Effortlessly creating an emotionally raw and visceral atmosphere during not only studio recordings, but also live performances, where complete control over sound output is more elusive, can be a challenge for many musicians. But alt-blues singer-songwriter, Dave Cavalier, has masterfully created music throughout his acclaimed career that’s naturally seductive and stylish. The Los Angeles-based rock guitarist has rightfully made a name for himself through his frequent lyrical references to the unique tribulations of life as a musician in Hollywood.
The blues artist remains connected to his Chicago upbringing while establishing new roots in his current city. Cavalier, who also cites the golden age of alternative rock as a meaningful inspiration for his sound, has also been guided by his mother, who’s also a singer of Chicago blues. The musician’s father is also an accomplished guitarist and local music storeowner, who provided his son with a house full of music and walls of guitars as a meaningful part of his upbringing.
Cavalier, whose guitar playing of his own has powerfully lead to his signature intense and evocative live performance style, moved to L.A. from Chicago in 2010 at the age of 23. After establishing himself in the local Hollywood music scene as a solo artist, he began touring nationally for over two years as guitarist for the electro pop rock duo, STAMPS.
The singer-songwriter later arrived at the famed EastWest Studios to record his debut solo E.P., ‘HOWL,’ with producer and Grammy nominee, Hal Winer, in 2014. Released independently the following year, ‘HOWL’ showcases Cavalier’s raw energy and passion. Since the E.P. was unveiled in 2015, the singer has performed with such musicians as Don Henley, Aloe Blacc, Kendrick Lamar, Manchester Orchestra, Local H and Brand New at festivals across the country.
Cavalier generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview on Wednesday, March 15 at the Hilton Austin Hotel during SXSW. The alt-blues-rock singer, who played at such popular Austin destinations as Handlebar and Grizzly Hal during the music portion of the 2017 festival, discussed how his parents, who were both professional musicians, positively influenced his love and appreciation for music, both in the singers he grew up listening to, and the type of musician he wanted to become. Cavalier also expressed his appreciation for the effortless camaraderie that arises between all artists who attend SXSW, and how people who attend the festival freely share their unique creative ideas with each other.
The musician began the conversation by explaining that when he first realized that he wanted to pursue music as a career. “I was really lucky. My parents were professional musicians, and were very involved in my music; my mom was a singer, and loved blues records,” he shared. His mother’s love for the genre led Cavalier to become interested in becoming a blues guitar player at an early age. “My dad was a guitar player, as well, and also owned a music store. So my childhood was surrounded by walls of guitars. I started playing shortly thereafter, and then came music school,” Cavalier added before also noting that music has also been a part of his life.
The singer’s style is notable for its powerful alt-blues and alternative rock influence, and his songs honor those genres. Cavalier then described the development of that style for his vocals and instrumentation. “I grew up in Chicago, and blues obviously has a little bit of personality there,” he noted with a laugh. So he felt that type of music “was always in my blood. Like I said, my mom used to play these records all the time when I was a kid, including B.B. King and Eric Clapton. So this style always had an influence on me.
“I was a ’90s baby, so I grew up listening to Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ which were albums I stole from my older brother,” Cavalier also disclosed. “So if you intermingle this golden age of grunge with classic blues, that’s how I would describe my music; that’s the style of my music at its core.”
Further discussing the bands and albums that have inspired him, as both a listener and musician, Cavalier said he’s had “a cool range. The albums that my mom and dad played, including Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell, along with all of these other classic artists, inspired me. Other artists who have personally inspired me include Incubus, Radiohead and Pearl Jam, like I mentioned earlier.” The guitarist also mentioned that he’s also “into R&B, including singers like Sam Cooke. I also like new school stuff that has evolved in the main stream. So I’ve always liked a mix of both. I’ve always loved classic artists, while also being curious about what the next sound is going to be. I love when people reinvent things.”
Then describing his performance style while he’s on stage, Cavalier shared that “There’s this great scene in the Johnny Depp movie, ‘The Rum Diaries’ where they’re all in this underground rum bar. It’s hot and everyone’s drinking from these red Solo cups, but everyone’s still dancing. Everyone’s having fun and partying. It’s that love of life, which is like from a Blues Brothers movie, that’s similar to my vibe.” The singer added that he “loves to be the catalyst for people to let go. I want people to dance themselves exhausted. We have an edge to our music that pushes that feeling.”
The musician also noted that he also truly embraces the experience of recording his music. “It’s almost like two opposite ends of the spectrum. When you perform live, it’s almost like you’re celebrating the beauty of the imperfections, like when someone’s voice cracks, because there’s so much imperfection in their singing. But in the studio, you can control all of the aspects, and fine tune everything. The studio is the only place where the music can be “perfect.” So performing live is all about the interactions between the musician and the audience. But in the studio, it’s all about how I can convey the idea I had in my head as accurately as possible on the record. That way I can share with someone who presses play what I hoped they’d hear.”
