Issue # 147, INTERVIEW with D’Vonne Lewis
A couple of months ago, I had a chance to meet & review one of D’Vonne’s bands, Industrial Revelation; D’Vonne also got me a copy of their OAKHEAD CD, which I reviewed in issue # 144… after that show, I hooked up with D’Vonne, ‘coz I knew he’d be great for an INTERVIEW with us! I wasn’t wrong… he dug right on in & came up with one of the most insightful interviews we’ve had in quite some time. My thanks go out to him for taking the time to “tell things his way”!
Zzaj: Where did you get your start in jazz?
D’Vonne: I started playing my mom’s pots and pans when I was around 3 or 4 years old; I tried to make the beats and rhythms from the radio and stereo that my mom played while she cleaned the house. Around the fourth grade, I saw an old picture of my dad on the drums, which motivated my desire to seriously play drums.
When I was in the fifth grade, I worked at Honey Bear Bakery as a dishwasher and another employee named Scott Faruta and I talked about music. Scott played the sax and I told him I played the drums. He started giving me cassettes bi weekly with different jazz drummers and jazz artists. He exposed me to the different types of jazz. In a way, he was my first jazz teacher.
I really started playing jazz when I joined the jazz band at both Meany and Hamilton middle school. The rule was if you wanted to play the drum set you had to join the jazz band. I enjoyed the freedom of expression that came with playing the different jazz songs.
Zzaj: It looks from your press kit you were raised in a house influenced by the blues, what inspired you to get into jazz?
D’Vonne: I wasn’t raised in a house of blues. My inspiration for the blues probably comes from my grandmothers on my mother’s side. They were from Louisiana. Blues records were playing whenever I visited their houses. Growing up at my mom’s house, she listened to artists like the O-Jays, Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire, Sade, Anita Baker and Bob Marley to name a few. The exposure to different music subconsciously stuck with me and when I played I initially mimicked the sounds I heard. I really just enjoyed beats and rhythms. It wasn’t until much later that I actually started to really get into jazz.
Zzaj: How did the Industrial Revelation band come together?
D’Vonne: First a little background, the idea to start my own band was inspired by my grandmother on my dad’s side. She would tell me stories about my grandfather Dave Lewis. She always told me how big and influential he was in the Northwest music scene. By the way, my grandfather and her never married but she quickly recognized that the legacy of music was passed on to me. She saw the depth of my talent and she encouraged me to start my own band one day.
I come from several generations of musical artists. My grandfather, Dave Lewis was an innovator of jazz, blues and rock in the Pacific Northwest. He played the organ. Actually, his father Dave Lewis, Sr., also called Big Pop, played the guitar. He gave Jimi Hendrix guitar lessons. His wife, my great grandmother Oma Lewis was a first call piano player in various churches around Seattle. They were all a part of this city’s great musical history. I am very proud to continue the family legacy and now my son Donovon is part of this legacy.
So, when I thought about what I wanted in a band, I was inspired by the legacy of my family. I wanted to create music that had a vibrant spirit, which is what I felt when I listened to the Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live at Blues Alley album. When I listened to it the crowd was involved in it, it was playful, it was powerful and at the same time emotional. Musically, it was intense, a revelation. What I took from that album is to always play music with a very high level of intensity, passion, feeling yet warmth. That album elevated my standard for the music I wanted to make. It gave me more confidence to own the music I created and take risks on the bandstand whenever I played.
Zzaj: I mean, I’m seeing you were the founder; how did you make it all happen?
D’Vonne: The idea for Industrial was first shaped by a compilation of experiences in my life. Whenever, I played with Aham, Josh and Evan individually I noticed they each had a similar passion or desire to create something that transcended the moment. We connected drummer to trumpeter, drummer to pianist and drummer to bassist. Plus, I had a rapport with each of them. After a few years, I got serious about the idea of starting a band and I identified these guys as some of my favorite musicians to play with. So in 2006, I invited the guys to have a rehearsal at Cornish. At the first rehearsal, we played each other’s compositions and arrangements. That rehearsal was vibrant and unique. It was deep! Shortly after, I asked them to officially form a band.
We came up with the name pretty organically; I wanted ‘Revelation’ to be in the name. Aham, Josh and Evan simultaneously suggested ‘Industrial’ because it sounded like industrial revolution. The band name Industrial Revelation made sense because we felt like we were on the brink of a musical revolution.
Zzaj: Do you get into the recording parts of album creation or do you prefer just playing?
D’Vonne: Yes, I am interested in all aspects of the recording process. The sound of the music is really important; I take much time and pay great attention to the types of sounds the drums and cymbals need to make a recording achieve its maximum potential. The recorded music has to replicate the emotion that is conveyed in a live show. I am also interested in the sounds you can get from recording in a studio. For example, on our latest album, Oak Head (on the tune Shadow Boxing in The Wind), you will notice at the end of the song we overlaid it with a filter to create a dramatic effect on the listener’s ear. I love that sound!
Zzaj: Which jazz players gave you the most inspiration for the kind of music you create and play?
