In the last 12 months, Jeff Montalvo has come to define, and effectively transcend, the term “up-and-coming producer.” Under his Gene Wolfe inspired alias, Seven Lions, Montalvo made waves when his rework of “You’ve Got to Go,” which fused elements of dubstep and trance, won Above & Beyond’s remix contest last winter—and those waves have since turned into tsunamis.
Introduced to the Beatport charts when his breakthrough effort took the number two spot, Seven Lions’ name has yet to leave them. His debut EP, “Polarize,” reached the top three overall, his remix of Tritonal’s “Still With Me” enjoyed an extended stint at the top, and his remixes for Velvetine, Paul Van Dyk, and Matrix & Futurebound soon followed.
It was no surprise, then, when Seven Lions’ second batch of originals, the “Days to Come EP,” was picked up by Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint and released to universal acclaim.
What is surprising, however, is Jeff Montalvo. He is not some pompous ass, basking in the glory of success, but a bedroom producer, a soft-spoken homebody, and Into the AM had the chance to sit down with him to discuss his journey and the future of his sound.
Into the AM: Back in July, Porter Robinson claimed that Trance, or “hyper-emotional, goosebump-inducing music,” would be the next major advancement for American dance music. What are your thoughts on his prediction?
Seven Lions: That’s a good question. I hope he’s right because that’s what I like about music: the stuff that really has an emotional impact. Other kinds of dance music, like straight up house or straight up techno, will always have their place, they won’t ever get overrun. But I do think trance will have a big comeback in the near future.
ITAM: Speaking of emotional impact, when you sit down to write a track, what effect do you want it to have on the listener? How do you want to make them feel?
SL: It usually has to do with how I am feeling when I start a song. I’ll set a mood and usually draw from some source of inspiration. Often it is the theme from a movie or a video games or a song that really caught my attention.
From there, I start the whole melody writing process, which is only the beginning. But within the first two days, I will know the direction the track is going to go in. Unless it takes a drastic turn at some point.
ITAM: If someone has just fallen in love with your style, who are three other producers you would recommend they check out?
ITAM: Well throw out someone who isn’t electronic then.
SL: Opeth. They are my favorite band of all time.
ITAM: Perfect. That leads into my next question. Growing up you cut your teeth in the metal scene, playing the drums and the guitar. Have you ever considered putting some of that live instrumentation into your dance tracks?
SL: Yeah, that is kind of the next step. After how the Days to Come EP was received, which came out on OWSLA and explored a bunch of different genres, I have the freedom to go in whatever direction that I want and I want to go toward an acoustic sound. Not exclusively acoustic, but definitely a sound with actual instruments.
I want to go toward an acoustic sound. Not exclusively acoustic, but definitely a sound with actual instruments.
SL: Kind of like that. I don’t want to sacrifice any heaviness though. When trying to do a crazy dance track with live instruments, it is difficult to end up with something that is recorded and mixed well.
For me, the reason I haven’t attempted it before is because I didn’t have access to a nice studio and quality equipment. But with the opportunities I have now, I will be able record instrumentation without detracting from the cohesiveness of my tracks.
ITAM: What would you be doing for a living if you weren’t a producer?
I went to school for sound, so I wanted to do sound design for movies or video games. Then I moved to Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara is awesome. So I stayed there and ended up working as an audio visual technician for corporate events.
ITAM: Sounds like you might have started doing stage production for concerts?
SL: Yeah, maybe. I didn’t like it that much though and I probably would have tried to get out of it. There’s not a lot of industry in Santa Barbara, so my options were limited. Either I stayed there to work a job I didn’t care for or I moved to Los Angeles and tried to break into an industry where I could do sound design.
ITAM: Now that you are about to take the plunge into life as a touring artist, are you apprehensive at all?
SL: A bit. Traveling by myself is still a pain, but I’m getting used to it. It was definitely nerve wracking at first, going to Canada or any different state where I didn’t know anybody.
I’m not a super social person by any means, so this has all been one big journey outside my day to day and a major step outside my comfort zone.
ITAM: Only a year ago, you were still in your bedroom producing tracks for fun. Was there a single moment when you began to see music as a potential career?
SL: As soon as I won the Above & Beyond remix competition. I couldn’t even believe it. I mean, Anjunabeats picking a dubstep song? I didn’t know exactly how life changing it was going to be, but I knew something was going to happen.
ITAM: Now everyone in the trance world wants a piece of you!
SL: Yeah, it’s been crazy. Myon and Shane 54 hit me up about a week after I won and I’ve always been a fan of them. So for that to happen so rapidly, I didn’t really know the scope of it, but I knew I should start focusing more on music.
I still kept my old job for months though. I didn’t just drop everything and go for it.
ITAM: You didn’t pull a Krewella? Get a few tattoos and say fuck the world?
SL: No, I did start growing my hair out though [laughs]
This has all been one big journey outside my day to day and a major step outside my comfort zone.
ITAM: So how does it feel to come full circle, putting out Days to Come for its own official remix competition?
SL: Awesome, its great to see someone else get the same chance that I had. It is totally full circle. I’m excited, since we’ve had a ton of remixes and we’re currently in the process of whittling it down to the best of the best. I think we’ll be announcing a winner on the first of January.
ITAM: Given complete freedom, in what format would you prefer to release your music? An album, EPs, or singles?
SL: I’d love to do an album. I like the whole idea of a cohesive album, you know, when it has a pamphlet and a bunch of detailed art.When you can open it up, and read it, and listen to it, and it feels like a complete package. But I don’t see myself making one any time soon.
With EDM, you’re so expected to put out track after track after track. I feel like if you don’t put something out for a few months, you start to loose steam. Unless you’re Above & Beyond or Deadmau5 or Skrillex.
ITAM: Or Daft Punk?
SL: Yeah, or Daft Punk, totally. Once you’re on that level. But when you’re still making your way, an album just takes too long. It’s unfortunate, since I feel like that takes away from making one cohesive piece of art, but then again – it makes every song its own special thing.
ITAM: Closing out 2012, you have left your mark on almost every major dance genre, became a go-to remixer for EDM’s biggest acts and released two wildly successful EPs. So what’s next for Seven Lions?
SL: I don’t know man. I’m just working on a lot of original stuff and some more remixes.
ITAM: I heard a collaboration with Norin & Rad may be in the works?
SL: Yeah, that’s definitely a possibility. I’ve talked to a few people about doing a collaboration. I’ve got one in the works with Myron & Shane 54 and I’m sure I’ll end up doing something with Tritonal. I love those guys. Infected Mushroom as well.
ITAM: Alright, thanks for your time Jeff. We can’t wait to see where the new year takes you!
SL: Right on man. Thank you.