At the entrance to the Ray-Ban store in Soho, a bespectacled man is screenprinting t-shirts. With one swipe of paint against a screen, the words “Rock the House” find themselves onto a white t-shirt, followed by a swipe of red that makes a pair of the iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarers appear. Given free to guests on May 19, the shirts promote the second in-store concert of its kind, this time featuring the R&B/Soul artist Davie.
Since Ray-Ban for the longest time linked to music and cinema, it only makes sense that the brand would forge in the lower level of their Soho flagship store a concert venue to promote the work of new artists. Half a set of stairs has been morphed into a stadium-style seating venue with cushions in that iconic Ray-Ban red, a carpet, piano, and microphones set up for today’s emerging musician. Ray-Ban has been synonymous with cool perhaps at least since Bob Dylan was photographed wearing the legendary wayfarers in the 1960s if not since the brand’s inception in 1937. As fashion moves forward, however, so do the brand’s classic styles, their signature aviators and wayfarers getting futuristic updates, new icons promoted alongside new music.
Around the store, accented with exposed brick and sleek lighting, men in black bomber jackets carrying Acne shopping bags peruse a rainbow of sunglass and eyeglass styles assisted by women in red lipstick and high-waisted jeans, sleek metallic rims resting on angular cheekbones. Another man, in patent leather Doc Martens, black stovepipe jeans and thick black frames that accent a handsome square jawline suggests styles to women in jeans and kimonos. It’s as if the Impossible Cool aesthetic leapt off the computer screen and into a retail store. Soon, Davie will stand in front of the store’s shiny black piano, lights above glistening in its glossy surface. Three backup singers in black heels, who he will later dub his “aunties,” will take their place behind him.
Calling himself a quiet kid from New Jersey, the artist, producer, and songwriter initially found music was the best way he could express himself. He’s been lucky enough to make a career of it thus far, now with his solo work, by touring with Selena Gomez, and doing backup vocals for Childish Gambino and Cee-Lo Green. He has also been featured with his song “Testify,” (from his 2017 EP Black Gospel, Vol. 1) in a Wild Turkey commercial alongside Matthew McConaughey, and had his song “Keep Running” included on 2018’s Madden NFL 18 soundtrack. A lover of fashion, the singer has modeled for Barneys and Lucky Brand as well.
Davie lived for nine years in Los Angeles and currently calls Nashville home. While citing his time in L.A. as formative, he’s looking forward to getting inspired by spending time in a new parts of the country to get inspired and, perhaps most importantly, to get rest, to not have to know the next cool thing all the time in order to get ahead. In Nashville, Davie will also be concentrating on developing his songwriting, describing his new home as a place where there’s a high value placed on the poetry of lyrics. Even so, he says, he’s an East Coast person at heart and hopes one day to end up in New York.
Inspired by Prince, Curtis Mayfield, Frank Ocean, Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder, Davie’s music is soulful and upbeat. Even a room sprinkled with people, some of whom are perhaps just escaping a witheringly post-rain, grey day, he is charismatic and welcoming. One never quite knows how well a show in a retail space, through which people are aimlessly wandering, can go for an emerging artist, but for those of us who have shown up to see Davie specifically, the performance does not leave us feeling shortchanged–rather, you feel he offers the same high level of energy and engagement as he does in his regular shows that usually feature a full live band as opposed to today’s more stripped down experience of a sole piano.
With each song, Davie offers a brief insight into its makings, be it from self-inflicted yet necessary heartache (“Walk That Walk”), to seeing the beauty of life through the lens of death (“Heaven Calling”), to covers by artists who have inspired him. On this particular day he chooses Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” from the artist’s classic 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, citing the other influential New Jersey-bred artist’s song as one of the first times he felt he could be a songwriter, connecting with her words as a kid despite just barely knowing what the song was about. He also covers OutKast’s “Hey Ya,” which is unexpectedly great performed on just a piano, Davie’s passionate falsetto clinging crisp and clear to the space. Performing perhaps his best known song “Testify,” he mentions the song developed from a desire to put his own spin on the music he heard in church growing up, and indeed he does take us there.
Davie’s father was himself a preacher who engendered in his progeny a love of music and performing, and also bought the would-be singer his first guitar. Davie’s love of performing was also doubtlessly influenced by his grandmother, Genee Harris, who had been a singer in the 1950s. She was the voice behind the tune “Bye, Bye Elvis,” which helped teenagers adjust to seeing their beloved Presley entering the army. By the time Davie was fourteen, his family had started a traveling gospel troupe that took them around the world, from Brazil to Israel and countless other destinations.
Today, though, Davie is forging his own path. Though his EP is titled Black Gospel, Vol. 1, the album, much like the song “Testify” in particular, is his own soul-bearing take on the genre, though one that doesn’t rely on religion to push it forward, and is fused with contemporary R&B. As he continues to grow, he says, he hopes to make music that’s honest and vulnerable, that allows him to connect with people while experiencing and understanding his own life transitions. As his time in Nashville begins, we’ll look forward to seeing what’s in (other) store(s) for the rising artist.