Behind the scenes, Chris Dave’s name is held in high regard by many in the music industry. He has recorded with artists like Beyoncé, Adele and Lupe Fiasco, so it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. But Dave, who is a drummer, says he’s earned more satisfaction from his wide range of experiences than any praise.
“I always liked playing all kinds of music instead of just one style,” he said. “The struggle was always people labeling you and expecting certain things from you, so I was always trying to push the boundaries of that as a drummer and a musician.”
Chris Dave first gravitated to the drumset as a child growing up attending his church in Houston, as a way to get involved and to please his parents without having to sing in the choir.
He began his professional career when he linked with the R&B group Mint Condition in 1993. He climbed his way through the ranks while earning a number of impressive credits with big-name artists in every genre.
Now, however, Chris Dave’s name is appearing at the forefront rather than in the credits, thanks to his group called Chris Dave and the Drumhedz. The collective released their first mixtape in 2013, and in January, they released their self-titled debut album.
“I had gotten tired of people asking us to put groups together at the last minute for festivals and other things we were doing,” he said. “We were always playing together outside of our work with artists, so it was more like a family type of situation. We always wanted to play together, so the best excuse was just to make it a group.”
The album includes a wide range of sonic styles, weaving between fast-paced, funk-influenced cuts and slower, more soulful songs like “Spread Her Wings.” Unsurprisingly, there’s a laundry list of impressive features from artists like SiR, Bilal and Goapele, as well as Anderson .Paak features on “Black Hole” and “Clear View.”
“I’ve known [.Paak] since his name was Breezy [Lovejoy],” he said. “I was out in L.A. and we met at one of the clubs where he was playing drums, he told me he was a fan and we just connected. We’ve been cool ever since that day.”
In today’s era, it’s no big deal for artists to jump between sounds and styles the way the Drumhedz do on their album, but during the beginning stages of Dave’s career, those diverse skills often went underappreciated. Cliques within genres were entrenched in the musical landscape, and mingling between them was somewhat of a challenge, often drawing questioning looks rather than widespread acceptance.
“Everybody was so in their groups; jazz peers hung out with jazz peers, so if you weren’t in that zone, you wouldn’t know when and where they were hanging out,” he said. “Same with hip-hop, same with the blues cats, same with gospel. There were always a few of us that would run into each other at different spots, and it’d be like, ‘Why are you at this reggae club, you’re a gospel singer! Are you even allowed to be in here?’”
At many points, the drummer found himself moving in a different direction than what those around him were expecting and suggesting. Instead, he trusted his core instincts and interests rather than following the standard path, and if his illustrious career thus far is any indication, he’s been wise to do so.
“I’d be telling them, ‘Hey, I’m going to go play with Kenny Garrett,’ and they’re looking at me like, ‘You just got off tour with Janet Jackson! Why would you go play with some jazz dude?’” he said with a laugh. “Man, if you can’t play jazz on the drums, you can’t play sh-t.”