Name: David Walters
Current Release: Nocturne on Six Degrees Records.
Recommendations: “Right on the darkness” by Curtis Mayfield / I really like Banksy's work, and
Basquiat and the French photographer JR / "L’épopée de la Musique Africaine" by Florent Mazzoleni. This book is a fascinating read and tells the development of national musical scenes by African countries.
You can hear and buy David’s music on his Bandcamp page.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing and composing music with ZImpala in the early 2000s. It was an electro-jazz collective from Bordeaux. All my influences are blaxploitation music, hip hop with my favorite producer Jay Dilla and of course African music with Fela Kuti and Ali Farka Touré. I discovered music thanks to my mother who was a music lover and collected vinyl records. She went to a lot of shows.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I started out as a DJ, playing other people's music and then I started playing instruments, first percussion and then I started producing with machines, samplers. Then I felt limited and started playing guitar to bring harmony and melody into my music. The singing came naturally afterwards and I started to compose my own music
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The hardest part was to find a sound, a musical identity. With machines, the possibilities are endless, you have to find how to use it in a personal way; otherwise you can get lost in the instructions and the technology.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was my AKAI S950 sampler and an Atari computer, and obviously a turntable for sampling vinyl. Over the years the studio has evolved and now the main elements are the acoustic guitar and the instruments invented by the Bascher brothers (French instruments makers), the “étoile” percussion and the glass keyboard (“piano de glace”). These are the instruments that I use on my new album Nocturne.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
It depends on the projects. On Nocturne there are no machines, we let humans talk. This gave way to emotion, which drove the project. On my previous album Soleil Kréyol with producer Bruno Patchworks, there were two of us playing instruments, so thanks to the machines we were able to play and layer a lot of instruments. We were able to layer these instruments in the studio to make it look like there were many of us when there were only two of us. Apart from the featured artists of course.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
What is interesting about machines is being able to explore: voice, rhythms, bass, different setups. It's like a multitrack magneto. But I'm not a geek, I don't run after software. I have software that I am proficient in and that's enough for me. I want machines to remain at the service of music and creativity.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
When you are a musician, you have the chance to live in an ideal world and in this world you can easily create bridges between artists. Create your musical world like a social network, with people you choose and appreciate. And it's really magical, it allows you to tell a long story. Nocturne is precisely the fruit of a meeting with Vincent Segal, whom I had known for a long time, and then with Ballaké Sissoko and Roger Raspail. On my previous album Soleil Kréyol, the collaborations were important and inspiring in particular with Seun Kuti, Ibrahim Maalouf
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Music is all consuming in my life. When I wake up, I play sports for an hour, then in the morning I work on my instruments (guitar, voice ...); things that need freshness and concentration. Then in the afternoon I go to my studio and work on production, more global work on remixes, film scores, and current projects.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
A song always comes from an emotion, something that I lived, saw, heard. It can be news, something more personal (pain, joy ...) even if I don't write too much about joy. But it's always based on something that affects me. That's the first intention and then I'm going to polish it, refine it so that it turns into a song, like “Papa Kossa,” off the new album, was inspired by the death of the great Manu Dibango.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think you can always work on creativity. To be creative you have to be receptive. Receptive within but also receptive around yourself, as if we had sensors. And that’s what makes creativity endless. If you are in touch with your creativity, the page is never blank. You do have to take care of yourself but also listen to the outside world. Be vigilant to be able to capture the emotion, the moment.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
When I compose, I always start by improvising on a riff or on a word. Then I listen to the improvisation again and I'll try to take the best cut. In the improvisation, I'm going to find a thread that I'm going to pull to create a song. For the song "Vansé" I saw a landscape from the album “Cabo Verde” by Cesaria Evora, even though I had never been there the images in my mind’s eye inspired this song.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
The sound aspect in music is like a color palette for a painter. A painter will not use all the colors of his palette at the same time but will choose two or three. Depending on the instrument used, a Fender Rhodes or a piano, you will not have the same result, you will not compose the same song, not in the same universe. It works for all instruments. For me the instruments are like colors.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Hearing is related to vision. I close my eyes, I see pictures and I hear sounds of music. Once I am posed in a setting, in a universe, the rest can happen, the wind, smells, day, night. Then the words, the voice come to underline the universe in which I am. All our senses are linked but they often come one after the other. I often think of Stevie Wonder who is blind and I tell myself that he must have great senses to convey so many emotions. In music you hear the musician, even without seeing him. In your song, the emotion has to be conveyed so that you can reach people!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
To be an artist is to be committed. You choose to have a different life. It takes a lot of work, like a top athlete. Especially today with social media. You have to give a lot, communicate with your fans. My life is my art, everything is connected. I am completely invested in music. It's my life.
It may also be a social and political commitment like Nina Simone or Myriam Makeba or Sam Cook. It is also a vocation, but it can be hazardous. As for Fela Kuti or Bob Marley, they gave their lives for their commitment, but it allows things to evolve or change. As in South Africa and the apartheid.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Good question especially at this time. We have our heads riveted on our screens, we are stuck in our cities. The music of the future can be listening to the symphony of nature: forest bird songs, the melody of a river, the seminal music that is in nature. I think we'll get back to that. And this is what inspired Nocturne. Quarantine for me was rupture, a pit and brought me back to something fundamental. It caught my attention and it scared me. I threw myself into the guitar to compose. And if there's nothing left, let's get back to the basics of music.