I caught up with Davis Mallory to talk about Pride, passion, and music.
You’ve written that your introduction to songwriting was learning to topline when in Chicago. Could you explain what toplining is?
Toplining is when you’re given instrumental music, and you come up with vocal melodies and lyrics to create a song over the track. You’d be amazed how everyone’s minds work differently to come up with melodies and lyrics to fit the same piece of instrumental music. At times, it can be a bit of a competition in this industry to secure ‘the cut’ — or the final song — on the instrumental, when many different songwriters are each writing over the same shared instrumental.
Toplining is the way I write 90 percent of my music now — I’m provided a finished or sometimes partially finished instrumental, then I come up with verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge lyrics and melodies to fit the track.
The opposite way would be to sit down with a guitar or piano and write a song from scratch, building the different musical pieces and lyrics at the same time — which I’ve also done plenty of times.
What makes a great musical collaboration?
A great songwriting collaboration works when two people enjoy each others’ melodies and lyrical ideas. There are times I’ve been in co-writes where I just didn’t like either the lyrics or melodies from my counterpart. A good duet-type musical collaboration with a producer or vocalist comes from being on the same page as far as what the song is supposed to be about, and appreciating what each other brings to the project.
I’m super-skilled at songwriting, but not at production — so, I like to work with talented producers from around the world and give them some direction to build music around my songs. Vice-versa, I sometimes will choose from their selection of instrumentals and write on the one I’m most inspired by.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I routinely write music about what I am feeling at that moment in time. If I’m heartbroken, distraught, depressed, or sad, then that’s what’s coming out in song. If I’m happy, excited, or looking for love, then that’s what’s coming out in a song. It’s been my way of dealing with my emotions at a subconscious level.
I have a few things I want to write about at the moment. This week I was at a concert and I started crying in the show — I began writing song lyrics in my phone. I always have instrumentals that I need to write on, and I often listen to them in the car, while on a plane, or while working — I sing my ideas over them and record them into my phone, then record the professional song later on.
This is my creative process for the most part, unless I’m in a schedule co-write. I have scheduled writing sessions with other songwriters in Nashville nearly five days a week. This week for instance, I have one Tuesday-Friday and I use Mondays to record professional vocals on the song I wrote the week prior.
I keep a list of songwriting ideas in my phone whenever I come up with something I want to write about.
Who are some of your music heroes or inspirations?
I grew up heavily influenced by Michael Jackson — his music is my favourite music. When Prince died, I dug into his catalogue and listened to literally every song he wrote and released — as a result, I feel that I’m greatly influenced by his creative writing style.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and the radio stations in my town were either Christian, Country, Pop, or Urban. All four categories influence my music. I sang in my church choir, and am still a strong Christian, and try to release music with a Christian message at times throughout my career. My uncle managed Christian artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, and my other uncle is a songwriter who wrote songs for these artists and others in Nashville.
I love Outkast, TLC, Missy Elliot, Usher, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. I’ve written songs where I’m rapping. In my newer music, I’ve been experimenting with faster rhythms and rapping in the verses and bridges in juxtaposition with myself singing the chorus.
Elvis Presley and George Michael are influences — I get compared to George Michael’s voice about every damn week. I like to think Elvis and my names sound similar, and I love that he’s been a crossover artist in both Country and Pop — I’d like to have success in both genres.
I’m also a product of 90s pop music — Max Martin, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys all were my childhood role models. I love the music by today’s generation of male pop icons such as Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth, and Nick Jonas. As well as the queer artists like Adam Lambert, Elton John, Ricky Martin, Troye Sivan, and Sam Smith who have helped open doors for myself to be an openly gay artist in today’s music industry.
I’m also a DJ, and really admire Calvin Harris and Disclosure, since they both sing and DJ.
You’re performing at a series of Pride events across Europe this summer. What does Pride mean to you?
I’ll be singing at Europride in Stockholm, Sweden on 1 August, Amsterdam Pride at Prik Amsterdam on 4 August, and Prague Pride on 6 August. In June, I Deejay-ed and sang three songs at Milwaukee Pride, and also sang at Nashville Pride.
The word Proud in and of itself has actually a negative connotation biblically — one shouldn’t be too proud or boastful — but within the world of the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ rights, the word to me means being proud of the fact that you’re gay and not ashamed of it. As a society, for so many centuries gay people were made to feel that having an attraction to the same sex was sinful and something to hide or to cure. Pride in that sense is meant to be a celebration and an acceptance of all sexualities. I don’t feel that two men or two women who love each other is at all sinful.
Does Pride still matter?
I think Pride is as important today as it’s ever been — I still meet men and women on a constant basis who aren’t out of the closet to their friends and family. I live in Nashville, Tennessee — the Bible Belt, the South. It’s very common to not be out to friends at work or to your family members here, and that saddens me.
I came out at 21-years-old in college, and was cast on MTV’s The Real World that same year. I came out to the world. I never feel the need to come out to people anymore, since I assume they know I am gay. However, I still do sometimes have to tell people who don’t know that I’m gay, but it’s so much easier for me.
I think Pride is a vehicle to show people that being gay is okay, and that there’s a community to support them through the process. It’s a fun month to celebrate your sexual identity.
What are some of your goals and objectives for the remainder of 2018?
Some goals include a feature song with a bigger name DJ, and collaborations with other artists as duets. I’m working on a collaboration with a legendary artist who is one of my childhood heroes and also from Georgia, where I was born and raised.
