Stepping into new rooms with Daniel Daley and Nineteen85 of dvsn

If a song is a room, an album is a house. So says Daniel Daley and Nineteen85, the twosome behind Toronto’s very own dvsn, whose highly anticipated third album A Muse In Her Feelings is set to be released next month. In late 2019, Ace Hotel London’s music booker Seán Grannum a.k.a. seangran caught up with the R&B vibe virtuosos to chat about protecting your energy, flowing with American rapper Future and how they’ve been living in their own skin their whole lives. To find out how the pair are approaching their more “lifestyle-driven album” this time around and what they say is still “the best part of the job,” read on.

Photo by LeSean Harris

Seangran:
This is seangran, and today I’m interviewing the incredibly talented dvsn. How are you guys doing?

Nineteen85:
Good. How are you doing?

S:
I’m good. Welcome back to London. What’s your experience with the city here, because I’d imagine you’ve been here a bit?

Daniel Daley:
Yeah, we’ve been here a few times. We love it here. It reminds us a little bit of home. It’s a little more grey, but the vibe, the culture, the nightlife, all that stuff —

Nineteen85:
You can find a lot of inspiration here.

Daniel:
Yes, I agree with that.

S:
Yeah, especially because the cities have the same Caribbean roots. So there’s a lot of shared worlds. And you two, yourselves, individually also have Caribbean heritage, right?

Nineteen85:
Yeah.

Daniel:
Yeah, Jamaican.

S:
Cool. I know dvsn comes from you guys existing in your own space and so forth but I have a secret theory that D-V-S-N comes from Daniel Daley Versus Nineteen85.

Daniel:
It doesn’t, but when we saw that we were like, “That was genius.”

S:
Okay. So that wasn’t even intentional?

Nineteen85:
No, we had a lot of those. Even our first song was uploaded on Sept 5 [the title of their debut album] and we didn’t know. A lot of weird coincidences came with that name, so we knew we picked the right thing.

S:
Yeah. You guys have quite a strong connection to the UK scene because 85, you produced, “I Don’t Want Your Money” with Ed Sheeran and H.E.R and then you guys were also behind Jessie Ware’s “Desire” and you produced “One Dance” which samples Crazy Cousinz and Kyla. How aware are you of the UK scene right now?

Nineteen85:
This is probably the least in touch I’ve been with the scene, and I think it’s because I’ve been so immersed in this album that I haven’t really been paying much attention to anything for the last couple of months, but normally I’m pretty up on it.

S:
Yeah. Have you got any favourite artists from this side or artists that you’d want to collaborate with that you haven’t already? You’ve already worked with Jorja and Ed.

Nineteen85:
I definitely want to work with Dave. [I’m a] huge fan of Maya Jane Cole, I  sampled her on “Truffle Butter” [by Nicki Minaj], Adele, Jai Paul.

S:
Jai Paul would be sick.

Daniel:
Jai Paul would be very sick. Emile Sandé, I like her a lot. Sampha I like a lot. There’s a lot of people out here. I mean you guys are super talented.

S:
For sure. Likewise to your side, the Toronto R&B scene has been on a crazy wave over the last five to ten years with So Far Gone a decade old now.

Daniel:
Right?! It’s crazy.

S:
Have you seen quite a big change in the city in terms of people showing love back to the city since those days?

Daniel:
Oh for sure. I think that it’s our time right now. We’re finally getting our chance to be one of the cities that you have to talk about when you’re talking about music, the scene and the entertainment industry. Being so close to New York, cause we’re like a 50-minute flight away, we’ve always looked at New York as the big brother and they kind of had the whole scene going crazy. So I think that for us to finally have that turn now and thanks to Drake and thanks to all the artists that have come out of the city over the past few years, there’s been a crazy energy in the city.

S:
Dope. So you guys are currently working on your third LP, which is dropping in a few months. Right?

Daniel:
Mhmm.

S:
You’ve been fairly reclusive in the past over the last two LPs but with this one you’ve brought your presence more to the forefront rather than letting the music speak for itself. What was the intention behind that?

Daniel:
Just growth. We’re just letting people another step into this room that you’re soon to realize is a house. I think people thought “dvsn is this and they make this kind of music and this is what I wanted, this is all I know them for,” and we’ve been sitting here like giggling and laughing majorly cause we’re like, you guys have no idea. We have so many things to show you and we want to keep up with what we started, which is being unpredictable, going against the grain, being separate from the pack, shocking people. That’s kind of been our thing, we don’t like rules so we don’t have rules.

Nineteen85:
With the music on this album, we also made a point for it to be more lifestyle driven, and because of that, I think we naturally felt more comfortable showing more of our life and our style this time around.

S:
Yeah, am I right in saying that “Morning After” was inspired by movie soundtracks?

Nineteen85:
In some ways. Yeah, definitely.

S:
You mentioned that this one’s quite a departure and you’re wanting to keep it unpredictable because your sound is a lot bigger than what fans may perceive it to be. Has there been an err of caution because you know that a lot of fans are going to hold onto your old sound?

Daniel:
We’re always going to have that. Nobody has to worry about “Is dvsn going to give us a slow jam? Is dvsn going to have those bedroom bangers? Is dvsn going to get me in my feelings?” We’re always going to have that. We’re just going to add on to other things that you can take and you can like and you can love, and you can play at different times of day, different moves, different scenarios, that’s all it is.

S:
Is “Miss Me?” on this album or is that separate?

Daniel:
Most likely going to be on this album.

S:
In that case, “No Cryin” is the second single with Future. How did that song come together?

