Blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Dave Cavalier joins us for a scrumptious breakfast at famed Hollywood Cafe 101 Coffee Shop to discuss growth in his musical process, his experience in many aspects of live performance, and his hope for bringing back the appreciation of guitar within his music.
So to start us off, you’ve been releasing some awesome original music for the past few months, and we love them!
Dave Cavalier: Thank you!
We know you’ve been putting in your blood, sweat, and tears for them.
Dave: A lot of it.
Mostly tears right?
Dave: *laughs* Actually, it’s been mostly blood. See, the way I play guitar, I guess I slash my finger up so much that you can see how much the expected blood there is. It’s very real.
Oh definitely! And for those who have yet to discover how amazing they are, care to share with us a little bit how the songs came about lyrically and instrumentally?
Dave: Yeah! So basically, instrumentally with the new EP, it was all about kind of modernizing the sound a little bit. All my stuff has blues-rock kind of roots, but my first EP was very much a plug in, turn it up really loud kind of work. This time’s a little bit more meticulous in trying to pay attention to sound design and more modern tones and things like that. It helped me step outside the normal range of what we normally consider my music and my vibe. And then lyrically, it was a lot of expanding on what I call ‘L.A. blues,’ which is sort of like a unique spin on traditional blues themes like heartbreak, dreams, loss and other things in a way that only L.A. can kind of offer.
All the blood, sweat, and tears of living in L.A. *laughs*
Dave: *laughs* Oh yeah.
So kind of going into what you were talking about with getting out of your comfort zone, how was the songwriting and recording process for these works was similar or different than that of your past work?
Dave: So the first EP was recorded at EastWest Studios here in Hollywood, and that was in 2015. Again, that was a much different process in the way that my producer was a Grammy-nominated engineer, Hal Winer, and we very much did months of pre-production with musicians in a room recording live. It was pretty much the way that you’d kind of expect a blues-rock record to go. With this one, because we were paying so much more attention to creating new sounds and doing more sound design around it and modernizing it a bit, I’ve spent a lot of time working on it at my co-producer’s studio in Koreatown. Not that we didn’t have live instrumentation, because we did, but we took time kind of piecing things together one at a time as opposed to getting, like, four guys in a room and just playing it. Playing the song through is very much on a track by track basis has been slower process for sure, but much more defined, if you will.
Yeah. And I mean, you really can’t put a rush on art. It’s going to come naturally the way that it should be.
Dave: Yeah. I think when we started, we didn’t necessarily have the idea that we were even going to put an EP out. It was just that I wanted to make some new music and had some new songs. We were gonna try to just go down this road and see where it took us, and then eventually it happened to be that we had enough music that we could release. And we were like, ‘Let’s release it!’
It’s like, ‘I have it! Why not!?!’
Dave: Exactly! And then I had it for a while before I actually got the chance to get it released. So, you know, we just kind of had it sit on the shelf for a little bit until we were like, ‘Okay, it’s time. Let’s make it happen.’
It’s like a fine wine.
Dave: *laughs* Yeah!
So a fun fact about you, you’ve gotten the chance to play with some of the biggest names in music like Eddie Vedder, Aloe Blacc, Kendrick Lamar and Band Of Horses. Apart from being a kick ass guitarist, how did the opportunities come down and how did they shape you as an artist?
Dave: I feel like a lot of those opportunities typically come from festival billings because independent artists, you know, you still have to put in the blood, sweat, and tears and kind of grind it out. It’s been awesome getting the opportunity to play with a lot of those guys. I opened for Band Of Horses in small clubs before, but then we got to play with like Eddie Vedder and Buddy Guy as well. And with these festivals, I think the thing that you really kind of get from the opportunity is to see behind the curtain and how their teams operate, like, their whole road crew, their whole management team, just how all that stuff is working. As an independent artist, you’re kind of mentally taking notes and you see how you can improve what you do to try to match what they do. And, you know, eventually, or hopefully, you get connected to them as people and their team, and just see where there’s room for you to keep growing. But it’s also amazing to just watch the action from the side stage and things like that. I used to be a festival producer, so I got an opportunity to see it from that angle years ago to doing that. And even when you get to peek behind the curtain, you see that these incredibly talented people are people too. It’s just that they’re really good at their jobs, and that’s why they are incredible and that’s why I have all their fans.
