Ivan Dorn first encountered the music of Seven Davis Jr. by chance.
Shopping for vinyl in LA, he caught sight of one of the musician's albums, and decided to take a chance, just as the store was closing.
Returning to the Ukraine, he completely fell in love with it. Reaching out, the two began conversing online, swapping a few reference points, then a handful of ideas.
Switching things around, the two started focussing on full tracks, not even entirely sure where it would lead them.
It's led them to new EP 'Numbers'. Out now, it's a startling collaborative effort, one that finds Ivan Dorn and Seven Davis Jr. working in tandem.
Out now, Clash invited the two musicians to discuss the making of 'Numbers'...
Ivan Dorn: I created the foundation for this track on my Teenage Engineering OP-1 - a mini synth - whilst I was flying from Kiev in Ukraine to Los Angeles to meet with Samuel [Seven Davis Jr] for the first time. It was just two months after I had reached out to him over Instagram to see a collaboration could happen. And I remember feelings nervous not knowing if we’d see eye-to-eye creatively. But that quickly changed.
We went for a coffee before making music and felt on a level right away. When we got into his home studio I presented the beat I made on the OP-1. I was hoping to impress and out of habit started creating more and more layers on top of what I had. But he guided me into realising it was unnecessary. He tweaked the sound I had already with EQ, effects, and he even cut parts to repeat at other moments to bring interesting textures. It leaves the track less cluttered, which gives space for the listener to invent their own thing.
Samuel brought this appreciation to the space between notes to my attention, and I thank him for that. It’s changed me as a musician. The outro - the Russian rap part - was inspired by N.E.R.D. and their ability to link in a bridge at the end.
Seven Davis Jr. It's a miracle that Ivan even got through to me when he did. At that time I was extremely introverted and not that friendly, due to previous experiences I was in the middle of processing. When I saw Ivan's message my personal reaction was like, "OK whatever he's not serious, but we'll see". Because a lot of people reach out to collaborate but most of them aren't brave or creative enough to explore new ideas. They just want me to make them sound like something I've already done for myself or someone else.
But quickly after I met Ivan face to face, I understood he was different. I thought to myself, "damn this guy flew all the way across the world to work with me in my home studio, interesting".
At first I was extremely suspicious and possibly even cold. But soon I realized it would be difficult to remain cold with Ivan. He came into my studio with this super genuine, animated personality and I found myself vibing strong with him. He had this tiny keyboard with a beat on it. The beat was dope. But then he started adding all this extra stuff on it. So I let him go on until he could not add any more layers and then I told him something like, "alright let's figure this out". I had just watched a documentary where Quincy Jones said something like "leave room for God to work on the track".
Something I had always practiced but had never heard someone else put into words in that way. So I explained this and the documentary quote to Ivan. We started editing his layers, I added my own layers and then this playful song came to us.
Ivan Dorn: After two weeks in Los Angeles, we’d made three songs and so agreed we’d hook up again to do an EP. Initially the idea was to try and finish it by sending files back and forth, but it worked better in person. So, eight months later, Sam flew over to Kiev and came to my label studio (Masterskaya) to write.
The track started with an old funk sample. A sample I was obsessing over because I liked it so much but there was a lot of noise in the background. Samuel relieved me from the stress of worrying about it and embracing its imperfection. Hearing it now, it adds to the character - I don’t like mixes that are overly sanitised, they’re less human.
We played on top of this foundation with a Nord Stage 2 to get this dominant organ melody. Vocally, I was paying great attention to the feelings I wanted to put into my timbre and Samuel was decisive in guiding me to knowing when I got there.
Seven Davis Jr. Our first two week session went well. For me the fact that we could spend 14 days in the studio together and not want to fight was special. There are some people I wouldn't even spend 14 minutes in the studio with! Anyways, I tried to get Ivan to work virtually. Normally I collaborate virtually. But after many attempts it became clear Ivan prefers working face to face. So he convinced me to go to his studio in Kiev.
At the time I was in the middle of working on my fourth album 'S.O.S.' and had been digging through different drum loop recordings to study. I had all these old drum samples on my computer. Most of them I didn't even end up using. But I showed Ivan a couple that I thought we could play around with and we both vibed with one in particular. But yeah, Ivan seemed to be really bothered by some minor background noises in the sample. Then I shared with Ivan that the sample came from a time before us and those noises are natural of the era, they are good.
This time I wanted us to make more of a 90's feeling song so I began building the chords on top of the drum sample. After that the song really flowed out of us.
Ivan Dorn: This track started with yogurt language. Yoghurt language is the nonsensical sound a lot of people from my country make when pretending to be Americans. My demos in English language songs often start from yoghurt language. It helps as a guide vocal and then I replace it with real words.‘Heart Jail’ just so happened to fit; and, even better, mean something to us: The rest of the lyrics were inspired by this title.