Cavalier then divulged how he worked with a Grammy-nominated producer and engineer for the first time when he recorded ‘HOWL.’ “Watching Hal Winer’s process, including the process of how we wrote and rewrote songs until they were perfect, was amazing. We then worked in the studio until we got everything right. It was exhausting, but it was also an amazing experience,” the singer revealed.
“I’ve been touring and performing so much that it now has a raw sound,” Cavalier also shared when further discussing the experience of crafting his solo debut E.P. “When I recorded the record, I had just recently went out on my own. I had written a lot of the songs on an acoustic guitar, and the songs came to life in the studio. So they weren’t tested with audiences yet.
“But I think we’re a little edgier now, having performed the songs in dance halls all across America. So I think the record came off more refined, and I’m still incredibly proud of it,” the musician also divulged. “But I think the only difference between then and now is that it’s now a little more raw. It’s been cool to watch it grow.”
The audiences members’ reactions to his songs is a major influence on the way Cavalier approaches performing his music live. “As soon as I go out on the stage, it’s all about them, not me. So if there’s a really strong response to a song,” the singer will take the reaction into consideration. “There may be a song that I didn’t think was my favorite, but if the audience loves it, I will focus on it.
“Once we record a song, and I know people have the opportunity to take it home with them, it breathes new life into it. I also feel this anticipation of the audience being able to take the music with them, which can reengage their memory that we’re having together” during a performance, the singer revealed.
Further speaking about his live shows, Cavalier also spoke about performing in two showcases during this year’s SXSW, including his showcase at RedGorilla Fest, which was held on the night of the interview. “This is the first time I’ve been here with my solo projects, but I have been here before, with my last band, STAMPS.
“The thing I love the most about Los Angeles, which is where I’m based right now, is that it’s quirky, and everyone’s hustling something. There’s this pulse to the city,” the musician explained.
“But when you come to Austin for SXSW, it’s like the same thing,” but the feelings even more intense. “Everyone’s going around and wants to talk about music. They want to hear about what you do, and to find a way to collaborate. If the rest of the world was like this all of the time, it would be a much more beautiful place. I think Austin’s the perfect place for this festival, and it’s a beautiful city. I feel lucky to be back here, and we’re going to have a lot of fun,” Cavalier admitted with a laugh.
The singer then delved into the benefit he feels that forming professional relationships with colleagues in the entertainment industry. “I feel like that collaborating is a great thing for anyone, no matter what their art is, when they’re beginning to find their voice. No matter who you collaborate with, you always know something interesting’s going to come out of it. If you’re really invested in a topic you’re interested in, you’re willing to sit down with anyone who’s willing to talk about it,” the guitarist pointed out. “For me, that topic is music. So if anyone’s willing to sit down and have a conversation about their instrument, I’m definitely interested in doing that.
“It’s also cool that people who work in other mediums, like photography, writing and filmmaking, can sometimes reinterpret what you do in a way I never would have foreseen. We just launched a music video for my single, ‘Danger On the Dance Floor.’ Watching the director (Patrick Dupree) interpret what the song was, and how it sounded, in a visual way, was an incredible thing,” Cavalier explained. “Sometimes, collaborating with the right people can open Pandora’s box; all of a sudden, you can become completely changed. I hope for those moments every day!” the musician also noted with a laugh.
“Making the video was really special on a personal level,” Cavalier added whiled further discussing his process of releasing ‘Danger On the Dance Floor.’ “Everyone who was involved were people who we’ve worked with for a really long time. We have a really close relationship with everyone, so it was like a family project. Patrick was the director, and we filmed it all in one day…I think the video looks beautiful, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. It was a lot of fun to make. I think if it looks good, and you had fun making it,” it’s really helpful in the creative process. “So this video was really special, especially since it was filmed at a venue we play at all the time.”
Further speaking about returning to play at venues where he regularly performs, the singer revealed that “You definitely have favorite cities. But whenever I think about what I love about a particular venue, I always go back to the people. We’ve played at Utah State University East, which is in Price, Utah. It’s a place that many people would think is in the middle of nowhere. But they were the most engaged fans. I could play in the middle of a field, and if those people were there, it would be incredible.”
After his performances at SXSW, Cavalier was looking forward to continuing to play live around Los Angeles. “We’re also looking to set up some more festival dates for the summer. I’m also trying to write some new music. As I was saying before, the sound has become more raw and visceral, as we’ve been on the road for awhile. Our music has changed as we’ve met and interacted with people, and received their feedback…We’ve also released some live music exclusively on our website, and those songs are the tip of the iceberg of what we’d love to do in the studio next. I think anyone who makes music wants to keep evolving with each new song,” the guitarist noted.
“I think we’ve grown as live performers, so it’s time we’ve gotten that sound on tape, so that anyone can listen to our songs whenever they want to. I think we have good songs, and hopefully we can get some of our latest music on a new E.P. soon. We hope to release a new record this year,” Cavalier concluded.