INTERVIEW: Derek Davis – Babylon A.D.

New album for Babylon A.D, out later this year

 

Babylon A.D. was in my opinion one of the finest hard rock bands of the late eighties. They were a band who had the songs and had the chops of the very best, but sadly went underappreciated before ‘Grunge’ hit and ruined it for everyone. Over the last few years though they’ve been amassing fans again with a series of blistering live shows and a monumental live album ‘Live @ XXV’ marking their 25 years in the business.  We’ve spoken to lead singer Derek Davis a number of times over the years but we simply had to catch up again after the release of his simply stunning Soul album – ‘Revolutionary Soul’ and the news that a new Babylon A.D. album is set to be released for later in the year.

The Rockpit: Hi Derek, thank you so much for talking to The Rockpit again.

Derek: My pleasure man, thanks for doing the interview.

The Rockpit: you said that you’d do it and you have – what an amazing album ‘Revolutionary Soul’ I really was blown away when I first heard it!

Derek: Really, that’s awesome man, that’s great to hear. I appreciate your opinion a lot.

The Rockpit: I know we talked about you doing that ‘Hard Rock meets Soul’ album last time we met, but I can’t believe that you’ve put together a collection of songs that sound so authentic, so steeped in the 70’s – heck they sound like they stepped right out of that Golden decade! It’s an incredible artistic achievement. I take my hat off to you. Where did it all begin? The idea for ‘Revolutionary Soul’ an album that is such a step away from the music normally associated with Derek Davis?

Derek: Yeah, well a couple of years ago, (I’d always wanted to do a semi-Soul type of record) I started to write a few chord structures, and I just kinda went from there , I wrote  a few tunes that had those kind of minor chords that were used in the 60’s and 70’s. And then I started incorporating the sort of sounds that they had like the B3’s (Hammond organs), the Wah-Wah pedals, bells to try to keep the album cohesive because all the songs are a little bit different so I wanted to keep them in some sort of format so they all sounded like they were on the same record. So that was a couple of years ago and then I went into the recording studio and I’d start recording basic pieces of songs and then we’d just start working from there. Each song would take on a life of its own as I added instruments or took things away. I’d play some songs for a few people and get their feedback, and most of the time it was real positive. A lot of the songs had a lot of acoustic guitar in at the very beginning and I started moving away from that as I started mixing, I’d take some of the acoustics in. I left them in ‘Rapture’ and a couple of the other songs but most of the stuff I just kept working and producing and head in in the direction I thought would best suit it.

The Rockpit: When I listen to songs like ‘Rapture’, ‘Love and Abuse’ maybe there’s so much patina, so much depth that I can’t believe they’ve been crafted today, you’ve nailed that 70’s feel .

Derek: That’s the kind of stuff I grew up on before I started playing Hard Rock, all that Motown, Bobby Womack, James Brown, Al Green and as I got older and got into high school everyone in my neighborhood was in Rock bands so I started playing Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Montrose and things like that, but I always wanted at some point to go back to those first influences.

The Rockpit: And you get that middle ground on the album too, the sort of rock meets soul – there’s a kind of Steve Winwood vibe for example to a song like ‘King of Fools’ – something from those years when the genres weren’t as clearly defined and good music was simply that good music.

Derek: Awesome, thank you.

The Rockpit: And there’s a wonderful selection of covers too, everyone hopefully knows the Billy Cox song and the Zutons cover ‘Valerie’ which Amy Winehouse of course had a big hit with.

Derek: A lot of people don’t know that was by the Zutons, I like their version a lot, and I kind of mashed the two together then made my own version. They were a great band they did a lot of cool songs.

The Rockpit: In truth though I’m still astounded by the whole thing, not just that you made an album this good, but also that you played everything on it too!

Derek: Yeah, I played everything on there. I started out with that intention but then thought I might have a few people in, but as I could play all the instruments and if I didn’t like something I could just redo it without having to call someone up. So it was a lot easier and faster for me as I have my own recording studio and I have had other people before on my records before, but playing it myself came out of the necessity of being the fastest and easiest way of doing it. Plus because I knew what I wanted to play I thought it would be better than telling someone else what I thought they should play. Sometimes when you are telling someone else it doesn’t come out the way you hear it, sometimes it comes out better, sometimes it’s worse. But because I had a lot of time and I could do what I wanted I did it myself.