I want to get out on the road and tour more. I’m about to film three music videos with some high-profile film directors. One video is by Emmy-winning film director Josh Shreve, he currently has two movies on Netflix — Chasing Ghosts and Talon Falls. That’s for my song Downtown with Russian DJ Deekey. The other video will be Directed by C.J. Arellano, who I met at Out Web Film Festival as we both had Official Selections in the festival. Our video is going to be part animation, part reality, for my song Origami. The last video is directed by the director of Nashville’s Studio Tenn Theatre company, Benji Kern — he’s casting and writing the story for me.
I also have a lot of music coming out as a featured singer with different DJs from around the world. My new single, Sun and Moon, just released this summer. I wrote in in Malmo, Sweden — it’s a love story about my last boyfriend.
The remix by Indian DJ Basspatch just made it into the Top 25 playlist by EDM website Dancing Astronaut.
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Beach Boys in the Buff
I caught up with artist Marc DeBauch to look at his series of work titled Beach Boys.
When did you discover and start to explore your passion for art?
I started drawing and painting when I was three years old. Before I was five, I remember creating a crayon drawing of the Sinking of the Titanic on the rough plaster of the living-room wall of my parents’ house. It was impossible to remove — my parents weren’t happy with me, but after that they provided me with enough art materials to pursue my creative interests without destroying their home.
When did you start specialising in painting naked men and creating erotic art?
It was 36 years ago when I started painting male nudes and selling them in a local gay book store. Then, in 1995, I entered two paintings in the Tom of Finland Foundation’s Emerging Erotic Artists Contest. I was won first place, which opened the door for my art career, as I was immediately approached by galleries and magazines that wanted to feature my art.
This gave me the confidence and notoriety to exhibit and sell my work at erotic art fairs and gay events. At that time, the internet was just emerging, so my friend Andrew created a website for me, which was a fantastic tool to get my art out to people around the world.
You’ve written that Tom of Finland is one of the major influences on your work — when did you first encounter the work of Tom of Finland?
I remember seeing Tom of Finland’s art in a porno magazine my friend had in high school. I was just amazed at the sexual tension, outrageous anatomy, and attention to detail in Tom’s art.
This was back in the early 1970s, so gay porn was just emerging legally in magazines and films. At the time, I wasn’t talented enough to draw the human figure accurately. But, I was fascinated enough to want to try. My sister’s boyfriend was a photographer, and he gave me his dark room equipment — back then you actually had to develop film, as there were no digital cameras.
I talked a friend into posing naked for me while jacking off, and I developed the film and made some prints. I was 14 years old, photographing another 14-year-old boy. It was very exciting creating my own porn! Unfortunately, my dad — being supportive of my art — wanted to see the photos, and of course I couldn’t show him. Not only did he not approve of gays, he didn’t want his son to be gay. He would have probably hit me if he knew I was a homosexual creating gay porn! So, I destroyed the photos almost in front of him, while saying — “The photos didn’t turn out and I would show him better work at another time.”
I was scared and freaked out. I knew I was self-censoring. But I also realised that if I was going to create erotic art that I would have to do it in secret. When Tom of Finland began drawing naked men, he also had to make his art in secret. I think most erotic artists learn to be very careful about choosing the right audience to exhibit their work to.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from people I know. I’ve been fortunate to see and meet many beautiful men in my life. Capturing their beauty and illustrating them in a unique way, is my goal.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process is different every time I paint. Sometimes an idea for a painting just pops in my head and I try to find model to pose for a photo to match my vision — that’s often the easiest route.
I rarely work from a live model. My paintings take so long to create — I often work all night on a painting — so, finding a model to sit for that long of a period and whenever I want them, is impossible. I use the photos of my models as reference.
Often, I look through hundreds of images and piece things together in a collage. It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle — lots of pieces missing, and my mind fills in those missing pieces with an arm from this model, the chest from another, the dick from another, the face from another, and so on, until I have the entire figure. But then I have to decide how the light and setting will pull all of those puzzle pieces together.
I have dozens of photos that are my references for every detail of plants, animals, rocks, furnishings. I sort through a constant mess of photos — gradually eliminating those references as my brain digests the information and my brush puts it on the canvas or paper.
The paintings that form the Beach Boys series are beautiful — what are some of the challenges in creating beach scenes like this?
Trying to find a balance between the setting and the model is always a challenge. I don’t want the model to overpower the beach, or the beach to feel more important than the model. I want my paintings to have a natural feeling, like you could be at the beach with my models.
Who are the men featured in the paintings of the Beach Boys series?
The men in my Beach Boy series are mostly friends that have modelled for me. Sometimes I find a photograph of a model that someone else has taken, that inspires me to use it as a reference pose to work from, then I find one of the photos of a beach that I’ve visited and I try to recreate a similar pose in a drawing that will eventually become a painting.
What do you hope that people feel when they look at your work?
I don’t want to just give the viewer of my art an erection, I want them to feel like they’re part of the painting, that they want to invite the men in my paintings into their homes, their beds, their dungeon, their car, their locker room, or the bushes for a hot fuck, butt licking, cock sucking, ass spanking good time.
I hope to excite the viewer visually, emotionally as well as spiritually. It’s my goal as an artist and sexually active gay man to paint erotica that continually challenges the views of people who oppose sexual freedom. If my paintings assist the viewer in discovering where they are in the spectrum of human sexuality, then my aim is reaching its target.
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