It’s funny that you brought up stage production, because sometimes a live production can totally make or break an artist.
Dave: Oh absolutely! And you never know who’s going to be there on your show. Something that was pretty amazing when we opened up for Eddie Vedder was that he ended up doing an acoustic set, and it was at a festival with tens of thousands of people, and was just him and his guitar on this huge stage. But with those types of situations, you get to see the complicated stuff and the simple stuff. There’s always something to learn from them, and it’s just fantastic.
I can only imagine how awesome it would be to learn some skills from a living legend!
Dave: It’s so great! Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, for sure. Perfect.
So speaking of amazing artists and live performing, if he could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Dave: Ah! That’s such a good question! I think if it happened right now, I mean, the three artists for sure that I think I’d vibe on would be Jacob Banks, Kimbra, and then Gary Clark Jr. I’d probably want to call it, like, ‘The New Shade Of Blue Tour’ or something like that. *laughs* Jacob Banks is this incredible new-school meets modern R&B, blues-y, soulful kind of guy. Kimbra’s voice is just absolutely profound. Gary Clark Jr., I think him and trading licks would be a lot of fun.
And you’ve played in many venues in the L.A./Southern California area. Have you noticed any differences in regards to audience support or maybe how shows are run in the different areas that you’ve played, or even the different venues that you’ve played?
Dave: Well, when you’re doing the kind of club scene and everything, every spot is different. And you can tell pretty quickly, you know, like things can vary from night to night, or things can vary from the way that the personality of the bar or club is as well. There might be a place that is more about the party and the music is secondary, and then there’s other places where the music is very much the focal point, you know. And in some places, you can tell by the audience, you know, they there’s a thought that if you book a really great consistent music acts all the time, you’re going to have people who don’t know necessarily who’s even play the night, but they’re going to come in hungry to learn about some new band because they know they can just rely on everything being good. And then there’s other places where people just want to go and get fucked up, *Heather laughs* and with those places, sometimes you have to work a little harder to actually connect and create a fan base, you know. But you can read the room pretty quickly, and we’ve played a million and one clubs at this point, so we can kind of have a radar and gauge for it that’s fairly accurate.
Do you feel like there’s some kind of unpublicized competition within the local music scene and the artists that are in it?
Dave: Yeah. I mean, I think like in most businesses, competition is great because it pushes people to innovate or do something differently. I’ve never felt like I’ve been in competition that’s malicious, so to speak, but at the end of the day, there’s ‘X’ amount of clubs and a million and one bands that are all jockeying for the same position, you know? I definitely think there’s competition, but I would love it more if L.A. was focused on community building within the music scene. I think there’s a lot of bands who will make connections with other bands, but in the end, it’s always to kind of get to where they’re trying to be individually. And in my experience, the times are things that progress the most, and that comes with a fan base who’s going to really grow when you find a handful of bands that are all wanting to share their connections with people. It’s like, ‘Hey. I’ll share mine with you and then you share yours.’ And with the fans, it’s the same thing because it’s like, ‘They’ll come to our shows and we’ll bring them to your show.’ When you do that, everyone kind of wins. Sometimes I don’t see it that often in L.A., but I’m sure it exists in pockets. Maybe it’s just my bad luck.*laughs* But yeah, I would love to see more of that. It’s still sort of competitive because you want to be better than your buddy’s band, so to speak, but it’s a cooperative, competitiveness if that makes sense.
Absolutely! And speaking of more competition, social media plays also kind of plays into it as well.
