Two Sides of David Myles

December 2, 2013
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David Myles’s new double album In The Nighttime shows off its creator’s split personality. The front side is classic Myles, a charming fusion of straight-forward pop and more complicated jazz and blues influences. Myles has always loved the tonally complicated yet eminently danceable pop music of the 1950s, and In The Nighttime captures the essence of his musical vision: he yearns for the stark simplicity of a great pop song while pushing his songwriting and vocal performances deep into the 21st century. It is an invigorating collection of songs, smooth and luxurious yet always engaging and innovative. But this is only half the story.

The back side of In The Nighttime’s a short EP of adrenaline-boosted pop songs. It features electric guitars, punchy horns, and grinding drum tracks, which resulted from Myles’s longtime collaboration with Classified, one of the most prominent rappers and producers in the country. But these are not two independent albums jammed together. Both sides include a version of the song “What Would I Have To Do” (jazzy on the front, punchy and horn-driven on the back), and Myles’s elliptical songwriting is embedded in the D.N.A. of both records. Working on In The Nighttime imbued Myles with a sense of artistic freedom he hadn’t felt before, and the project feels like a new beginning in a career already studded with highlights. A few weeks ago I caught up with Myles to learn more about the duality of In The Nighttime.

Alex J MacPherson: In The Night-time is a double record. Did you set out to release two very different sides of music, or did that come later?

David Myles: The way the album turned out wasn’t exactly how I planned. When I first went into it, I didn’t think I was doing a double record. That was where the curveball happened. What I had planned to do was make disc one, disc one was the plan. I felt like I wanted to make a record that had a really nice kind of nighttime vibe — great-sounding, great players, a Norah Jones or James Taylor vibe. I didn’t want to get involved in over-producing it; I just wanted to make a really strong roots record. Things deviated because I kept on working with Luke every time I was home, and the collaboration was just so awesome, so fun, that I decided that rather than separate them I’d put them out together, be-cause I was too into it, basically.

AJM: Let’s talk about the first side. You mentioned wanting to avoid any sort of over-production. What was recording it like?

DM: Basically what I did is I wrote all these songs and then I made sure I could play them live. I toured them for like two months before I even went into the studio. That way you get a sense of the song: you get a sense of how to sing it and you get a sense of what’s working with the song, what’s not working with the song. So I really worked through all those details during these tours, which was really rewarding and a nice way to do it. It was kind of something I hadn’t done before. Over making enough records I’ve learned that’s a great way to pre-produce a record, that the time you spend before you go into the studio is actually just as valuable as the time you spend in it.

AJM: Side one is interesting. On the one hand most of the songs are about the doubt that accompanies love and long-ing. On the other hand, it feels like the most self-assured record you’ve made.

DM: I can never tell because I’m so close to it. I mean, you get so close to it that you don’t even realize that it is kind of a record of longing. It’s a romantic record. I go through these phases where I make one record that’s not really about love, and then another one that’s basically entirely love songs, and that’s this record. I don’t really shy away from it, I’ve never felt like you can write too many love songs. It’s a complicated affair, and there’s lots to write about. There’s a reason why everyone writes about it. But I think one thing, just musically, about this that I enjoyed — and hopefully that’s where some of the assuredness comes from — is I tried to write stuff that was a little more challenging to sing and a little more involved melodically. It demanded more of me as a singer, and I really got into that, I really got into the singing on this record, much more than I ever hard.

AJM: That definitely comes through on the album. The songs work in the tradition of simple pop songs, but there are some complex musical ideas at work underneath — things that keep you really engaged.

DM: I really hope that that came out. It’s one of those things where you sometimes think you’re being more subtle than you are, and you’re always worried that those references are being lost. But then you realize it doesn’t take much of those references to come through, for people to hear them. It’s in the songs, you know, and as soon as you have certain melodic moves it doesn’t matter how you present them, they take people to that place without being heavy-handed. It worked out well for sure.

AJM: And then there’s side two. You and Classified have been working together for awhile. How did it start?

DM: It was probably four or five years ago that we met at a Music Nova Scotia conference. We met, two touring musicians, and started to chat just about work and life. I liked his work — I’m a big hip hop fan — so we started talking about his stuff. He’s really open-minded and a really great guy and he said, why don’t you come by the studio sometime and we’ll do something together? He knew I played trumpet so I came out and played trumpet on a couple things and we got on really well. He said, come out again sometime. So I came out and had a chorus idea that I hadn’t done anything with, and it became this song called “The Day Doesn’t Die” on his record, which was a really cool experience for us — it totally was the first time I’d done that, collaborated in that way of basically letting go of a song of mine, letting it take on a completely different existence. And as soon as it happened I kind of went, whoa. It was magical for me.

AJM: Which is interesting, because on paper at least you’re so different.

DM: The one thing we share is that we both love making music. We have the same approach in the studio, which is relatively reckless, joyful creativity. We’re just throwing every idea at the wall and we’re loose and having a lot of fun, and that’s what we share. And musically we share so little in terms of experience. I make roots music and I grew up doing Royal Conservatory, playing trumpet. He’s been making beats his whole life and doesn’t know musical theory or chords. So we speak pretty different languages, and we came at it differently, but we share the enthusiasm, the real joy of seeing something come together. And a willingness to just try whatever, and that’s what happened.

AJM: Which brings us back to the concept of the double album. What compelled you to release these two different sides of music together?

DM: It was totally Luke that suggested that, like you should put them both out, they’re both cool and they’re both you, you should just put them both out. It was a good suggestion. You want to find people who are interested in what you do. If you go searching for what people are going to want from you, it gets messy.

by Alex J MacPherson, Verb
Photos by Hiep Vu