?” Which is not helping any Black lives do anything; it’s not helping any part of this community get anywhere.I feel like we’re past awareness—the whole world is talking about the same thing, we get it. We know. Now what are we going to do? And if that isn’t on the top of your mind, I don’t care about a black square or a BLM post or you saying “That cop should be fired.” What are we doing about the system? Because the system will just get new players—the system is not broken; this is how it was supposed to work. We need a new system. So to me, these record execs and these people in positions of power that participate in these things who really just did the minimum—I don’t really care. If you’re with us, act with us.[video_embed id='1973107']RELATED: Michael B. Jordan wants Hollywood to 'commit to Black hiring' [/video_embed]Tyrone: I was talking to Spike Lee and he said, even with all his experience, he was optimistic this time around. At the beginning of this conversation, you had a tone of hope—why do you have that hope?Daniel: The way that they’ve at times had the “War on Drugs” or whatever they’ve decided “We’ve got to put the harshest of rules on to really make this stop,” is the way they need to have a war on crooked cops. It needs to be a situation where if I’m a cop and I see another cop doing something that I think might be excessive force or over the top, if I don’t intervene and report, I get charged with the same crime. You start doing things like that, forget it.I’ve wondered about the RICO Laws—how they bring down organizations that are participating in criminal activity and they can actually charge the whole load. It’s how they took down the Mob. Use that with the cops. Like, “We know three of these officers are bad, okay cool, you know what? This would department right here is going to get charged.” That’ll make everybody clean it up real quick.Nineteen85: I think it’s a little bit different this time because I think the conversations now are leaning more towards accountability. I don’t think I’m going to change people from being racist; I don’t even think that is the overall goal. I’m okay knowing that somebody doesn’t like me because of my skin colour. I’m not okay with them being able to treat me differently and feeling like there are no repercussions. That’s the accountability. I don’t think there’s not going to be bad cops—I think of course there will be. But the accountability is that other cops will say, “You can’t do that because it’s going to mess things up for all of us.” Not because their heart changed, not because they view people differently—if you’re not a good person, you’re not a good person—I’m not trying to change you. I just need to know that you can’t get away with things.Daniel: My hope comes from this being the first time everybody’s talking about the same thing. I think this is going to be a fight—I think it’s going to be a tooth and nail fight every step up that ladder. But I do have hope because it’s a global issue; it’s a global topic—you can’t run from it. No matter what race, no matter what background, economic status—you’ve heard about this now.As much as I’m happy about these arrests, really all we got out of that was “Okay, you caught me.” We’re not getting “Okay, we’re adjusting this entire system so these things aren’t happening.” It’s a victory in the sense of yes, this murder didn’t go unheard but we didn’t win the war—we didn’t win anything. And on top of that, there aren’t even any convictions yet, so I don’t want to celebrate.  The fact that some disgusting animal like George Zimmerman is able to walk around free after what he did is ridiculous.So my hope lies in the people. My hope lies in the unification that we currently have that I don’t think even at the Civil Rights time was as big because of social media and how interconnected the world is. Now everybody’s at least talking about the same thing. Where these conversations and actions go? We’ll see.etalk Open House is a weekly series that features performances and exclusive interviews with incredible talent like The KillersJessie Reyez, Shaggy, Niall Horan and more. Catch the series on Thursday night as part of etalk’s regular  broadcast at 7pm ET on CTV  and 7:30pm on CTV2.[video_embed id='1992136']BEFORE YOU GO: Shaggy performs 'It Wasn't Me' from home [/video_embed]

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