The Rockpit: And how have the live dates been going, I know you’ve played a few already in support of the album.

Derek: The band that I have – ‘The Revolutionary Souls’ they’re really great man, they’ve been around the Bay area for years and like me they grew up on this stuff and have been playing it for years. But they’ve never played in Rock bands they’ve only played in Soul bands or Jazz bands. All the guys have got a great pedigree and played with some great musicians over the years.   So everyone in the band is super pro, we only practiced four times but it wasn’t like a practice – we played the songs and they were already there, you know what I mean? So it’s really cool to play with guys who are that good and when we go out people are just blown away because most people know me from Babylon AD and this is a ways different. But it’s great I’m having fun and its great to play the songs I love.

The Rockpit: Sound like a great night and great to hear that BAD fans are embracing it and getting to hear something maybe a little different to what they’re used to. I’m still tossing up my favorites though, today if you asked me it would have to be ‘Think About It’ ad ‘Love and Abuse’.

Derek: A lot of fans are mentioning those two and the weird thing is when I’ve had reviews and interviews it’s almost as if everyone has a different favorite song. And that’s pretty cool. It’s great to get that perspective on different songs and that sort of says to me it is a good album.

The Rockpit: Not a good album, a great one! One thing I’ve been mulling over is: is it hard to get acceptance for an album like this – a Hard Rock artist making a soulful album – has there been any backlash or just awe and acceptance!?

Derek: I’ll tell you what, everyone told me, good friends of mine, musicians that have known me for years have always told me I should do a soul album because I’ve talked about it for years. And my voice is somewhat suited to that style, and when I put it out I was sure I was going to get comments from maybe some Hard Rock or Metal fans wondering if I’m off my rocker! But I haven’t got that from anybody. Maybe if I was doing Country or Rap, but I think there’s enough of a rock vibe in there and some cool guitar that you still have an element of rock to it – so I see it as a Funk Rock Soul record – not that far away people can’t appreciate it.

The Rockpit: I completely agree there’s a real sense of Rock about it. My favorite artist of all time and one of my favorite singers, who had the best white Soul voice ever was Steve Marriott and the fact that I hear glimpses of that kind of sound in your album is the biggest compliment I think I could give anyone.

Derek: Man could that guy sing, and thank you. I appreciate that.

The Rockpit: The only other question I had about the album itself was the horns, they sound great fit the songs perfectly but I presume they are synthesized? Not that you can really tell?

Derek: I could have got one of my friends in but there are great horns on keyboards these days – I mean I’ve probably got 5000 patches and 200 of those are horns, so it was easier than calling one of my buddies and I’m happy with the sound, you’d never know , technology is great these days.

The Rockpit: I loved the chimes too sometimes are the forefront and a lot of times in the background just accentuating things.

Derek: Yeah, I used them on four of five songs, and that’s the sort of thing they did in the 60’s and 70’s those little touches that just bring out that difference, a lot of the Soul guys did that and I picked up on that really early. And some of the ways you play your strings, or the use of the B3 like Al Green used to do, all those things go to creating the sound of the record, you know.  There’s a little Hard Rock in there too which lifts the whole album.

The Rockpit: And a few more dates coming up?

Derek: Yeah, Salt Lake City and a few around the Bay Area. But you know at the same time, I’ve been working on the new Babylon AD album and that’s going to be released around about October. It’s called ‘Revolution Highway’ as a matter of fact when you called I’d just walked out of the studio. We’ve recorded the whole thing and we’re at mixing stage and this album sounds really, really super-good man. It’s hard rock, super catchy, really melodic – it’s gonna be really good and I’m really excited about the release. So at the moment I’m kinda wearing two hats at the same time, but I like it that way.

The Rockpit: I can’t wait: a new Babylon AD album especially after the momentum you guys have picked up in recent years is going to be something special. You’ve lost a member though since I saw you last?

