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Interview with keyboardist, David Davis (Stormzy)
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Interview with keyboardist, David Davis (Stormzy)

While David Davis has spent the greater part of his life building up his repertoire as a session musician and multi-instrumentalist, he is also a distinguished producer, composer and music director.

Based in South East London, David’s career has seen him perform alongside Sister Sledge, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Deniece Williams and most recently Grime heavyweight, Stormzy. We caught up with David following his landmark BRIT Awards 2020 performance...

What inspired you to become a musician?

I can’t point to a specific thing to be honest. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who made a drum kit out of household items, hitting them with pencils and kitchen utensils.


What is your earliest memory of music production/writing? 

I started composing music from a very early age on my little keyboard. I remember in my primary school days when I was yearning for a PC program to record my musical ideas on, my cousin introduced me to Dance eJay so that was the first software I used.


Who are some of your earliest influences?

My earliest musical influences came from home and church. At home my father and sister would play artists like Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, 4 Hero, Raphael Saadiq, Musiq Soulchild, Sounds of Blackness, The Crusaders, Bob Marley and the list goes on. Then at church, every Sunday I would watch the guys playing there, go home and try to play what they were playing.


Before your current gig with Stormzy who else have you worked with?

Other artists I’ve worked with include Hamzaa, Sister Sledge, Evelyn King, Deniece Williams, ABC Dialect and Petite Noir.

How did you get involved in the project?

So two very good friends of mine, Iziah and Levi Yarde play Keyboards and Bass for Stormzy. He had a BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge in September ’19 and Iziah wasn’t around for it. So the Yardes introduced me to Stormzy’s MD and I’ve been depping for Iziah since then.


You recently performed at The BRIT awards? What was it like?

It was an amazing experience. The energy and atmosphere of celebration before, during and after the performance was really something. I’m really glad I was able to be a part of it. Definitely one of the main highlights of my music career so far. It was live on TV as well! Quite a treat.

My keyboards getting drenched in the rainfall of the last song “Rainfall”, not such a treat (laughs). They had the rain in rehearsal the day before, which left one of my Stage 3s with its screen gone, and the other with a few broken keys so it was risky on the night! I’d prepared a fallback just in case, but by the Grace of God my keyboards got through the performance without any problems.

Would you be willing to share some personal highlights from your time in the band?

I’d say one highlight is the banter between the horn players. They’re a really funny bunch!


Have there been any difficult lessons learned?

I would say the most difficult lesson learnt so far is about taking time out for yourself between the busy periods to just rest. I’ve experienced the effects of burnout and it isn’t good for anyone.


How have you integrated the Nord Stage 3 into your rig?

I have two Stage 3s, an 88 key and the Compact 73 key. The 88 is my main keyboard so I’ll normally use that for Pianos, Rhodes, layering sometimes with strings, pads and other synths. Then I’ll use the Compact for auxiliary sounds so anything from strings, brass, to synth sounds and sometimes as a dedicated organ. I like the compact for smaller gigs as well because you have all the great features in a smaller, more portable package that still feels great to play.


Would you say any specific features of the Nord Stage 3 have inspired your sound? 

Most definitely. The sound first and foremost. As a pianist I favour rich, big, warm sounding pianos and the Nords have that in spades. A great sounding piano always inspires me. I’m also a big big Rhodes guy and the EPs on the Nord sound authentic as heck! Then there’s the immediacy of the effects; I prefer to have everything in front of me instead of diving through menus. With rhodes sounds for example I’ll typically dial in some panning, a touch of reverb and a smidgen of overdrive - Beautiful. Nord keyboards definitely allow me to bring out my sound.

Are you able to tell us which Nord Pianos and EPs are your favourites? 

The Royal Grand 3D, Velvet Grand, White Grand and Mellow Upright are my favourite pianos at the moment. And the Rhodes Mk 1 Low Deep, Rhodes Mk5, Rhodes Sparkle Top and Nefertiti are my favourite EPs. They’re all great though because they each have a different character with little nuances, so you can find one to fit any situation.


What is your process when creating a new patch? Where do you begin and what are you hoping to achieve? 

It depends. I always try to program the patch to sound as close as I can to the original. A lot of the time I’ll start with an initialized patch and go from there. I love programming sounds so I’ll spend a lot of time with it. If it’s a complicated synth sound I’ll find something that sounds similar and tweak it. Depending on the gig sometimes I’ll create an extra patch with extra elements I hear in my head to try out at rehearsals. The aim is to make the music sound great live, whether that be by replicating the sounds exactly, or by embellishing them.


Have you played any other Nord instruments? 

My first Nord was a Piano 2 HP. I’ve also played the Electro, C2D and the Stage 2.

What advice would you have for aspiring professional musicians?

Never lose sight of the love and passion you have for music. Explore different styles and genres, and practise to be the best you can be. Network! Don’t doubt yourself, and be confident but not arrogant.


If you could work with anybody who would it be?

I’d love to work with D’Angelo!


In terms of the current music scene, who are you a fan of?

One of my favourite bands at the moment is Butcher Brown. I’m also a big fan of Kiefer, Kris Bowers, Hiatus Kaiyote…we could be here a while.

Thanks to David for taking the time out to talk to us. You can follow David @daviddavis.music

Stormzy's 2020 UK tour begins in September with three dates at London's O2 Arena. Tour dates can be
found here.

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