Drake has a pretty solid track record for signing only the best voices in R&B and hip hop on his OVO Sound label, and he struck gold when he signed Canadian duo DVSN (pronounced 'division') back in 2016. But unlike Drake, the Toronto natives, comprising of crooner Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen85 – the latter of whom produced some of Drake’s most ascendant hits including Hotline Bling, One Dance and Hold On, We’re Going Home – remain on the artier, experimental side of R&B. Their albums are conceptual, their artworks intimate, their collaborators not always the most mainstream and blockbuster of names but, like DVSN, highly talented musicians.
On their third full-length A Muse In Her Feelings, the duo ramp up the emotional deliveries, keeping the record a steamy and intimate affair, inviting listeners into their hearts and opening the door to their vulnerabilities. Sonically it’s diverse – there are ‘80s synths, classic dancehall and of course, 2000s R&B samples that they’ve modernised for 2020. It’s the first time they’ve worked with a number of feature guests too, calling on the likes of R&B queens Snoh Aalegra, Jessie Reyez and Summer Walker, Jamaican legends Popcaan and Buju Banton, as well as A-list rappers like Ty Dolla $ign and Future.
We catch up with both Daniel and Nineteen85, who call us from Toronto from their respective houses while in isolation. Their voices sound remarkably alike, but Daniel is a softer speaker, perhaps the more emotive of the two, while Nineteen85 sounds more poised, a man with a strong sonic vision.
So what has it been like dropping music during quarantine and a global pandemic?
Daniel: We were scared a little bit at first of dropping it, but I think it's working out good as far as a lot of people are, like, using it as good music for the time right now. They're enjoying the fact that they're able to listen to this during this time, which I think we’re getting a little bit of extra validation from, I guess, because people are using it right now to help get through this little patch.
A Muse In her Feelings has so many intimate and sexy moments that it seems like it might make a baby boom happen for people while in quarantine!
Daniel: I think this time around, we wanted to make sure that we had just had a DVSN song for every kind of mood. Definitely always want to make sure that we do have some records that you can play, you know, in those kinds of hours, we refer to them as our bedroom bangers and we make sure we have at least a couple of those on there, but I mean, if we can contribute to a baby boom then hey, you know, more life!
There are a lot of feelings on this album, songs like For Us, it’s like you want us crying in the club! Did you ever get all in your feelings while writing these songs? Are they very personal to you?
Daniel: Every record is personal to us, whether it's us directly or a song like No Cryin where it's more of a situation that me and 85 have seen or been around and experienced, you know, girls and situations going through them and going through the motions publicly, we've witnessed it a few times. We've seen what's a good look and what's not a good look. You know, that's kind of like our advice record.
You’ve explained this album is dedicated to the women in your lives, the muses, what are the kinds of things you wanted to let these women know? Is it admiration of them, stuff you can’t say to them in person, how much you love them, what were the kinds of things you wanted to tell them?
Nineteen85: I think it's a bit of everything you mentioned. We definitely start off the album by showing that we're not necessarily the best with love or relationships. And I think as long as you can openly say that it allows a bit of room for some of the misunderstandings [we write about] that do follow in the rest of the album.
Would you say each song is dedicated to a different person or is it all kind of like, a mixture of inspirations from all of them across the record?
Nineteen85: Definitely different people that have inspired different things, you know, from the last album to now, for sure.
The album features a lot of powerful ladies, from Jessie Reyez to Snoh Allegra to Summer Walker, were there any unforeseen challenges in getting so much talent in the mix?
Daniel: The beauty of that was everybody that we've included on this project are really people that we know and have great relationships with. We didn't really reach out to anybody that we weren't already cool with, that I wouldn't be checking on just as human beings, you know, friends, acquaintances, anything like that. So it really wasn't difficult at all. It was really as simple as a text message to most of the females that we incorporate. We've known everybody personally. So it was a good process.
You’ve played with a few genres on this one, there’s the obvious classic 2000s R&B, but there’s also ‘80s Phil Collins vibes on …Again and of course a bit of dancehall in Dangerous City. Were any artists in particularly inspiring this album’s sounds?
Nineteen85: No, I don't think it's fair to say that any ONE person inspired us, but there are definitely a bunch of different legendary artists that we pulled from. You touched on Phil Collins, and we're fortunate to work with Buju on the one song [Dangerous City], definitely dancehall vibes throughout it. Some people we sampled like Usher [on Between Us], I guess you could say maybe it’s the first time we were able to show a lot of our inspirations in one album.
Whilst it’s a very serious and heartfelt record, we can tell you’re having fun. That mid-section with Keep It Going and ‘Flawless’ Do It Well (Pt 3) takes the album to a really fun place – tell us about that.
Nineteen85: That was us trying to show the different sides to these relationships, whether it be with your muse or even just your own personal situation you might be going through. We definitely have those moments where you don't really want to be sad - you might be sad, you'd rather go out to the club or go and hang out with friends and take your mind off of the darker, the deeper side of things. So this is the first time we've ever been able to show that but still keep it in a DVSN space.
The sequencing of the album is phenomenal too, like a mixtape that takes you on a journey. What was the journey you were taking us on?
Nineteen85: We kind of laid it out in each section. It's almost like the album starts off on a break-up, the situations where you're feeling and thinking about things deeply whether it be family situations or just where you're at in life, where you have relationships, and then maybe the falling out happened around that time and then, you know, you find yourself trying to distract yourself. Maybe hitting a little bit of a reckless phase, you know, you might end up trying to get physical or intimate with people just to try to fill voids or maybe try getting close to somebody again, and then at the end, you realise you think you're ready, you think you're ready to give it another shot, and another go at letting yourself be vulnerable and opening up. So it's kind of a full cycle of a whole relationship and the roller coaster that that is.