“IT’S A BLESSING THAT WE’RE DOING THIS TOGETHER”
JAMESDAVIS, the R&B trio putting family first
Paternal twins Jess and Rey deliver many of their answers simultaneously and literally finish each other’s sentences. While younger brother Auston watches silently and attentively from behind heavily-tinted shades. Seeing the three interact, for anyone who has siblings themselves, is a fondly familiar dynamic. The trio seems perpetually in-synch, bouncing off each other as we chat and speaking in collective “we”s. But the connection is more than just familial, the Reynold Siblings have built a unit that is based on a lifetime of sharing a persistent and sacred love for music: this is JAMESDAVIS.
For JAMESDAVIS music is embedded in their DNA. Growing up in a musical household on a mix of rock, pop and R&B, the Motown artists are following in the footsteps of the greats that made the soundtrack to their lives. This month they released their MASTERPEACE EP, a seven-track experimental fusing of modern sounds with old-school vibes. Their individually unique vocals balance each other effortlessly on darkly textured groovy tunes. It’s a body of work that reminds us that Motown is still very much alive.
SARAH OSEI When did you know that you wanted to make music together?
JESS REYNOLDS I would say maybe six years ago, we knew we wanted to make music together, and maybe four or five years ago, we knew we wanted to perform as artists. Because at first we just wanted to create music for other artists, behind the scenes.
SO I read that Jess, you were already signed very young and then quit. What about the industry made you take a step back?
JR In that time I learnt a lot about myself and about what the industry actually was and the industry isn’t about music, it just isn’t. And I didn’t want to continue in that, I felt like I did not have a voice. And doing the music with my brother and sister, we can block out the industry together, and just do music.
SO I guess doing it together makes it easier to remain yourselves.
REY REYNOLDS Oh, absolutely. Because if we start tripping, start acting differently, or making music that doesn’t fit, we’re gonna call it out. We have to stay true because we’re on each other.
SO Your parents were musicians as well, right?
“Our father actually came to a show. He expected a lot from us and we met his expectations. That meant a lot to me.”
RR Yeah, our mom was a background singer for different artists. Our dad grew up in the church, he played the organ, the drums and what not. Our household was always full of music.
SO And now you’re honouring them with the name of your band.
JR Exactly. James is our father’s middle name, Davis is our mother’s maiden name. Our father actually came to a show and his energy was like he expected a lot from us and we met his expectations. That meant a lot to me, because he studies music the way we do, he studies voices the way I do.
RR And then our mom, she’s our teacher, she gives us constant support – real support, not just because we’re her kids. She’s influenced every step that we’ve made, even us becoming a band, us completing our first project, that was because of her.
SO My brother just visited me last week and there’s nothing like the relationship I have with him. One second we’re bickering and the next we’re best friends ––
JR & RR That’s us!
SO Haha! I just wanted to know how is it working with your siblings?
RR We’re very honest with each other. It’s different than in most business relationships––
JR Where you kind of walk on eggshells, to make sure that everything stays professional. When you’re working with your siblings the way you act when you’re chilling at home is the same way you’re gonna act when you’re at rehearsal or in the studio. I love it. We always bounce back, like we don’t need long drawn-out talks to apologise to each other. We love each other, I think more than anybody.
SO What’s your creative process? What does each of you bring to the table?
JR It changes. Now I would say my brother and my sister carry that. In the beginning I was so involved in writing the lyrics and things, but I’ve been going through a phase in my life where I’ve needed time, and they’ve carried me.
RR On the creative side…
JR On the creative side, yeah, because I give a thousand percent when it’s time to perform. Right now, my brother and my sister literally produce and write…
(Jess seems to be looking for something, and as if reading her mind Auston passes her a tissue.)
JR Thank you, babe (Jess giggles). We have a team called Hardcover and there’s writers and producers and artists who help out a lot as well.
RR It also depends. I mean, we’re three individuals, we’re each going through different things. I think in everything we cover each other. If Jess is not in a space to be in the studio for fourteen hours out of the day, we’ll carry that. If I feel like the rehearsals are too strenuous, Auston and Jess will carry that. I think that is the benefit of having partners in this, it doesn’t fall on just one person, so I think we’re blessed in that for sure.
JR Yeah, that right there, all the time, the three of us, carrying each other, I’m so proud of that. But on this new project I got to get my creative juices flowing again. It’s been a while since I’ve written, our team insisted that I write on a record called I will.
SO I actually wanted to ask about the record you mentioned, because that was my favourite song on the EP.
JR I will? That’s so cool!
SO Is there a story behind the song?
JR The song is about… I don’t even know if I wanna admit it…
RR Just admit it.
JR It’s about somebody that I dealt with on and off for probably fifteen years. It was one of the last songs that was added to the project, it almost didn’t make the cut.
SO And, Auston, I wanted to ask you about Dodger Black. I really liked how you painted the picture of being a black man in America, that feeling of uncertainty every time you leave your house. Why was it so important for you to write this song?
AUSTON REYNOLDS I think you described it perfectly. That was about random nights, random days, you just never know what’s gonna happen when you walk outside the door, you know what I mean? Anything could happen. So that’s all it was, the day in the life of, as you said, a young black male, in LA.
“I would not be doing this without you guys. It’s a blessing that we’re doing this together.”
SO What do you want listeners to take away from MASTERPEACE?
RR It was made for lovers of music. We want to put you in a space where it’s not a struggle to listen to, it’s not something you have to get. Like I listened to it on the flight, from top to bottom, and I felt like I was in this bubble like it didn’t pull me out, it kept me in a space of peace. Auston actually came up with the title of the project because at first the title song was “Masterpiece” just spelt regularly. But Auston was like “No, I think we should say Masterpeace, like P-E-A-C-E”.
