When Toronto R&B duo DVSN came on the radar back in 2015, they had their formula down pat: produce dark, lust-drenched singles that integrate the warmth classic late-night '90s R&B with glistening, atmospheric sound beds that have become synonymous with Toronto's musical aesthetic.
DVSN — vocalist Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen 85 –started out as OVO's then-newest mysterious act, leaving fans to wonder who the figure or figures were behind the buttery falsetto and lush production style that was introduced on OVO Sound Radio in 2015. After the pair uploaded their first two tracks to SoundCloud, Daley tells Billboard he wasn't initially convinced DVSN would takef.
“I think when we put out those first two records, that was a reassurance and the green light that we were looking for because I wasn’t thinking like, 'Oh, once we drop this, shit is gonna pop f,'” he tells Billboard over the phone. But after the release the duo's proper debut Sept. 5th, Daley and Nineteen realized the group's potential was greater than any doubt and returned in October 2017 with their sophomore album Morning After.
On Morning After, Daley's silvery warble only strengthens over Nineteen's multi-layered beats, as he takes listeners through the emotional rollercoaster that ensues after the demise a relationship. Whether in a committed relationship or “situationship,” there's a song on the album designed to match every mood. “Don't Choose” is one the clear standouts — a sultry, club-ready anthem that features a trap-like beat and a sample the legendary Issac Hayes, while cuts like “P.O.V” and “Mood” is reminiscent classic '90s baby-making music.
Below, DVSN dishes on the creative process behind Morning After, the influences they draw from and more.
Did you guys always know each other?
Daniel: We knew each other before we called it DVSN, for sure — I was a songwriter and he was a producer and we met through music. As time went by, the chemistry built with the music and the friendship and we decided to make it an ficial thing. We ficially put some songs together and called it DVSN, I guess, in 2015.
You both had your own solo endeavors going on so how did you build and strengthen the relationship inside and outside the booth?
Nineteen 85: We’ve been really fortunate because as my career was taking f, it sort gave way for a new path for what we were doing too so it never really interfered and that I think helped us kind do something that a lot other groups weren’t able to do especially with me being able to release the first couple songs on OVO Sound radio.
When you first dropped music, people were so intrigued with DVSN because you guys concealed your identities and were so mysterious. Was that for aesthetic purposes?
Nineteen 85: The biggest reason was to keep the focus on the music. Things really picked up after we put out those first couple songs so for most people, all they ever saw were those two DVSN symbols — one with the white and one with the black. I think it was taken as us trying to hide from the public but it was more just like we put it out hoping that people would really focus on music, which they did, but in turn, they also took it as we’re staying a bit further from the forefront. It wasn’t never really that, especially this time around, I think people have noticed that because now they see two people and those are the faces.
What was the defining moment that made you both realize DVSN could take f?
Daniel: I think when we put out those first two records that was a reassurance and the green light that we were looking for because I wasn’t thinking like, “Oh, once we drop this shit is gonna pop f.” 85 was the one that was telling me like, “Yo, this is gonna be so good, people are gonna fuck with this. Then, Noah Shebib] was also the one sitting there telling us to put the music out and once we put the music out, the world is going to react. I was like, “I don’t know what y’all think is gonna happen because we’re just uploading songs to Soundcloud,” but I was definitely proven wrong.
As Nineteen said earlier, you guys are a lot more present and interactive this time around. You guys performed at the Soul Train Awards, but is there a part the mystery that you guys miss?
Daniel: Being low-key has its perks that you don’t realize until you’re not anymore. I definitely can’t just run outside the house looking crazy all the time or put on my tracksuit and go run out without being conscious that someone might want a picture or might want to talk. Obviously, the trade-f is definitely worth it because it’s dope to get up there and interact with people, people get to familiarize themselves with not just your music but your personality, vibe, look, style and all the things that make up what you are.
What influences do you draw from when you’re creating?
Nineteen: We both love music so much that there are so many different things that we draw from when we’re making stuff. There’s obviously the traditional R&B sense to our songwriting and I think that comes from just growing up a lot people around us were playing music that was a lot, I guess, beyond our years. We didn’t realize it then but there were so many things that we were taking in that we shouldn’t haven’t even known at that age and now that we’re doing it, we’re kind just regurgitating some the things that come so natural to us and so many people are like, “How do you know so much about this style R&B?” And it ends up sounding new because we don’t even know that we’re drawing on. I don’t think we’re ever really made the conscious decision that we have to use a little bit this or a little bit that but we’ve always sort found the middle ground between all these things and that just seems to be our comfort zone.
What helps you stay inventive?
Nineteen: On the production side things, I think because I’m always doing non-DVSN related, I’m always in two different worlds at once so by the time I come back to DVSN world, I’ve already done a pop record with Drake, I’ve done an R&B record with R. Kelly, I’ve done with a straight rap song with Nicki Minaj] and I can now bring all those things home to DVSN. It normally happens so naturally, we’re never making a conscious decision, it kind just presents itself.
How do you both challenge each other in the studio?
Daniel: I think it comes from us just knowing each other. I can honestly say that even though that’s my partner-in-crime, the homie, I’m Nineteen 85’s biggest fan and critic because I know what he’s capable doing. Every time we’re in the studio, I know he can push a little further on a production; I know when he’s tired listening to the same beat over and over and can’t figure out what to do with something. With him, he probably knows my vocal ability better than anyone. He knows my writing ability where he’ll be like you can find a better way to say that so people can connect to it more and it’s a little more clear, a little deeper.