D’Vonne: I wouldn’t be able to play the music I play today without acknowledging or giving a “nod of respect” to all of those that came before me; all of the jazz greats. Not only those in the jazz history books and that we all know of, but even ones today, my generation and a little older who can teach me anything about this great music called jazz. One of my biggest “hero’s” was my high school jazz band director, Scott Brown. Mr. Brown taught all of his students about the power of swing, staying in the pocket, playing with feeling and emotion, as well as being professional while on stage and taking care of business. I use his approach with my own bands, Industrial Revelation and Limited Edition and when I’m playing with other groups and musicians.
I take a little bit of everything from all of the great jazz musicians. This includes: big bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, also Chick Webb. As well as Coltrane’s Quartet with Elvin Jones on drums and Miles Davis’ Quintet with Tony Williams on drums. In regards to Industrial Revelation as a band, all styles of music have an influence on the music we create. If you listen you will hear our take on everything from jazz, blues, funk, hip-hop, rock, reggae, country, symphonic, African and Brazilian; whatever we feel or comes to us in the moment, especially at a live show.
Zzaj: Do you have plans for the band to do large tour gigs, or will you pretty much stick to the Puget Sound area?
D’Vonne: I think most every band wants to tour on a large scale. We don’t have a manager, its all self-booked. Also, we are all playing in various bands. That makes it more challenging. I would like us to expand beyond the Puget Sound area and tour on a larger scale…
Zzaj: Since you know all the players, give us some insight as to why you picked these players when you formed Industrial Revelation?
D’Vonne: Aham Oluo- He had an intensity that was unorthodox, his own unique sound that was very distinctive.
Evan Flory-Barnes- I chose Evan because he can make any genre of music “swing” or feel great. He listens to all sorts of music and it comes out in his playing, passionately. The great big band drummer Chick Webb said, “A bass player and a drummer need to ‘dance’ when they play together,” meaning be in sync, groove with one another and listen to each other. Evan and I “dance” all the time on the bandstand.
Josh Rawlings- When I first heard Josh play piano, he had this playful, yet deep joy and understanding of music that made me want to listen to him more and more. All of the guys in the band make me smile, which I believe is important in a band, but Josh tickled my soul.
Zzaj: My readers are always wanting to know what an artist/group has coming up… do you have any new CD releases in the works? If so, when will it/they be released?
D’Vonne: First off, I’m proud to announce that Industrial Revelation has been nominated in the music category for a 2014 Stranger Genius Award. The awards ceremony will be on October 18th at the Moore Theater in Seattle. It’s an honor to be nominated in a city that has a history of great music and awesome bands; and we don’t even have a singer in the band! 🙂
Also, on November 2nd we will be playing at EMP in Seattle as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival. We’re looking forward to that.
As for new recordings, there are a few live recordings the band has from shows we did at Rhythm and Rye in Olympia and the Royal Room in Seattle, a couple of months ago. Hopefully, we can get those mixed and mastered and released sometime early in 2015. There’s a lot of beautiful, new music on those recordings. Please, be on the lookout! (industrialrevelation.com)
Zzaj: My personal belief is that music is one of the main things that keeps people “civilized”, & is one of the main forces for making the world better… do you believe that? If so, why? If not, why?
D’Vonne: Yes, music is very powerful and can serve as a healing to the soul/spirit. Personally, I try my best to let the audience feel the joy I’m feeling when I perform. It’s amazing to think about. I mean, people are at your show so that your music can make them feel good, ecstatic. That can be done by the joy the musicians show. I’ve been told that I always smile when I play. There’s so much going on- up on the bandstand and in the audience – that it’s impossible for me not smile. Sometimes, other musicians just look funny to me while they play. I’m sure i do at times, as well. I always look for a moment to where I can express my joy with them. Music is a beautiful thing. It can be a lot of hard work and long, sweaty hours, but I’m happy to be a musician. I’m happy to be in the moment with whoever else is in the room with me while I play. I try to give a piece of my soul to each performance. It’s a natural high, both to the musician and the audience. It’s all love! I don’t know what can be better than showing love.
Zzaj: Do you prefer studio or live performance? What are the reasons for your preference?
D’Vonne: I enjoy both very much, but live is where it’s at for me. Some of my favorite albums in my personal cd collection are all live. In the studio, while recording each song, you have a certain amount of minutes or timeframe to play your soul for the listener’s ear. For instance, a band in the studio recording an album might say, ‘we need to capture the feeling of this song perfectly in 4 and a half minutes.’ Playing live, you have all night to capture those special moments with your audience and other band members. You have a full set to give your all to the audience and each other and feed off of their energy. Performing live, there are so many colors and moods that can take you different places musically. You may not nail it perfectly, but that’s where the fun and joy happens. It’s a perfect imperfection!
Zzaj: Many of the readers here are aspiring artists themselves… what are your “words of wisdom” for them? Is a career in music “worth it” these days, or is it just too much work for little return?
D’Vonne: Be and stay true to yourself. Create your own destiny, with humbleness. Be as organic as possible. Be an original individual. Everyone has something special to give the next person, to give the world; so find what that is within yourself and give it. Show it. Once you have become free within yourself to express who you are, you will find peace, if it be as a musician or anything you work hard at. You will find that yes, it is worth it to be myself. You will be richly rewarded because you have found your own voice, your own path, your own joy, your own strength. By embracing all of those necessary elements within yourself, you have found the ultimate reward: love. I’d say that is worth it.