AR Yeah, even though there’s drama in some of the records like I will, listening to it it’s like you’re finding resolve, you know what I mean?
RR Yeah, that’s perfectly put. It is a resolve.
SO I really like MASTERPEACE as a body of work, because with a lot of R&B nowadays, you listen to an album and eighty percent of it is sexual, it’s just about ‘guy wants girl’, ‘girl wants guy’. And I love that you guys have so much more to offer, each song has these different themes. Was that intentional?
AR Most definitely.
JR No, I don’t think it was intentional!
RR Well, it was intentional for certain songs we chose.
AR The artists that I really like, that I listen to, they talked way more about what you said, like Curtis Mayfield, his songs were so great but he was talking about that stuff… a lot. So I just tried to put that into perspective. But I don’t think we specifically did it for this project, I think that’s probably just in general the type of work we want to do.
JR The three of us, that is the last thing on our minds – boy-girl, girl-boy relationships – that’s not us in real life, so why would our music be that?
RR Yeah, we want our songs to spark a conversation, because we’re telling a story. I will, that’s a story, Black leather bag, that’s a story. And I’m not just talking about a boy-girl relationship, I’m talking about even our relationship.
SO How does it feel to be a part of Motown? I imagine that must be a lot of pressure.
JR Yeah. I used to watch the Temptations in our grandma’s living room and visualise myself in front of Hitsville, you know? And it’s so odd that the three of us would be in a group, as siblings, signed to Motown. It’s so crazy!
RR Right, because Motown…
SO It’s iconic.
RR Yeah! When you hear Motown, you hear excellence, you hear icons, legends. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes – excellence. So we’re aware of it, I think we acknowledge it, we respect it and I feel honoured to be a part of something that is great. And even the younger generations, I think with the new music that’s been coming out and with what Ethiopia, the president, has been doing, it’s gonna open a door for the newer generations to understand what Motown really means.
SO When I listen to you it makes so much sense that this is Motown in 2019.
RR That’s great to hear!
“I’ve come to a place where I honestly don’t really care about what anyone thinks of me except for these people right here.”
SO A lot of people decide to keep their families out of the limelight when they “make it”, but you don’t have that option. Is that kind of scary to be in the public eye with your family?
JR You know what? I’ve seen some mean things said about me online and it doesn’t really bother me because the love outweighs the criticism, but if I were to see some of those comments written about my brother or my sister … Oh my God. I gotta get to a place where I won’t be trying to look up the IP address.
RR Yeah we’re protective. I mean, we’re siblings at the end of the day, but I think I would not be doing this–– even this would normally cause me anxiety, to even be doing an interview. I always think this, in interviews, in the studio: “Yeah, I would not be doing this without you guys.” It’s a blessing that we’re doing this together.
AR I’ve come to a place where I honestly don’t really care about what anyone thinks of me except for these people right here.’Cause at the end of the day these are the only people that have really been there for me through the hardest times, through the best times. Like I’ve literally made life-changing decisions because of what my mom thinks or what they think. Those are pretty much the only minds or opinions that I really care about.
SO How about when you’re making music? Aside from you guys, is there anyone else whose opinion matters?
RR Well, I would say, Leon Ware, his opinion matters to me. He was one of the first people who told me to own what I did, not let anybody change it or mess with my voice. My voice is different, I don’t belt, I don’t do a whole bunch of riffs and runs, I don’t have that ability. I’m blessed that [Jess] does because I love it, but it was an insecurity of mine because I wanted to do music, but I felt like my voice didn’t match what I was trying to do. Leon’s opinion was very instrumental in me being an artist in general. And then Harold Lilly, as a writer. His opinion matters especially as far as storytelling, he is a phenomenal storyteller. So there are specific things in our creative process where opinion matters. But what our brother has taught me, even with how he creates, that it doesn’t matter what people think. I didn’t know that he was so out of the box until we had other people listen to our music.
RR Like we had a song called Co-Pilot and you had three different tempos. So when we gave it to other people to play they were like “Oh my God, what is this? Why can’t it just be one tempo?” They did not understand it and he did not care. It was just like “No, that’s how I felt. I wanted to speed up the hook.” They were in awe. I mean, I admire other people’s work, musicians who have influenced what we do like Curtis Mayfield, Kid Cudi, Kings of Leon. If they were to hear it and they had a thought, I don’t think it would change how we do our music, but I’d like to hear what they thought about it.
“I think anyone who does music, I don’t see why you would do it if you’re not trying to be the greatest.”
SO What are your goals musically? What are you striving for?
JR I would like for music lovers all over this world to know who we are and appreciate what we do. ‘Cause I mean it’s cool if the whole world knows us, but my interest is in people that actually appreciate and respect music. And then I want us to grow closer as we do this. I feel like we’re so close now, way closer that we were even a year ago. I want us to trust each other more than anybody in the world. And I want us to be each other’s safe place.
RR I want us to continue to travel and continue to reach different types of people, to reach everyone. Right now I’m looking forward to doing a complete album, that’s something I’d like to do, we’ve released EP’s but we haven’t had a full-length. We have so much music, the goal is always to put music out. And then going on tour, I feel like that’s the best way to be a moment in time and connect with people.
AR Yeah, I think just doing what we’re doing but on a bigger platform, bigger stages, stadiums, things like that. I think anyone who does this, music, I don’t see why you would do it if you’re not trying to be the greatest.
Interview SARAH OSEI