Behind the Music: Interview with Danny G & The Major 7ths

‘I can’t imagine my life without music. It acts as therapy, an escape and a healer all at the same time.’

Describe your music style in no more than 5 words: Soul, groove, chill, real, vibes

Who/what influences your music? In terms of songwriting I’m heavily influenced by 60’s music – Motown, The Beatles, CSNY – they knew how to tell a story in several minutes AND make you want to sing along. Today it’s artists like D’Angelo, how he records his vocals in layers and J Dilla for how his beats make me feel. For message, I’m most influenced by Marvin Gaye, in particular his ‘What’s Going On’ record where he sings about peace & the environment. It’s more relevant today than ever. I also love Gloria Estefan’s style of singing. She’s my not-so-guilty pleasure.

How does your songwriting process usually work? It’s changing all the time. For my first album I wrote everything on acoustic guitar, chords first and then the melody and lyrics followed. Lately though, I’ve been making simple phone recordings of vocal melodies and writing the songs in reverse. It doesn’t matter how the songs come as long as they come. It can be a riff I can’t get out of my head and I’ll write the song around it. Or it can be a title that evokes a story and I’ll go from there. All of my songs are either about me, people I know or subjects I care deeply for. If it’s something you’re really passionate about, the lyrics tend to just flow out without much thought or planning. Then I fine-tune it into something (hopefully) coherent before the recording process begins.

Who is in the core of ‘Danny G & The Major 7ths’ set up and what do they bring to the sound? The musicians are Johnny Taylor on keys, Dennis Cassidy on drums, Graham Heaney on bass and my brother Paj on guitar. I’m lucky in that the core of the band hasn’t changed at all in several years so the musicians know each other inside out. You should see the instructions I give them for the tunes… It’s literally a few chords on a page. They understand the vibe I’m going for and know exactly what to do without me saying anything. It makes me feel so comfortable, I don’t need to worry about a thing and can focus on my own performance.

On your August release, the sense of it being live really comes across. How did the atmosphere when recording this differ to your previous tracks? The Live @ D-Light Studios EP was a bit of a departure. Usually I layer vocals and record songs for months. There we had one videographer so all 3 tracks were filmed in 1 take each. It’s more of a risk and there’s the possibility of ‘mistakes’. Initially we were also conscious of the camera being there all the time. But we eventually chilled out and treated it as a performance. That’s what makes playing live so exciting. You have to trust your band and yourself, let yourself go and live completely in the moment. No song is ever played the same twice and I love listening to live records to hear the arrangements and how the band interact. It’s a different energy.

‘I believe we live in a post-genre era and are more eclectic with our tastes these days.
If we like it, we like it!’

There is clearly a huge amount of collaboration that goes on with your tracks. How do you go about choosing other musicians to work with? I love the classic Motown duets like Marvin & Tammi. So when collaborating I naturally tend to go for female voices that contrast to my own. I don’t care about technical ability, but it has to be someone who sings with emotion. You can hear that even by listening to someone sing for 20 seconds. There are so many amazing artists in Ireland right now and I’ll have several Irish guest singers on the album. Zaska (who plays guitar on my new release) made an amazing album full of collaborations with Irish singers. The internet is making the world a village too. I discovered Osmojam through a french soul blog in 2015 and reached out to her, she recorded her parts in France and sent them by email!

Who haven’t you worked with yet and would absolutely love to? I’d love to do a track with former Republic of Loose frontman Mik Pyro as I love his swagger and delivery. There are a few Irish artists that are really interesting right now. Celaviedmai, Denise Chaila, Farah Elle, Jafaris, Wyvern Lingo are brilliant. It’s a really exciting time for music, even if it’s not mainstream. Sometimes you need to dig a little. Many hands make light work.

