Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Columbia Nights

May 14, 2012 Print version       Other articles by this author


Our Brave Soul featured artists for May 2012 are a pair of talented young men whose music speaks for itself. Comprised of musician/producers Hayling Price and John E Daise, Columbia Nights' work is an organic blend of analog and digital elements- a hybrid that looks to the past while taking a giant leap forward.

As a classically trained pianist and producer with a few beat tapes to his name, Hayling was interested in expanding his musical vocabulary. Meanwhile, John was working on his own compositions and honing his skills as a multi-instrumentalist while playing bass with several local bands. Realizing that they brought complimentary skills to the table, they began home-studio collaborations in earnest while digesting a host of sounds.
The pair began regular listening sessions, diving deep into records made by their heroes and unpacking what made them special. As their search continued, they realized something was missing from most contemporary approaches they heard; evolution. In search of for a bold new approach to black music, the pair began pushing boundaries as they incubated their sound. Along the way, a chance encounter with Howard University jazz student Sarai Abdul-Malik added new energy to the process. The result is a cohesive statement that critics, tastemakers and fans are already buzzing about.

I first learned of Columbia Nights through the "twitterverse" last year, while fishing around & seeing a few random posts about their music. Upon learning that they were based out of Washington DC, I immediately sought out more information. What I found was music that spoke to me on many different levels, mainly because of how lush and colorful it sounded. Coupled with alluring vocals & lyrics from guest artist Sarai Abdul-Malik, I was sold on the magical sound that Columbia Nights was sharing through their work. After recently reaching out to let them know how much I enjoyed their work, we discussed plans for an interview/feature here on the BSC website to coincide with the release of their debut EP, "Dawn | Dusk" (which is available now!)

What you'll find below is a candid interview with the duo of talented musicians about some of their influences, how they describe their sound, their thoughts about arts & activism, and much more.
I'm honored to present to the Brave Soul fam & supporters an insightful look into the musical world of the duo, Columbia Nights. Enjoy...

...The arts are one of the most powerful tools we have to advocate for social justice and human rights issues. Music, visual art, dance, and other media can be our highest forms of self-expression, and beyond giving us an outlet, it also lets us speak to audiences that we may not be able to reach otherwise.

How/when was Columbia Nights formed? Can you explain the significance of the group's name?

Hayling: John and I were college bandmates in Philadelphia, and reconnected here in DC after graduating. We both found ourselves in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest DC, and our first set of sessions would usually happen at my place. We'd link up after work and go pretty late sometimes, so kind of like a certain group of Midnight Marauders we made our music during those "Columbia Nights".

John: We generally spent time hanging out and listening to our favorite records. We discussed and shared older music as well as newer acts that we appreciated.

If you had to sum your sound up in one phrase or term, what would it be? What would you like for listeners to take away from listening to your work?

Hayling: Soultronic. We draw from a lot of different sounds and styles, but at its core I think it's soul music with an electronic edge that doesn't compromise it's organic quality. I would hope that listeners could tell that we've steeped ourselves in the tradition of black music, and hope to uphold that legacy in some small way.

Please share a bit about the process behind the creation of your debut,
"Dawn | Dusk".

Hayling: After spending a few months sharing our favorite records and digesting a bunch of different sounds, we started recording with no particular end in mind. We had a few tracks put together when we crossed paths with Sarai- we ended up working with her for most of the EP. Some of the tracks were musical ideas that John actually had lying around, and others were the products of jam sessions we'd have at my place. Between the two of us, we wrote, produced, recorded, and mixed the entire thing between my apartment and his basement.

Who are some of your musical/artistic influences & why are their work(s) important to you?

John: In the very beginning we sought out to listen more closely to those artists that influenced the making of D'angelo's "Voodoo". We dug deeper into the catalog of Sly and the Family Stone. Some of my personal musical influences are James Jamerson and Stevie Wonder. I think the reason why the works of these artists are important to me is because they were important to the members of my family and their personal experience. Their music/message resonated deeply with the generations of my family.

Hayling: I recently heard someone say "...if you're honest with yourself, your influences will shine through." I really believe that myself, and I think once you're proficient on whatever tools you use to make music, the stuff you've listened to will will be part of the DNA of whatever you create. It may not always be obvious, but music definitely operates as a continuum. There's a lot of indirect lineage you can trace across any artistic tradition, and I think it's pretty cool that some listeners can hear that in our music.

How did your affiliation with Record Breakin' Music come about? What are your thoughts about going the independent route versus signing with a major label?

Hayling: I was introduced to DJ Junior (the owner of the label) through a mutual friend, who urged me to email him after hearing one of our tunes. Junior was really receptive, and we just kept the conversation going as the EP came together. By the time we were finished, we had a project we were all excited about and he was down to release it on the label. I'm really happy we went independent route-- since I've been serious about making music I've never really considered signing with a major. I think the music industry and the way we consume music are still very much in flux, and the big machines are scrambling to figure out where they fit in. Smaller, independent labels tend to be ahead of the curve there, and nimble enough to adjust with how the tides are changing. Besides that, there's the obvious advantage of most indies being more artist-friendly and supportive of our creative vision. We didn't have to alter our sound or tweak other aspects of project just to appease a particular demographic. That's the kind of freedom you're afforded when working with a label that believes in you.

What are your thoughts about the importance of properly handling business matters associated with recording & releasing music?