Daniel:
Well we went on Drake’s Summer Sixteen tour and that was Future, Drake, us and Roy Woods, and that’s where we met him. That’s where we first connected, and we originally were thinking about having him on our second project on a song of ours called “Think About Me” and we didn’t end up going through with it, timing schedules and getting all that stuff done so we decided that we’ll have another album that’s just us. This time around when we were exploring and creating, we thought, “Yo this is the one we actually go back and get Future for.” Luckily for us, when he heard it he fell in love with it immediately and was just like, “Yo, I got this. Don’t worry, trust me, I’m doing this. Just hold on.” And he snapped, he went off on it. So yeah, shout out to Future.

S:
Dope. Have you guys worked together before? Because you guys flow and interplay so well on the track and it seems so natural.

Daniel:
No, that’s probably just because we’re fans, man. We knew when we laid certain things we had an idea of the kind of Future that we were hoping to get and then he just levelled up and gave us that. He did what he did.

S:
It was a natural fit.

Daniel:
Yeah.

S:
Would you say that this album’s got more features than that?

Daniel:
I would say that (laughs).

S:
Moving back to 2019 you guys did Coachella for the first time, right?

Daniel:
Yeah.

S:
How was that experience?

Daniel:
Crazy. That was my first time even going. He’s been before but that was my first time even seeing Coachella.

S:
(to Nineteen85) Had you played before?

Nineteen85:
No, I went before when Drake was there in 2015.

Daniel:
But that was my first time seeing that. So I’ve never seen anything like it. So many people, so many stages, so many things going on. It was just like, it was nuts, but yeah, it was a great experience.

S:
Yeah. How did it feel to see it not just from the crowd, but also from the stage yourself because you’re doing your thing up there?

Daniel:
It’s surreal sometimes, and sometimes when you’re looking out, especially at festivals, you don’t know who’s there for you versus who just happened to stop at that stage, but it’s dope when you’re doing something that’s yours and you’re seeing that many people that you can tell like, “Oh, you know this [music].” So that means you are here because you’re meant to be here. When that happens with crowds that size, you just start to feel like, “This is why we do it.”

S:
What would you say is the most important thing 2019 has taught you individually?

Daniel:
It’s taught me to find peace, you know? Find a peaceful place to just put my head, put thoughts for my creativity, protect my energy, protect the energies around me, my space, my spirituality, my mentality. It’s put me in a space where I’m like, “Alright, if you’re going to be here, you’re here for a reason. If not, then I just don’t need it, and that’s okay. It’s okay to be that.”

Nineteen85:
I think it’s taught me to slow down, to be in the moment more. Not think of the past or the future. Just what is.

S:
Mindfulness for the present. So if you had to each choose a song that defines you, whether it’s inside or outside of your discography, what would it be? It could be as dvsn, it could be as Daniel Daley and Nineteen85.

Nineteen85:
I’ll go with Nina Simone, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”.

S:
Do you wanna give any reason or should we just take it as that?

Nineteen85:
I feel like because I don’t say much and I am soft spoken or reserved, people never really know what to take from me. So I feel like that song just says it all.

S:
Yeah, that’s a good choice. No pressure [to Daniel]. (laughs) Honestly, if you can’t, it’s all good. Going back to that though while you’re thinking, has it been a challenge to be in front of the camera more and give more interviews and be more personable in that visual way or has it come quite naturally?

Daniel:
The only challenge is waking up early…

Nineteen85:
To make it to these interviews (laughs).

Daniel:
Yeah to be at places on time. Besides that we’ve lived in our own skin our whole lives so if you want to put a camera there, that’s cool.

Nineteen85:
The funny thing is I’m the least talkative one, the one that shies away from cameras and stuff, but I used to do a lot of background and film work when I was growing up. So this is kind of regular for me.

S:
Yeah, is it Scarborough you grew up?

Daniel:
Yeah.

Nineteen85:
I grew up just East of Scarborough.

S:
How did you guys meet?

Daniel:
We met just East of Scarborough cause me and my mom eventually moved out and we ended up crossing paths through like people that we knew that were friends of ours.

S:
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

Nineteen85:
I’m going to say this based on the events of this week, I think I would change the influence it has on people using substances.

S:
Yeah, rest in peace to Juice Wrld, 100%.

Daniel:
I think that I would find a way, and I don’t even know if this is the music industry or just the era that we’re in because of social media and everything. I just think that people can’t even pay attention and process and take things in the same way. When we dropped our first album, Sept. 5th., it was still a moment. People still stopped and lived with albums at that time. You’d sit there and you’d listen to that same album for a period of time. Now 10 albums drop every day we don’t hear half of them, we pick out a couple things, some songs end up on our playlist, and then it kind of disappears and then the fans are back like, “Hey, where’s the music?” You know, but I think it’s just where we are right now. I wish that we could get to a place where people find a way of just slowing it down a little bit.

S:
Yeah. I find that crazy, how someone can work on an album for two to three years, drop it, it go crazy, and then a week later people are like, “Where’s the new music?” and you’re like, “I had this like a week ago. I’m still dropping singles, come on!”. Next year you’ve got the project dropping, that’s in February, right? Is there anything else that you’re looking forward to in 2020?

Daniel:
Touring, I can’t wait to get back on the road.

S:
Yeah.

Daniel:
The only thing that’s tough about it sometimes is yeah, you get a little homesick sometimes, but being able to go in and be around the fans and get back the energy that you put into it and see which songs affected who in what way and which songs go off. We have like private bets about which song; like, “I know this one’s going to go off at the show.” So just to go out there and feel that and do that again. It’s like, yes, this is the best part of the job.

S:
Yeah. Same for you?

Nineteen85:
Same for me.

S:
Dope, thank you so much guys. It’s been a pleasure.

Nineteen85:
Thank you.

Daniel:
Thank you.


Seán Grannum is Music Booker at Ace Hotel London and founder of Stay Cool, a platform and community dedicated to building bridges through music via podcasts, live events and music releases.