What is the story behind your latest track ‘Time the Healer’ and is it related in any way to the time between ‘Love Joints’ and your more recent releases? The song was written about two good friends of mine (a verse each) who both experienced difficult breakups. But it’s a reminder for anyone who is suffering that nothing lasts forever. I started thinking about the idea of Time as a person, a friend that helps you out when you’re low.  It’s like getting a tooth taken out. After a while it doesn’t hurt any more, but you’ll always be able to feel the hole where it used to be. It’s the 3rd single release from the forthcoming album ‘The Lookout’, after ‘Say When‘ & ‘Believing’. ‘Love Joints’ was a collection of break-up songs largely about myself, whereas the ‘Lookout’ will – as the name suggests – have a more outward viewpoint about other people, society and the world.

Do you have any further releases or live shows planned for 2019/2020? I’ll be doing a few smaller things, showcases and support slots over the next 2 months, with a headline show coming in March. At the moment, I’m really focused on finishing the album so any spare time goes into recording that. But I might release another track from the album in January if it’s ready!

Where do you feel jazz/soul/funk music sits in today’s music scene? Great question. Looking at pop music today, you can see it’s coming back. Look at Lizzo, she’s topping the charts with her soul, disco, Rn’B songs and like me she plays the flute! I believe that we live in a post-genre era. People don’t define music by genre as much these days, and we are more eclectic with our tastes. If we like it, we like it. Bands like Hiatus Kaiyote have changed the game. I think it’s impossible to put them into any category. But soul music will always be relevant, as long as it keeps making us feel.

What has been your most memorable performance to date and why? I love playing smaller venues, teaching a song to the crowd and singing it together. Experiencing the song as one entity breaks the barrier between artist and audience. It might sound strange but probably some of my smallest gigs have been my favourite. The very first gig we did proved to me that I could be a singer. I had so many insecurities and the strength I got from the band helped me overcome them. The most memorable though was the gig we did for the ‘Say When’ single launch. Osmojam flew over from France, opened the show and joined me for the song. We also did a version of ‘Outstanding’ by the Gap Band that blew the roof off!

‘My band makes me feel so comfortable. I don’t need to worry about a thing.’

When did you first become involved in music and how has your life changed since you did? I grew up playing Irish traditional music on the flute. But I was always writing songs. My father is a singer (Jack Groenland) and he used to sing to us as kids. I can’t imagine my life without music. It acts as therapy, an escape and a healer all at once. I’m singing either internally or out loud almost every minute of the day. I’ve 2 girls and I’m making sure to do the same with them, have a house full of music so that it is a natural thing in their lives.

Who are the other artists in the jazz/soul genre that you admire? There are so many great artists right now. Solange is wonderful, elevating soul to art music. Then newer artists like Ari Lennox, Gavin Turek, Anderson Paak (what a voice and what a performer), Jordan Rakei and Natalie Prass. I’ve just discovered an incredible artist from the UK, Lynda Dawn – old school disco funk vibes. I have so much respect for D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Moonchild, Thundercat and Robert Glasper. They’re really doing their own thing.

Do any of you have other creative talents and if so do they influence your music in any way? I like to play football to keep my mind and body fresh. But talent might be a strong word. I’ve always been quick to pick up languages – I can speak a number of languages badly: French, German, Spanish and Irish. I attribute this to learning Irish music as a child. Everything is learned by ear. When you join a session, you need to pick up the tune first time around to be able to join in on the second.

And finally… you get the opportunity to create your own festival. Who are the first 3 artists you contact and why? Danny G presents… I’d ask D’Angelo but i’m not sure if he’d show up. I’m gonna shout out my flute sister Lizzo to bring the Juice, my dude Zaska to bring the vibes – his conga lines are famous, and Janelle Monae just because she’s amazing. Maybe I could just set up a mic at the side of the stage and do sensitive harmonies & play flute over their sets. Ha!

Thanks Danny G for chatting with Listen to Discover

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Find out more about Danny G and The Major 7ths’ music at: Track Review: Danny G and The Major 7ths (ft. Fehdah & Zaska): Time the Healer

Danny G & The Major 7ths are part of Listen to Discover’s #FridayFindsFeaturedArtist series which you can keep up to date with on Twitter and Facebook.

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