It is so easy to get lost in the shuffle, and even easier to get lost in the shuffle of trying not to get lost in the shuffle. Everyone wants to be different, but fit in all at once. You want your cake to be better than everyone else’s, but for everyone to smile and laugh while they watch you eat it. There’s a myth that a fine line exists, but let’s be real. You can’t have both.
What’s truly rare is when someone comes to terms with that fact, and they settle for either eating their regular cake and making everyone happy, or baking a completely bodacious cake that others get confused and intimidated by. It’s not what they’re used to, and they can’t label it, so they chastise it and call it weird, maybe even throw it on the ground.
I’d be highly surprised if this has actually happened with a cake, but you see what’s going on here. If you’ve made it this far as well as read the title, hopefully you’re starting to realize that Seven Lions is the baker who made the really awesome cake that people are sometimes afraid to eat.
Jeff Montalvo, better known as Seven Lions, has put himself galaxies away from what any other current electronic music maker is branding themselves as, and he’s gotten there on the back of one big lesson that he learned early on as a producer and musician.
“I’m doing whatever I want, and I know it will make people upset.”
When I first saw Jeff play, he was opening for Above and Beyond at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco. My friends and I were in awe of how he flowed from genre to genre so seamlessly and so effectively, keeping the crowds full attention from start to finish. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Jeff and talking to him about where he sits in the realm of electronic music, and how he deals with the constant criticism of not staying with one type of cake (genre… you get it).
“I think it’s been like that from the beginning. Mixing trance with dubstep was something that pissed off people, and I just got used to the fact that immediately, no matter what you do, you’re going to make people angry. I think it’s really weird because it’s just music, and I feel like people shouldn’t get so upset about what styles of music you’re making. If you don’t like it, move on. But people are really nasty, and I learned that very quickly, so I got used to it early on.”
It comes as an utter shock to me that he is ridiculed for conquering such an enormous musical spectrum, having released with OWLSA, Ultra, Anjunabeats, and most recently Who’s Afraid of 138?!, among others. That’s essentially the biggest labels in every major genre of dance music right now, an accomplishment that I doubt anyone else in the game can boast, and this guys getting his parade rained on for not just sticking to one.
“I knew Serpent of Old would piss off a lot of people, but nobody ever sees their Facebook numbers actually go down. But I put that song up and Bloop Bloop Bloop (sound of Facebook numbers actually going down).”
Just to add to the list, because why not, Jeff is also a self admitted metal head, having been in several metal and punk bands in the past. This influence can be seen in part through his collaboration with AFI front man Davey Havok, December.
“A lot of the stuff I like metal wise is very melodic, just like the music that I make, so it kind of transfers. It’s also powerful and heavy, and I like making music that is both powerful and heavy as well as melodic, which I think is where metal meets electronic music.”
Personally, I don’t like labels. I believe we should give art the freedom to be what it is, and not have to put it into categories and sub categories to feel comfortable about it. I realize that it makes talking about it or selling it easier, having the ability to reach a larger audience if you label a song as “trance” rather than simply “new song by artist”, but this also limits the creative capacity to what an artist can make, or what we think an artist should make. We always want new and better music but we are afraid of, and quite often reject, new or better sounds.
I love that Jeff has the courage to do what he does best, and make music the way he wants to make music. He has gotten used to the fact that he doesn’t have to please everybody, and it has become glaringly obvious that he WON’T please everybody, but he still has the confidence in himself to release the music that he finds to be enjoyable.
Seven Lions is the antithesis of a “sellout”, which is absolutely a blistering path to lead, and we as the audience make it that way. We criticize artists for exploring new musical paths because we have grown so fond of their old sounds. But we, as the audience, can change. Instead of saying, “wow, this doesn’t sound like your last song, you are a terrible artist”, we could keep an open mind and say “it’s not my favorite, but I respect you for trying something else. Maybe I’ll really connect with your next record”. Without this mindset of growing musically as an audience, we can’t allow the ones who make the records we like to grow musically as artists.
You probably won’t enjoy every song Seven Lions puts out, but I can guarantee you that if you like electronic music, or metal for that matter, you can find something in his bakery that satisfies your sweet tooth.
And if not, take his advice. “It’s just music, move on.” Find a new cake.
Be sure to catch Seven Lions in San Francisco this Halloween for Bill Graham Civic Center’s Boo!