Having musically cut his teeth singing for his family’s traveling gospel ensemble, it wasn’t until New Jersey native James Treadwell was in high school that he was encouraged to pursue a full-time solo career. Relocating to Los Angeles after college, the aspiring singer/songwriter started singing backup vocals for artists like Chris Brown, CeeLo Green, Childish Gambino and Selena Gomez.
Renaming himself DAVIE, he soon released his debut EP, Black Gospel Vol. 1, in 2017. Brimming with fiery, spiritual passion and the celebratory energy of contemporary R&B, the EP introduced DAVIE’s own music to the world, landing his song “Testify” in a major, high-profile television advertising campaign for Wild Turkey. From there, DAVIE’s regular touring and appearances at festivals like Bonnaroo, ACL and on the BMI stages at SXSW and Lollapalooza have only further evangelized his talents. 2019 has found DAVIE dropping two more acclaimed singles, “Your Love’s a Vibe” and “Flavor.”
BMI caught up with the busy singer/songwriter to find out what the future holds.
What inspired your new project?
One of my favorite movies is School Daze, a Spike Lee film. I love the vibe and the playful but serious musical aspect of the movie. I felt like last year I was re-learning and messing up and starting again. Last year was my year to learn some life lessons. Hence the title of the next project, Lesson Learned.
What can fans expect with the new music?
I’m always going to give y’all something to dance to, so there’s that. But this record definitely is inspired by that 2002 era, when pop R&B had this ironic way of storytelling mixed in with a groove. Sonically, I think the textures are softer and smoother than the last project. I wanted harmonies and runs to really go back to those mixtape days.
What is your creative process like?
Usually I have to shut away and write some songs or at least come up with ideas. If it’s a co-write, I have to feel really safe. Last year we were on tour and played some festivals so it took some time.
I have to give a shout to my Nashville bud Mikky Ekko. I had moved to Nashville temporarily to figure out my life while recording, and he had this creative house he let me use. Most of the record was recorded there. The energy was so great and I really felt that the house was a sanctuary for ideas. I also would bring in friends to play on the record and listen to it, sing background vocals, etc.
Where are you most comfortable being creative?
At my parents’ house. They have a baby grand. I can’t play piano any better than a two-year-old beginner, but that piano has so much history. I play it differently. I can come up with so many song ideas.
When did you first know you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
I always looked on the back of CDs and would research who wrote the songs I loved. I knew I could sing, but I wanted to write the songs and then sing them to my family. Make them critique my music.
How did growing up traveling and singing in a Gospel band factor into your forming your musical path?
Well, my dad is a pastor and he had a group of us—my family—that would sing songs before he came out to speak. We would travel everywhere, from small to large churches. My parents, in their travel, met a professional vocal teacher who started giving me lessons and suggesting to my parents that I meet producers and really help me better my craft. That’s when boot camp started.
Are there any songwriters who had a major impact on you?
Yes, I’ve always loved Babyface. His songs are brilliant and timeless, but you have to be a good singer to sing them. Same as with Ryan Tedder. All of my songs growing up sounded like Tedder rip-offs.
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written? What makes it special for you?
“Heaven Calling” has such a great place in my heart. I wrote it with Amy Kuney (Kelly Clarkson, Michele Branch) on Election Night two years ago. It was a song for my grandmom, who has since passed away. I was proud that we wrote a song about the beauty of death and transitions onto a better place, but it still feels fresh and current.
What is your advice to aspiring songwriters determined to follow in your footsteps?
For me, I am learning to be more of myself. I would advise to bring yourself into every session and write from your heart. People connect with honesty. Also find your crew and create magic with them.
What was it like playing the BMI Stage as SXSW?
The BMI stage at SXSW was great! You are given a great platform to connect with the BMI family and network. I’ve met so many friends because of that event.
What’s more fulfilling? Performing or writing?
What does it mean to be part of the BMI family?
I love BMI. This community has been supportive from Day 1; always lifting up the up-and-comers and respecting the icons; always connecting people.
What is next for you?
My EP Lesson Learned comes out this summer. I’m excited to put out new music and shift gears a little. I love where R&B is, and I am excited to be a part of that.