The Beat ‘N’ Track takes its first spin of the semester with senior commercial music major Dez Davis. Emerging from his home town of Wheaton, Ill., Davis came to Belmont wanting to inspire social change and share what he believes is a powerful connection between people and music. Multimedia Editor Annalise Kraus sat down with Davis this month to learn more about his journey to Music City and how the summer months back in Chicago have created a new chapter in his musical career.
Belmont Vision: I know you have grown up around music, but when did you realize it was your true passion?
Dez Davis: I remember being 4 years old, riding in the car with my mom and she was playing a Kirk Franklin song, ‘Lean on Me.’ I had memorized the entire song, but had never sang it for anyone before. Well, there is this big note in the middle of the song, and I felt compelled to start singing and when I hit that note, my mom turned around and said, ‘Who are you and what have you done with my son?!’ So after that they got me involved in music programs. It was a great way to meet people and it turned into great friendships that have lasted through this day. Music is an everlasting bond that you can’t really shake off without losing something. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, music can break those barriers. Music is a shared appreciation all over the world and I love all aspects of it and the relationships that come from it.
BV: When did you decide to pursue music as a career?
DD: The summer before coming to Belmont, I taught music classes at a camp for underprivileged inner-city youth in the Chicago area. Every week, kids would come and I saw a lot of them struggling with issues at home and many of them were being abused in addition to living below the poverty level. They came in very ill-mannered, misbehaving and were so hard to control, but as soon as we would get them on a stage, they would focus and embrace the power of music, which could take them away from their current situation even if just for that one moment. After seeing how effective music can change people’s hearts and lives, I knew it was something I had to do – create music and inspire social change.
BV: It sounds like you have a solid message you want to spread through your music. Being at a school where so many others are in a similar situation, how do you manage the competition?
DD: Belmont seems to draw the best from everyone and where they come from and it’s a good place to figure out where, as an artist, you fit in and where your uniqueness is going to shine the most. The first few years at Belmont, I did a lot of backup work for other artists. I did a lot of jobs for no pay which gave me more opportunities to learn who I was as a person, as a singer, as a performer and as a songwriter. I feel that a lot of people who come to Belmont and are not the immediate best get discouraged quickly. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who continued to encourage me to stay strong and to take every opportunity even if it may not have been ideally what I wanted. I think that a lot of hard work in the beginning paid off now because I still love what I do and know my musical purpose despite when others around me may not feel the same.
BV: You have had a lot of support as you have continued to pursue your music. Is there any one piece of advice that has really contributed to your success?
DD: My producer once told me stop impressing people and start thinking about telling the truth. No matter what happens, no one is going to forgive me if I lie on stage, during networking or in any situation in the music industry. That means, above everything, be honest. If I am singing a song that I know I can’t sing, then I shouldn’t be singing that song. I should work on it until I get it right. If I am networking in the music business, if I am honest, then I should expect the same from those I work with and want them to feel that I am worth their time.
BV: What artists inspire you?
DD: I am a huge Stevie Wonder fan. I could listen to him my entire life. Looking at more current artists, I am really inspired by Bruno Mars because he crosses a lot of genres and so many others are inspired by his music. I’m obsessed with Beyoncé. I think she is one of the hardest working people in the industry, and she has created herself as a product but she also has soul. I really respect her, her music and her performance abilities. I also love Cee Lo Green, Usher and Maroon 5, but I like all kinds of music – Christian, Gospel, Rock, Pop.
BV: You have a variety of artists who inspire you, so how would you describe your style?
DD: I would say, if Bruno Mars was backed by The Roots, that would be me. My voice is not distinctly black or white per say, the music I have created and the songs I have written have been very pop/R&B with gospel and soul and a little bit old school.
BV: Last semester, you played the role of Seaweed Stubbs in Belmont’s production of the Broadway hit “Hairspray.” How is musical theater different than commercial music performances?
DD: I think some of the musical theater performers are the most talented people I’ve met at Belmont, not just in their program but as far as vocalists. They are some of the strongest people here. In musical theater, there is always a demand for consistency and in commercial music, people can get away with imperfections more easily. You can have recording sessions where you are able to go back and fix mistakes. Theater taught me to strive for consistency as an artist.
BV: So, where did your stage name Dez Davis stem from?
DD: Most know me as David Davis, and I have gone through a few artist names so far. I started off as David Davis and then transferred to Dez Davis. I’ve always wanted to have a ‘Z’ in my name because I’ve always been towards to top of the list in class. I wanted a ‘Z’ so I could be last for once. Now I’m transitioning into The Dez Davis Project because I took on a band. This summer when I went back home, I was looking for a backup band while I was in Chicago. I met up with friends from high school who I used to play with, and things just clicked. It was this perfect synthesis of funky grooves and popular commercial stuff I am doing. While we were playing this summer, I would always introduce them as the Dez Davis Band or Chocolate Swirl because of their ethnic backgrounds. One day we were goofing around and I told them, ‘You guys are hard work! You guys are my project.’ And so the name The Dez Davis Project stuck. Labels decided they wanted to take us on as a band and not just me as a solo artist and I was OK with that because the band came together and worked so perfectly.
BV: So you underwent a slight stage name change, what else have you been up to this summer?
DD: My management moved me back to Chicago this summer to pursue that music scene and to make a name for myself there. It was hard at first, getting the band together and constantly calling up venues, but a lot of good things came out of it. I produced numerous YouTube videos that received a lot of feedback and played for audiences ranging from 20 to 400 people at venues all around the Chicago area. I made a lot of contacts and created a pretty solid name for myself and my new band there. I have also been teaching voice and song writing lessons as well as working on my own publishing with some people in the industry which I am really excited about.
BV: What can your fans and Belmont students expect from The Dez Davis Project in the next year?
DD: I’m planning to release an EP this year, either first or second semester, and there will definitely be a show for that. I actually did a show at 12th & Porter this summer which drew a great crowd and a positive response, and they invited me back. I’ll be doing a lot of shows in the Nashville area, really focusing on the college scene, specifically because playing for college students is a great way to set your music up and Belmont is full of great listeners. I also plan on auditioning for a few Belmont showcases. I want to get better at what I do, just always moving forward.
BV: It seems pursuing your music is a full-time job. Do you have any other hobbies?
DD: I love cooking! I interned at a restaurant in high school and they actually offered me a position and an opportunity to pursue culinary arts, but I fell in love with music too quickly to ever consider it. However, I still cook all the time and I’m kind of a nature kid. I love to spend hours outside, hiking and camping.