Do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for independent artists to make a name for themselves, especially with it being pretty much the prominent form of marketing nowadays?
Dave: I think it’s both. I think the ability to connect with fans so directly is profound and really incredible, and I think the fact that you can control what that content is without the help of a label or something is also really amazing. On the flipside, though, I think the fact that it’s become sort of the main thing is also really difficult because we’re doing all these things to get as many fans as we can. People don’t want to do that. And there’s a lot of times too, as you know, that the best musicians you may never have heard of because they’re not that good at writing witty captions. It’s a talent unto itself.
It definitely takes a very special person to think of those witty captions. *laughs*
Dave: Right?! it’s basically, like, I feel like social media is filled with a lot of niche talents that people underestimate as being ‘talents’ unto themselves, and as musicians, we have to evolve and get better at these things now. But it’s really tricky because we want to focus on music. I think if there’d been times where you lose out because so-and-so has more followers or something like that, even if you yourself have a substantial amount. I think that’s unfortunate.That’s also me coming from an artist perspective, but I do understand from a business perspective why those numbers matter. I personally am not the biggest fan of social media, but I’ve had some really, really great connections with fans that have come out of it too, so I’m really grateful for those experiences.
Yeah. I definitely feel like it’s a lot easier now. You know, way back when it was like, the only way to get connected with artists was to send in fan mail. *both laugh* But even then it was rare if they had the chance to get back to you.
Dave: Oh yeah, definitely!
It’s so easy for someone from your favorite band to even just like your photo, and then you freak out like, ‘Oh my God! They liked my stuff!’
Dave: *laughs* Absolutely! And that’s the thing, like, now I have the opportunity to have these amazing stories to share with people. There was a time where I visited a high school, and I met this one girl who became a singer and was like, ‘You gave me the confidence to audition for this play!’ Like, she got into theater and did musical theater in college and everything! And she still sends me messages about the cool things she’s doing! It’s like, I would never have any kind of way of getting updated on these types of things without social media, and I love that. But it is a pain in the ass sometimes when you’re in the studio and you want to be in the zone and focus on what you’re focusing on, but you don’t have a team around to capture all this beautiful content. You have to multi-task, and that’s what’s required of us, but it takes you out of the zone of what you’re really there to do, you know? It’s sort of like when you’re watching a beautiful sunset with someone you love. You just want to be in that moment, but now our inclinations are that we have to get the perfect photo so somebody else can share the moment that we’re missing. And that sucks and makes social media this double-edged sword.
Right?!? And do you feel like it kind of adds on pressures to, kind of what you were saying, keep having these kinds of moments with people as well as even portraying yourself in certain ways to your audience?
Dave: Totally. I mean, at the end of the day you want to be as genuine as possible. And you know, there’s a lot of musicians out there who still have day jobs, and capturing that aspect is not sexy. They could be working at some dentist office somewhere during the day, and then be an amazing musician at night, and that’s how you pay the bills for the moment. It’s almost this thing where I genuinely believe you’re doing cool shit, and then social media can be really easy because all you have to do is grab some documentation in between and then post about it.
But realistically it’s us sitting on our butts most of the day.
Dave: Exactly! *laughs* But you know, as an independent musician, there’s also a lot of hours in front of a laptop where you’re emailing for booking, or emailing for press, and things like that, but that’s not necessarily good for social media posts, at least not multiple posts. Unfortunately that’s the reality of what life is, so again, you have to find creative ways to tell these kinds of stories of your day without looking boring, and it can just be so exhausting. It’s a different type of energy that I’ve sort of gotten more comfortable with though. Maybe I don’t have to post every day as long as when I am posting, I have some quality to it.