Musically, it’s a straightforward three-chord sequence with sounds spiralling off it. One of the main sound effects - this popping sound - is just the sound I was making with my mouth whilst thinking what next to do with the song. Samuel heard me making it and said let’s use that. So he ran it through some effects and it works.
Seven Davis Jr. We were almost finished with the track 'Numbers' when the idea/ foundation for this song came to me. So I put a demo sequence together and showed Ivan. All of sudden he started writing lyrics out loud but he was speaking this strange language. It sounded like English but it wasn't. For a moment I was like, "what the hell is he saying?!" Then I realized, okay this must be his English songwriting method.
Amongst all the non-words he would say, the phrase "Heart Jail" kept popping up. Ivan didn't think it was proper English and I told him "who gives a shit, I love it". Possibly my favourite track from our EP because the words and atmosphere.
‘Yes I Do’
Ivan Dorn: You can draw an axis between ‘Yes I Do’ and the track titled ‘Number 23’ from my solo album Randorn (2014) thanks to the Latin feel on both. 23 is a reference to the number I wore when competing in Latin ballroom dance competitions as a child.
I first got into Latin grooves through USSR Russian language musician Leonid Agutin- the man who first brought the Latin atmosphere to Russia. His reference may be subconscious in this recording. The words are very much a celebration of the moment. Something we forget to do sometimes when happiness is often touted in our society as the thing that’s always around the corner but not now.
Seven Davis Jr. That year I had been listening to tons of Brazilian and Colombian music pretty much everyday. One of the days in our sessions I showed Ivan this rare live performance of Colombian percussionists. They weren't even a band, it was just some cool older Colombian guys playing percussion together.
While we were watching it, I started sampling random moments from their performance. Then as Ivan and I were discussing them, I started chopping up different loops. Then this loop appeared to us and we both were just listening to it repeatedly for a while. Then we started building on it. All our songs together are a surprise but this track really surprised us.
From it starting as a loop, to us adding a full horn section towards the end. Plus Ivan's lyrics, really beautiful. With this song, I feel like we paid respect to Colombian/Latin cultures and the influence their music has.
Ivan Dorn: Recorded at the end of the Kiev chapter, we knew before writing it was our last track - for this record at least - that’s perhaps why it has this dramatic feel. The culmination of our big journey. Since I flew back out to LA to record vocals and mix and master at Red Gate Studio in LA, and he came back to Kiev for the live release, we each travelled four times across the Atlantic Ocean to make this happen. I introduced him to Ukrainian people, culture and habits. And that’s how I introduced him to myself, to my inner self.
Afterwards, we started to appreciate our EP more strongly. He noticed that we’re open souls. If I was from another culture perhaps I could have done it by email. But being Ukrainian, it’s in my temperament to need to see each other working to understand each other mentally. Not just work for material but also to talk about life and to exchange philosophies so we can put it in our music.
After meeting Samuel I started to do my music another way, I started to appreciate the moment and not fuss as much about creating too many layers and appreciating space. I also started to believe in my career abroad because he said, ‘Bro, you have something to say to my people, to all of America, the West and the whole world’. He said to me that my lyrics are meaningful and they need to be heard. Which meant a lot considering it’s only my second ever English language record.
Samuel was a mentor in many ways in this process and one of the last things he told me was that he is proud of us. And me too!
Seven Davis Jr. It was during my second trip to Ukraine and the second year I had spent working with Ivan. We had become family. He introduced me to the Ukrainian culture and people. Also somehow the Russian culture and people. It really changed my way of seeing the world. I had spent years living in London when I was signed to Ninja Tune but never spent time in Eastern Europe.
At first I almost felt ashamed that I had not taken the time to visit Eastern Europe, such a lovely place with such lovely people. But I simply did not know anything about Eastern Europe then. Anyways, the fifth song really snuck up on us while we were in the studio kind of just hanging out. Before we even met or started recording our collab, I had went on tour with Flying Lotus. On that tour I learned to play keys while singing at the same time. Of course I knew how to do both individually, but I had always wanted to do both together.
On the Flying Lotus tour is where I finally picked up that skill during my live sets. So I was practicing doing that in Ivan's studio in Kiev when the chords for our fifth song came. I don't know why the lyrics to the fifth song are so cinematic. Perhaps it was the over two years of world travels plus experiences Ivan and I shared. Maybe we both had some kind of feeling that things in the world were going to change. But listening to the song now after the whole Coronavirus pandemic has happened, it's interesting.
The song to me almost sounds like we are singing about a post-pandemic revelation. Meeting Ivan was a blessing. He came at a time when I was learning peace and forgiveness, he played a big role in helping me with those things. We have in many ways matured together as artists. Ivan has helped me trust again. Trust other artists, trust record labels etc. Proof to me that not everyone in the industry is a psychopath narcissist.
One of the many fascinating things has been watching Ivan grow as an English speaking artist. His English has extremely improved from when we first met. And I'm very proud of us for being brave enough to create this EP.
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'Numbers' EP is out now.
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