This month, Halifax singer-songwriter David Myles released Here Now, a six-song EP produced by hometown rapper and his good friend Luke Boyd, AKA Classified. It's not a huge departure for Myles; his previous releases have always had a jazz-folk vibe, influenced by his love of R&B. But on this collaboration, Myles offers something a bit more hip-hop and mod-pop.
"It's definitely more amped-up," says Myles, on the phone from his van while touring in rural Alberta. "It draws on the feeling of being out. It's not necessarily a quiet bedroom record this time." Myles explains that those sonic elements of partying at the club, conveyed through Boyd's hip-hop drums, beats and female R&B vocals, is reflected across the EP's aesthetic. "I wanted to tie that in through the neon sign, the idea of going out," he says. "The neon sign also has a cool throwback thing, and it's real! We actually got it made! It's a six-by-eight legit sign."
Mat Dunlap went for a walk to discuss how the record should look: "Mat's closely connected to everything I do, and he got what I was going for with this record. And the idea of neon just made sense. It's an upbeat record, it's a pop record, and I was like, 'oh my god, this is great.' Let's actually make the sign!" So Myles got a sign company in Burnside to make the sign for the album's cover, and to use live. "But it was a bit like that Spinal Tap joke," he says, laughing. In the 1984 mockumentary, the band orders stage props that arrive way too small. "But the sign is actually so huge, it's going to be hard to move around. But it's also really fun and so cool, and I think it shows how I've gotten behind new music in a different way. I've started to embrace contemporary music."
Myles has always been a huge record collector and music fan, but working with Boyd opened up his appreciation of modern pop. "I've always had a fondness for R&B, like Boyz II Men, for example. Nineties R&B was a big part of my world, Maestro Fresh Wes was one one of my first CDs, and I've always loved the structure of pop music, like Smokey Robinson and Chuck Berry and the like. But Luke is a huge connoisseur of hip-hop and rap, of course, so that came together for us in the studio, and we really liked that energy together."
In various ways, Myles and Boyd have worked together for seven years or so. Boyd first approached him to play trumpet and they got along so well, they continued working together. In 2013, the duo released the collaborative single "Inner Ninja" and it was an unexpected success.
"It had a sense of what we thought was special between us," Myles explains, "It was a risky song. It doesn't feel like that now, but it was quite different for both me and him. I felt like it was something magical and its popularity reassured our instincts that we really work well together."
So when it came time for Myles to put together a new release, he and Boyd got busy in the studio and spent a long time working on Here Now. Myles took full songs to Boyd and the producer's input helped shape the overall sound of the record, while pushing Myles to new places.
"He really thinks about how the song feels," says Myles. "He knows how people hear music, and he can feel music in a different way than most musicians I've worked with. He's not as concerned with the individual parts, he steps back and that's his strength. He'll say he wants something darker, and I'll double the chords. I come at it with musical theory, and he has a great perspective in terms of sensing the energy. Some of the high singing, I hadn't done before, and so I'm just letting it rip and that was because Luke was like, let's just go for it. When you respect who you work with and you feel really confident, that's when the magic happens. Your team's opinion is so precious."
The EP is a partnership that grew from longtime musical jiving, and it reflects the influences of both Myles and Boyd, while staying true to Myles' verse-chorus-verse songwriting style.
"I always liked 'Doctor Doctor,' especially," says Myles. "The song is a cool mix of our two worlds and it's like an old throwback soul song. It's got hip-hop drums, it feels contemporary, it's got trumpet on it. It feels like hip-hop and chill R&B. I love D'Angelo and Sade, so it was a different approach, vocally, and it's really laid back. It might not be the radio single, but I do really love it."
To incorporate more of that R&B style, Myles has been performing with Dartmouth soul and R&B singers Reeny and Mahalia Smith: "They're sick, they're crazy, crazy singers and it's super fun," says Myles. "The whole Smith family is remarkably musical. Their brother JR is an amazing drummer, too. It's been a real joy working with them, as well." Myles is on tour in Alberta now, but he'll return home to Halifax soon to spent the summer with his family while promoting the EP.
"I've been working really hard this year, we've been on the road since September, and the reason why we love living in the Maritimes is because the summers kick so much butt, so I'm looking forward to reconnecting with friends in Halifax and playing some summer festivals," he says.
Here Now is here, now, via iTunes, and you can watch Myles perform the songs live from the EP on his website. Keep an eye out for his new video with Boyd, directed by Jason Levangie.