Hayling: I'm finding that it's really important to have the business end of things in order as we move the music forward. It can take a little financial and legal acumen, but the tools are out there if you take the time to learn how this works for yourself. The implications are huge when you're talking about the terms of a distribution agreement or how publishing is handled, so I've made it a point to stay on top of that for us.

Our BSC discussion topic for May is REJECTION. Can one or each of you speak about how you deal with rejection - both personally & professionally? What effect do you feel it has on your work as artists?

Hayling: Rejection certainly isn't always the easiest thing to discuss, and thankfully it's not a theme that's been too pervasive in my personal or professional lives. In terms of our work... the kind of music we make lends itself to collaboration, and we've found ourselves reaching out to a bunch of other rising artists in our lane lately. Those conversations can be a mixed bag- some touring artists with managers and larger label infrastructure behind them can be harder to approach, and may not always be down since we're not a household name. I guess that could be considered a form of rejection, but it's never something that's caused too much frustration or disappointment. I think that kind of rejection is really motivating- if someone's not interested in working because they've never heard of us, I take it as a challenge to make sure our music speaks for itself.

John: Professionally I handle rejection well. I try not to take it personally. In that realm, usually there is a good, logical or logistical reason why I may have been rejected. I take that moment to really ask myself, "Well what am I going to do next time this opportunity comes up?" or "What will I do differently?". So I take professional rejection as an opportunity to improve myself or make my goals clearer.

How important are the elements of fellowship & collaboration to each of you as they pertain to your artistry?

Hayling: I would say that fellowship and collaboration are at the core of what we do as artists. I've put out a few solo projects and still do some production work on my own, but I find the process a lot more fulfilling when there are other creative minds in the room. I find that many of my best musical ideas have been teased out by friends and loved ones whose ears I respect, and I'm constantly in conversation with my own little brain trust to get a feel for how things might land when others hear it. I also love how collaboration can play up your strengths. When JD and I came together, he had a lot more experience in the live performance setting and I'd spent years in a home studio set up, so between the two of us we can cover a lot of ground. Some ideas I have are best translated through things he brings to the table, and vice-versa.

John: In my personal experience as a performing artist, the elements of fellowship and collaboration are very important. The best gigs I have ever played were with people where the business aspect wasn't important. It was more about us all feeling the music and playing just because we loved what we were doing. People can generally tell when a band plays/records together and that chemistry is just right on a personal and spiritual level.

What role (if any) does spirituality play in the creation of your work as artists?

Hayling: I view music as a blessing, and I definitely feel a spiritual connection to the sounds I create, whether or not they're of a specifically religious bent. Lately I've actually been wrestling with how my identity as a Christian can be complementary with my role as a musician, and the further I come along in this journey the more this connection is apparent.

John: It does play a very important role. I can't really explain it. It's not a tangible thing. Charles Mingus said something that I really struck me. It was something to the effect that his talent as a bass player came from hours and days of hard work, but his gift for composition came from God. I really dig what he's saying because I feel any artist puts in the work to gain the facility on their instrument, but what comes out from that artist is from something far greater than his or herself.

How do you feel about the current musical landscape in terms of what is now referred to as R&B/soul music?

Hayling: R&B and soul music are a part of a long, rich tradition of black music, and I have immense respect for the art. I think there was a period in the 80s and 90s where R&B and soul kind of diverged, and since then I think we've lost a lot of the essence of what makes this tradition so great. I'm not too heavy into genres since they can confine creativity, but I do think that the recent shift toward Euro-pop and tecnho in black music is one worth unpacking. I appreciate showmanship as much as the next fan, but I think we're seeing too many "entertainers" marketed as artists.

John: I agree with Hayling in that popular music in general has shifted away from the various forms of folk music. By folk music I mean music that comes from a specific tradition. And there are artists that have realized this and try to be true purveyors of various musical traditions and stay hard on one side. I believe we should embrace both ends of the spectrum because they both have elements that are enjoyable.

BSC is an organization committed to bridging the gap between arts and activism. What are your feelings about addressing topics such as sexuality, LGBTQ issues, HIV/AIDS, racism, & politics through the performing arts?

Hayling: I think arts are one of the most powerful tools we have to advocate for social justice and human rights issues. Music, visual art, dance, and other media can be our highest forms of self-expression, and beyond giving us an outlet, it also lets us speak to audiences that we may not be able to reach otherwise. I've had an opportunity to engage with a local nonprofit called Words Beats & Life, and they do an incredible job of using hip-hop to foster youth development in communities that really need it. I'd love to see more activism and advocacy utilize the arts this way, and I think we're starting to see more of it around us.

John: I feel like it's difficult for some folks to openly discuss these topics. The performing arts has a way of opening us up in a way that doesn't work in more casual conversation.

Aside from promoting your most recent release, what's next for Columbia Nights? Are there plans for a tour or a full length release in the near future?

Hayling: We've already started work on our full-length album, and are already pretty excited about how that's shaping up. We're still thinking through the central themes and sounds we want to feature to creative another cohesive listen, but we're already in talks with a few really dope artists who may be interested in collaborating. As for touring, we're looking to visit a few cities in the coming months. We play live with the guy who introduced us, a talented drummer named Jason "BrotherSpanky" Edwards, so we'll probably plan some gigs with him and some new vocalists in the near future.

For more on Columbia Nights, please visit their official website here:
Columbia Nights