So as I was listening to Morning After, I couldn’t help but notice that the beginning the album starts f with, I guess, Daniel in a relationship with a woman who’s looking for more attention, more love, that he's not willing or really ready to give her. Then as the album progresses, the role flips and he's fallen for a woman but now she’s not ready to open up and by “Conversations in a Diner,” you’re fighting to save your relationship. Am I reaching or was this intentional?
Daniel: I would say the overall concept it was to give people these real-ass stories. Last album, Sept 5th, was more 2 a.m., 3 a.m. songs. This album was like breaking dawn where we got a little brighter, a little light shined on some different places and topics we didn’t get into. The experiences that we go through, we’re always experiencing something every day; we have new relationships, situationships, all that happening so when it comes to the studio, we just lay it all on the table.
Every song seems very meticulously crafted from 85’s beats down to Daniel’s pen game. What the creative process like?
Nineteen 85: I’ve been on the road for so long so I’m sort comfortable in almost any situation because you never know if you’re going to be on a tour bus, multi-million dollar studio, if you’re gonna need your laptop and equipment. So I think that really opened up the way I started producing because everything became a part my production world. That’s also something I can show on DVSN where for instance, “The Line” is literally me sampling this voice note Daniel had sent me him singing to a piano, so Daniel ends up singing over himself throughout the whole song and that’s literally just from him sending me that piece and not knowing what to use it for.
A few years ago, I don’t know if I would’ve done that but now that I’m so used to just trying to find a little piece or a moment in everything because you never know when you’re going to find your inspiration, I think that’s really translated into DVSN’s world. “Conversations in a Diner” is literally the same thing — we’re using diner sounds to set the backdrop to the song. I’d say it sounds like world music with an R&B point view — no pun intended.
Daniel: I might be a little more particular than that. Nineteen 85 has been good at creating in any situation or any given time where he can just flip up the laptop and get busy. Me, I’m mainly inspiration based so it takes something to hit me for me to really be satisfied with something that I wrote but luckily enough, things keep hitting so we’re not running out material. Laughs] I gotta live life and then put it down on a song.
So as you were writing Morning After, what types things were “hitting” you at the time?
Daniel: Like 85 said, we’re such broad music heads so that can go anywhere from old pop-rock to dance music to Spanish music to some the new R&B stuff. The only thing me and 85 have that’s consistent is we’re both hip-hop heads, we’re always listening to rap. Around Morning After, we were coming f the Drake tour with all those experiences going from North America all the way to Europe then coming back home. We had all these vibes from all these cities to pull from.
Sophomore albums can be nerve-wracking for most artists, especially coming f a well-received project like Sept. 5th. How’d you approach Morning After differently than your debut?
Daniel: I think that Sept. 5th was like a discovery for us the things we’re the most passionate about and how that’s going to work with the public. For Sept. 5th, we went in and made ten records that we completely love; we didn’t care about what was going to be accepted or what people were accustomed to or what they wanted, we just went in and did us and that kind told us to do it again. So for Morning After, we created another batch songs that we were in love with.
I’d say the album can be summed up as relationship talks. It’s all really honest and I think that’s what makes it the most relatable; I think the relatability is the most common thing in all the songs because you have records that have a Spanish, uptempo vibe like “Morning After” but then you have “Body Smile.” The songwriting is based on real talks.
Now, this album is rooted in soul, gospel and R&B like the chopped and screwed sample Maxwell’s “Fortunate” on “P.O.V.” Nineteen 85, where’d that idea come from?
Nineteen 85: I was listening to the song one day and I felt like it would sound really good slower. So, I wanted to try it and see where it goes from there and when I did, the idea came to chop and screw.
Daniel: Funny thing about that Maxwell situation is right around the time we made the record, we went on Twitter and he happened to have a performance clip him performing that record and for some reason mentioned us in the tweet. To this day we have no idea why he mentioned us so we took it as a sign and direct messaged him immediately like we have this sample “Fortunate.”
I believe there’s also the sample Kirk Franklin’s “Something About The Name Jesus” on “Keep Calm,” right?
Nineteen 85: That’s funny because we actually didn’t use it.
Daniel: Yeah, we didn’t use a Kirk Franklin song. I’ve seen so many people say that. I went and looked it up and heard it after people started saying it but it wasn’t a sample, it was just me and the choir girls just singing in the studio – we just happened to make the same “ooh, ooh sound.”
Nineteen 85: Yeah so what happened was when Daniel recorded the song, he had an adlib that he wanted to take out where he was doing that and I was like no, we have to keep that and he said that if we keep that, then it should be the choir.
Daniel: So if you notice before the choir comes in with that sound, I’m doing the same thing by myself in a falsetto and 85 was like no, this is the hot part the song but I didn’t want to keep doing it over and over, just bring the choir and let them do it and it kind happened like that.
“Conversations In A Diner” also has the same choir singing as well. Did you guys grow up in the church?
Daniel: Yeah, gospel music influences our lives really because we came up in Christian homes and got a lot our morals, ethics, and standards from our parents, who were raised in the church, so that whole vibe has always been there whether or not we knew it. People always ask me if I came up singing in the church and while I went to church every Sunday, I never actually sang in church – I might’ve been too shy then. Gospel music is embedded in not just our music but music, period. R&B, blues, it all borrows a lot from gospel music.
Where do you guys go from here?
Nineteen: It seems like it from the reaction we're getting, it keeps going as word mouth spreads. I think word mouth has been one the biggest things that help people embrace us and our sound. A lot people feel great knowing they put someone on to DVSN and that ownership that people take with DVSN has just continued to grow and it's only going to get even bigger and bigger.