Derek: Yeah Danny. What happened was we started writing demos and Danny, I don’t know how to say this, wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to put in the work to make the new record. And the rest of us wanted to keep writing and keep on moving forward and he didn’t seem to want to so I called up John Matthews who was an original member of the band before we got a record deal, and he and I used to write great songs together, and we wrote, and within a matter of two weeks we had an album. So we called Dan and said you know what, were going to make this album with John and he said ‘that’s cool, no hard feelings’. It doesn’t mean that Dan won’t play dates with us, he just didn’t want to make the record, so it is what it is. But I’ll tell you what this record sounds super good man, you’re really gonna like it.

The Rockpit: I think I am! And I hear it’s going to be a mix of the old and the new, that you’re going to be revisiting some older Babylon AD material?

Derek: There’s gonna be four songs that we did years ago that we did on demos and it’s weird as all the people that we’ve played it for, and we had about 20 people come to the studio to listen last night, they were all blown away that these were the same songs because we just took them to another level. They were great songs to begin with but now they sound amazing.

The Rockpit: Are they songs that were on the ‘In the Beginning’ release?

Derek: There are three of them from that album then we’ve got some other ones from earlier and then of course the ones we’ve just written.

The Rockpit: Was it a long writing process? You mentioned back in 2015 that you’d already started writing for a potential new release?

Derek: Yes, I’d already started to write then and some of those songs are on the record. One called ‘Crash and Burn’ and another called ‘Fool On Fire’ and ‘One Million Miles’ – I knew they would be on the next Babylon AD record just buy playing them for the band and other people and hearing the feedback . Yeah so we’ve been working on it slowly but surely and now it’s come to fruition. So we finished the drums in February and the basic tracks in March, then there was the other production, we threw in some percussion, some keys and now were at the missing stage. I’m as happy with this as I was the ‘Revolutionary Soul’ album.

The Rockpit: I must admit to being rather excited.

Derek: Well you’ll be one of the first to get it before anyone else does that’s for sure!

The Rockpit: That’s cool; I loved the live album – a great way to mark the 25 years, but a new album is something else. And live you’re killing it too! All those people who missed out back in the day are now getting to see you.

Derek: Yeah, we get a lot of that and I think it helps when we played the Festivals and we get new fans from there – then we’re playing the Hull Fest in August (Hair Metal Heaven in Hull, UK) and have a two week tour of Europe off the back of that. Try and get over there if you can man, it’s gonna be fun. We’ll be playing some of the songs from the new record as well as the classics.

The Rockpit: I’d love to have another drink with you and of course catch the show!

Derek: (laughs)

The Rockpit: Any messages for those interested in checking out the new solo album?

Derek: I just hope that people have an open mind like you do and go and pick up ‘Revolutionary Soul’ or at least listen to it. There are some stations playing it and I think if you have an open mind you’ll get it. And if people want to check it out they can go to derekdavismeuic.com

The Rockpit: I know you’re a big fan, as we’ve had the conversation previously, of people like James Brown, Rod Stewart and The Beatles and those influences come through on the solo album, but who are the influences that Derek Davis the rockers took to the new Babylon AD album?

Derek: Man, as rock goes its old Aerosmith and old AC/DC, old Montrose – not too many new bands I’m into!

The Rockpit: Of all the times we’ve spoken for some reason I’ve never got round to asking you the one question that we traditionally close our interviews with, but this time I’ve got it written down! It says ask Derek what the meaning of life is?

Derek: What is the meaning of life huh?! (laughs) Have fun and live as long as you possibly can I’d say.

The Rockpit: Now that’s a pretty good answer, I wish I’d asked before! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Best of luck for the continued success of ‘Revolutionary Soul’ which I am still listening to months after first hearing it – always the test of a good album. People should be looking out for the new Babylon AD album ‘Revolution Highway’ around September/October time.

Derek: There’s still good music out there!

The Rockpit: You said it! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us again and see you soon.

Derek: Alright man, thank you very much.

You can find Derek’s music at: http://www.derekdavismusic.com and http://www.babylonad.com/

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