26-year-old Santa Barbara based artist Jeff Montalvo, better known as Seven Lions, began producing electronically as a way to satiate his ceaseless drive to create music.
Following his love of Above and Beyond and vocalist Zoë Johnston, he downloaded the parts to their “You Got To Go” single and entered the song’s remix competition roughly two weeks away from its deadline, using a copy of Fruity Loops given to him by a friend.
To Montalvo’s surprise, the remix was chosen as the top entry in the contest, launching him into the life-changing career of an in demand touring DJ and producer with recent stops at major festivals like SXSW, UMF and EDC NY.
Several of his productions (including the OWSLA released self titled EP) have topped itunes and beatport charts, with the help of his signature blend of fantasy driven melodies, wall-shaking low-end and old-school metal influences.
First off, how did you get into the metal scene? Was there a lot of it in Santa Barbara?
I was into punk because my older brother was into it and I just wanted something a little heavier. I was into surfing and bodyboarding back in the day and I saw this video with White Zombie in it, so I looked them up as well as Prong and all those bands and really discovered it that way. White Zombie’s Astro Creep: 2000 was one of the first albums I really got into.
Were there any electronic records you’d listened to before you started producing?
Not really, honestly. Somebody gave me Fruity Loops and I was just like, ‘Woah this is really cool.’ I liked the idea of being able to do it on my own. Later on I got into industrial and went back to Fruity Loops and was like, ‘Ya, I could actually make something I like.’
So when did you start actively trying to define yourself as an artist?
That’s tough to think about because I never really tried to push my music on other people in that way. I guess when I started doing trance. It was just a hobby, like, ‘I should try to get this to a label and see what happens.’
Now that you’ve developed as an artist have you ever thought about working with some of your favorite metal bands, like enlisting Opeth for a feature?
That would be amazing but I haven’t heard too much metal and electronic music go well together. I don’t know what it is. The metal I like is really old school and just really fucking ‘metal’, so I don’t want to mess with it to be honest.
How do you approach production when you’re first starting up a track?
Usually I always think of a melody. A lot of the time I’ll be in the other room doing something completely different and I’ll get something in my head and run to the computer and get it down. And then I’ll think about which tempo it would work better at or where I want to go with it.
Who are some of your favorite vocalists?
I like vocalists where once you hear them you really know who it is right away, like Imogen Heap or Zoe Johnston.
Is that what attracted you to that Above and Beyond competition, aside from the fact that you’re a huge fan of their work?
Yeah, I just wanted to have her acapella. I actually had no intention of finishing the competition when I first started.
What was your reaction after finding out you had won and the explosion that followed?
I was just surprised and thankful. I couldn’t believe it honestly, that they would pick a dubstep song. It was just crazy. It happened right when dubstep was really exploding, so it worked out perfectly.
Hmm I didn’t really make that connection. That’s probably one of my favorite albums of all time — Black Water Park and Still Life. Yeah, I can totally see that. This is the kind of art I like, so I’m not surprised I’d choose something that looks like this.
Can you give us a summary of “Latro In the Mist” [the source of the name “Seven Lions”]?
Yeah, It’s about a greek soldier who gets hit in the head in battle and loses his memory at the end of every day as a result, so he starts writing everything down on this scroll and basically you’re reading his memories from the day before. Also after getting hit in the head he can suddenly interact with the gods. So it’s kind of like this Odyssey journey where he’s wandering around seeing these gods nobody else can see and it’s about him trying to find what happened to him and who he is.
How did you decide to choose that character as opposed to one in any other book you might read?
There were so many cool names in that book. That one just stuck out to me. I liked the ring of it.
Are you pretty deep into the fantasy world?
Yeah, I read a lot of the stuff by that author, Gene Wolfe. I was way into “Wheel of Time” back in the day. And more recently I started reading “Game of Thrones”. I’ve watched the whole series but now I’m re-reading it.
Do you do any sort of gaming?
I used to. I played Oblivion, Morrowind, Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege — all that stuff. I even played World of Warcraft, but it’s been about three years since I’ve played anything.
So back to music, how did you get connected with Minnesota for this new track?
We had mutual friends from going to festivals and being part of the same burning man-ish community. That whole West Coast bass music festival scene. He would play all those shows when I was an attendee.
With your metal background did you ever watch Metalocalypse?
Hell yeah. The first two seasons for sure. There were so many random things, like they go to a grocery store called “Finntrolls”. That’s awesome.
Are you working on a new EP or thinking about an album anytime soon?
Probably not an album but an EP, two singles, a remix and a collaboration are all kind of finished and waiting on the final touches to be released.
Has it been interesting seeing all these crazy fans jumping on your work seconds after you put it on soundcloud or ripping your stuff to youtube?
It’s tough because I’m really honored and stoked because at the end of the day they like what I’m doing and just want to show it to their friends. I’m really thankful for that.
Then again it means I can’t play the new stuff out because I know as soon as I do it’ll wind up on youtube. And I really want to play these new songs live at least. But as soon as I do, I might have well just handed it out.
Besides the metal bands you’ve listed before, what else do you listen to in your downtime?
I like Storm Corrosion. They’re a little more ambient. Porcupine Tree isn’t metal and they’re really good. I listen to a lot of acoustic music like Erik Mongrain and Michael Hedges. I also like old school progressive — mostly just certain songs — Reflekt’s “Need to Feel Loved (Adam K and Soha Remix)” is one of my favorites.
I was trying to think of other artists doing a similar fantasy influenced electronic music and I couldn’t think of any…
Not in electronic music but definitely in metal. And that’s kind of what I want to do. I want to bridge the gap and make more themed stuff.
I’m working on a really dark satanic occult themed single right now and I want it to be a reoccurring thing. We’re gonna call it “Gathering Darkness”. The new single would be part one.
You look at any black metal band and it’s so deeply rooted in satanism and just dark stuff. And there’s nothing even close to that in electronic music. I feel like making that kind of world would be really interesting. I’m not sure how it would go over, but I definitely want to go in that direction.
How often would these singles be released?
I’ll probably do one about every six months but I’ll be doing the fantasy thing as well. The next EP will be similar to Days to Come in its art direction and style.
When you first started producing, how did you learn to make everything sound good enough to play out and have it released?
I went to school for sound, so that definitely helped. I don’t think anybody needs to do that though. A lot of the stuff I learned, you could find on forums or youtube.
You just have to learn how to compress and what compression means, how to EQ and all the different types of synthesis. You can teach yourself all that stuff.
Also, you have to do it over and over. Even if you technically know the basics of EQ-ing or what compression does, you have to do it a hundred million times before you’re actually doing it proper. It takes a while to train your ear for sure.
Any advice for kids who are just starting out with production?
I’d just say experiment and do you what you feel like doing — even if you don’t show people the music you’re making. I can’t tell you the amount of songs I’ve made when I was starting out that nobody’s ever heard.
Just doing music for the sake of doing music is therapeutic and awesome. It kept me sane through a lot of crazy times. If you want to do music you should just do it. Don’t worry about other people at all.