So how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Dave: I really don’t. *laughs* My personal life is kind of my professional life all the time, and I’m really lucky that my wife is incredibly supportive. We get to share a lot of like my professional life experiences together, which makes my personal life kind of mixed, but I think at the end of the day, the thing I try to always remember is what’s really important. Doing what I do professionally offered me a lot of opportunities to connect with people, and of course, that’s super important to me, but if I have the opportunity to go on a trip with my wife for a few days or head back home and visit family and play a show in the Midwest or something like that, I try to make sure to take advantage of it. It’s ok to try to mix the two together, but I think as long as your priorities are in line, then you’re probably pretty good.
And if you give your younger self some advice in what you’ve experienced in music or in life in general, what advice would you give him?
Dave: When I was younger, I always kind of assumed people weren’t going to care, and sometimes I didn’t even give them an opportunity to say ‘no.’ If I were to talk to him, I would tell him to reach out to everyone. Like, if you think there is a remote chance this person will grab coffee with you, that they would even listen to your record, that they would do anything, just go for it. It doesn’t always have to be that they’re going to do something for you, but if there’s anyone you want to be connected to, just reach out and try to connect. The worst thing they can do is completely ignore you, which a lot of them will, or they say ‘no,’ which again, you’re no worse off than you would have been before. I think as I’ve gotten older, there’s a lot more people who I realized could surprise you, and to be actually more interested, or willing to give advice or offering perspective than you’d think. I just wish when I was younger I would have done that, because I would have made a lot more connections earlier on.
Until we have clones, and then we can be everywhere so no one can escape us.
Dave: *laughs* Yes, exactly! I would train them to be my needs. It would be great. They can do all my social media.
What do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Dave: I really hope that people continue with my music, and other records of course, to just continue to fall in love with the guitar. It’s kind of fallen out of the mainstream vibe, and it’s become a little more of this like ‘only rock’ thing with a very specific sound right now. I’m a blues guitar player at heart, and I just have so much soul and love in how I try to approach the instrument, so I’d like people to fall back in love with that. I think at the end of the day though, I’m a songwriter. I’m trying to tell a good story, and so I hope that when you hear one of my records that you also feel a good story. And if you come see me play live, I just want people to, like, lose their fucking minds for a little bit, *Heather laughs* because that’s what I do when I’m on stage, and that’s what it does for me, and I want to give people the opportunity to just tune out the world for forty five minutes and just dance and maybe get a little buzzed. Come to my electric church, let’s all get sweaty. *both laugh*
You have got to put that on a shirt of something!
Dave: *laughs* One day maybe!
And apart from more new music, what other big exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Dave: Well, I’m starting to do a lot more work in film and television, and those projects have been really fun. We’re also trying to plan some regional touring stuff as well, so ideally that stuff would be finalized soon. And then there’s always new music that’s getting made in the background, so of course when that stuff gets finalized you’ll be hearing about it. There’s no timeline that restricts it anymore, so once it’s all finished and we’re ready for it I’m down to put it out.
About 101 Coffee Shop:
I hold a special place in my heart for Hollywood’s famed 101 Coffee Shop. Not only had it been frequented by me on many different occasions, but it was actually the first coffeeshop that I had conducted an interview at when I had started my official journalism journey. But apart my personal history, the shop has decades (!) of entertainment history that easily gives it a well-deserved landmark status. Under its original name, Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop, it was used as a setting for HBO’s acclaimed dramedy Entourage, as well as the 1996 cult classic Swingers. Its classic retro feel is infused within its architecture, style design, and even its menu.
Speaking of menu, nationally recognized chef Brandon Boudet puts a classic twist on our favorite comfort dishes. I’m a breakfast fanatic, so most of my visits have consisted with me stuffing my face with one of their plentiful and delicious egg meals (I recommend the corned beef hash) while enjoying a delightful coffee beverage in a mug that takes two hands to hold. Even though 101 Coffee Shop is attached to the Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel, there’s still very much a local and family-friendly vibe when you’re there. And since it’s slightly off the beaten path for tourist attractions, you have the chance to enjoy your experience without being bombarded by hordes of people.