Ten years on, the US producer, songwriter and DJ is still trying to escape the shadow of this genre-launching achievement. His third and most recent record, 2006’s hyphy hip hop outing The Outsider, caused many fans to baulk at his change of tack. Davis’s long-awaited next album The Less You Know The Better is set to drop on October 4, just two days before the Tokyo date of his world tour.
You did a fundraising drive via your website for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami; how important has Japan been for you over the years?
There’s a few places on the globe where I became immediately enamored, I would say New Orleans, the UK—and Japan. When I’ve been there—I hope this doesn’t come off as strange—some Japanese friends have told me I have a Japanese soul. People there value artwork and creativity, and achieving things. Those are things I value as well. When people decide they are passionate about something, they are extremely passionate. I feel aligned with those attributes.
In the past you’ve done rare groove DJing at Air in Shibuya, is your approach different now with more of your sample-based works in the offing?
Well, bear in mind that I’ve also done the Fuji Rocks and Summer Sonics. Those gigs in Tokyo are actually quite rare, I’ve never done them anywhere else. It just started happening because of the hardcore collector scene out there and we had so much fun… for us it’s a great time but it’s a total one-off. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a tour of my own in Japan. I toured with DJ Krush and James Lavell, but that was 15 years ago, and every few years I’ve done big festivals. But I’ve never had the chance to do a club tour. It’s tough on the promoters, the financial considerations. There’s a huge difference between the total spontaneity of the old gigs and this show. This show is full-on… I just played it to 8,000 people in Ireland. It’s a proper big-time show.
Is this tour largely based on work from The Less You Know The Better?
Yes, but not exclusively. My job is to strike a nice middle ground so people who only want to hear the old stuff are satisfied, and people who are hardcore fans, who want to be the first to hear the new stuff, will hear that too. I always try to give people more than they expect, and try and put a spectacle together that will match the entertainment value of any other band.
Your latest shows have included a strong visual element—does that make the way you play the music different?
More than anything the visual element is to augment the experience of the music. I don’t change the music to suit the visuals—the music is paramount. I have a responsibility to pack in as much entertainment as I can, tickets are expensive, and people pay money… I really want to overachieve and over-deliver on the show—the visuals are there to provide an additional component.
How involved are you with planning the light show—is there a delicate process of matching the music with the visuals?
All the content I either suggested or came up with or endorsed. The type of light show I really don’t care about is like meaningless graphics that just flash around, like wallpaper. Visual content for me has to be sympathetic to the music, a lot of it is crafted especially—it’s almost like coming up with an hour-and-a-half music video.
You have said you called yourself Shadow because you thought a music producer should be in the shadows… Did The Outsider mark a new departure from that point of view?
The Outsider was a deliberate departure. I wanted to do something different from The Private Press and Endtroducing—I reserve the right to do so at any time. I didn’t want to be stuck in anybody’s preconceived box about what I do and represent. But I think when people see this record [The Less You Know The Better], they’ll see I’m back to my normal mode. I think people will like it. But I don’t mean to say they shouldn’t like the previous one. The previous one represents me entirely in the same way that this one does, but I was deliberately breaking some of my own rules.
So do the two versions of yourself come together in the new record?
What it comes down to is a bunch of faders on a mixboard. On this one I’ll have the faders at this setting, on that one I had it at the other setting.
You are going to be playing at Blitz, a venue many big name Japanese bands use to finish their tours. Is this night going to have an end-of-tour feel to it?
To be honest, it’s the end of that run but not the end of the tour. But I’m just happy to be back in Japan. It’s been three years, so believe me I’ll be more than excited and up for the show. I’m happy to be able to bring the whole sphere, because on the other Asia dates I’m not. It was me and my manager saying, “You know, we’ve got to give Japan the full show,” and hopefully that speaks of the high regard I have for the audience there.
Akasaka Blitz, Oct 6 (listing).