Having spent the first, and largest, chapter of his musical career so far as one third of popular D&B trio Dexcell, Dave Emba Wilson should be no stranger to any fan of drum & bass music’s more soulful, musical and liquid side.
Rolling solo since mid 2020, when Dexcell went their separate ways, he’s spent much of the weirdest and most challenging years we’ve had on record in one the most prolific and inspired creative states he’s ever experienced.
Encouraged into such a mindset by friend and Spearhead label boss Steve BCee, Emba tunes were free-flowing like hand sanitiser at the time. Breaking through with substantial vocal collaborations such as the DRS-led Move Steady, the Paper Dragons-featured State Of Flow and the Tempza-fronted All Our Years, he caught a wave and rapidly amassed a body of work that captures a moment in time we can all relate to… And a personal period in Emba’s life that he will never ever forget.
Out last week, Emba’s self-titled debut solo album features a litany of vocalists and collaborators such as BCee himself, L.I.T.A, Ad-Apt, Lucy Kitchen and Catching Cairo. Less of a new chapter in his career and more of a whole new book, we called up Emba to find out where he’s at.
Let’s get the big Dexcell question out of the way…
Yeah everyone has gone their own way and doing their own thing now. We had been going for over ten years and felt like it was time, It’s one of those things. We’re all doing our own thing which is good and terrifying at the same time. It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m wearing it a bit better than I used to. With Dexcell, even at the shows I wouldn’t always play. Not on a diva one, but I always preferred being in the crowd, vibing with their reaction and feeding back on what’s good and what’s not good.
Oh like a secret millionaire thing? No one in the crowd even knew a Dexcell was rubbing shoulders with them?
Yeah a bit like that minus the millions haha! I used to make and DJ garage, I loved mixing back then. Since going solo and having to come up with sets myself, finding new music and having complete creative control it’s been a new inspiration for me. With Dexcell there were three different minds, three different tastes, the sets weren’t always quite coherent. But now I’ve got the buzz for it again. I’m very happy. BCee is a big part in making this happen and empowering me with this.
Big up Steve! So this is a very different beast. This is you becoming a solo artist and finding out about yourself.
Exactly that! Super excited to see where we can take it!
You mentioned garage. Is your old alias known?
Not really to be honest, I had a few bits out on vinyl but it was very early into my music production life. I made tunes with Ed Case back in the day which was fun. I still sometimes make it now under the name Distant Light.
You’ve got a very musical sound and style that I can imagine lends itself to UKG…
I do love the harder stuff! I love a blend of dark and light. But when I sit down to make music the first thing I do is open a piano. That’s where I get ideas from. I can’t play it very well but I can play enough to get something rolling. I just love the sound and vibe of it. There’s nothing better than driving along in the country, the suns out, blasting liquid tunes. Vibes.
Yeah! Do you living the country or have a particularly scenic set-up?
Some of the most popular tunes I’ve made have been in a really scenic set-up, yeah! I used to make tunes in my brother in law’s loft room. He had these Velux windows that had such a great view. The vibe worked with the atmosphere and the view. It inspired a really great state of mind and that’s how all my best tunes have come about. Being in that state of mind.
Do you play any other instruments besides a little piano tinker?
I can play a few chords on the guitar. I learnt a little off my other brother in law Inigma. Enough to come up with ideas. I got an upright piano in my lounge which I love. I was only allowed to buy it because I became a dad a year ago and me and my wife talked about what instrument our daughter should learn. She suggested piano and I’ve always wanted one so that was the green light. Haha.
Nice! I love the pianos on All Our Years actually. How did that track come about?
Mike Tempza messaged me asking for some emotional pianos to write to. I’d had a little bit of wine and said, ‘Sure thing mate’ so jumped on computer opened a piano vst and started playing around. I sent him a 16 bar loop of just piano. The next morning he sent me the full vocal and it was like, ‘Wow okay here we go!’ We had that tune wrapped up so quickly! So that’s when I’m probably best on the piano. After a few glasses of wine. Haha
Ha! Was that the first Emba track?
Nah that was Galaxy with Philippa Hannah and BCee. Steve sent me stems for a collab. It actually had different vocals on it and I wrote the melody to those vocals but then we took them out and Philippa came on later and she smashed it so it ended up being a very different tune. But then I got the DRS tune – Move Steady – done and Steve was like, ‘This has to be the one’. So that was the first release, but Galaxy was the first tune I completed. Steve smashed it with the vocalists I have to say!
Surely you got a strong contact book of great singers who you’ve worked with in the past?
It’s a tough one. Emba is a bit of an unknown gamble to a vocalist. With Dexcell I’d worked with so many great vocalists but I didn’t want to call in massive favours. Steve told me to get ideas down and he sent them out to vocalists. He knows how quickly I work. I work based on momentum – if I don’t work for a while I’ll easily take the day off but if I’ve got a deadline, and things are happening, then I’m on it. They say give a task to a busy person don’t they?
I can relate to that! So the name Emba… Is it like rising from the ashes of Dexcell?
Haha. It didn’t come from that. It was actually the first thing that popped into my head when thinking about a name for this project. Then I had that thought myself and thought people are definitely going to think that is the meaning. I just liked the sound of it and the first idea is usually the best idea. Why overthink things?
Nice. So at what point did you know you were working on a full album?
March 2020 was the first Emba single. I had new music out every month for all of 2020 and most of 2021. There was no thought on how it came together as a body of work, it just happened that I’d made so much music in that time. Some of the singles have been out for a while but I really like the fact that it captures that moment in time.
It was a mad moment in time!
It’s down to Steve again. He suggested I prove a point of what you can do in dark times. I’d gone through what was effectively a divorce with Dexcell, I’d moved house, it was lockdown, I’d just become a dad and through all of that I still managed to get a body of work together.
I love that! What a transitional time and go through! Do you have any Emba shows coming up?
There’s a few exciting things in the pipeline but I can’t say just yet! But you can catch me at Hospitality In The Woods on the Spearhead Records stage. Looking forward to seeing everyone in the dance!
You can’t beat the real life connection can you?
That’s right. I had one guy come up to me at E1, at my first ever solo Emba show, walk straight up the DJ booth and tell me how my tune State Of Flow saved his life.
Never had anything like that in my life. I love that. It creates the bridge between listening on Spotify and actual people. Shows are the bridge between people aren’t they? Making that real life connection with people who support your music is really important. So yeah I always look forward to getting out there and getting involved.
It makes all those studio hours worthwhile!
Totally. Although I do love those hours I spend in there! I have to find a balance – I work a day job and I want to spend time with my family so it can get difficult.
Yes! Becoming a dad stops you overthinking and gets you cracking on!
It does. I can’t spend too much time playing around and tweaking stuff. I have to make quick decisions and own it. As long as the vibe right!
It’s all about the vibe!
Definitely. You never know what you’re going to do when you sit down unless you’re in a particular frame of mind or working on a particular project. I love most genres and styles so I never know what’s going to come out. Okay so it’s likely to be liquid, but some days I’ll sit down and make disgusting bass noises even though I may never use them. Completely depends on how I’m feeling at the time. You do have to catch a vibe, you’re right.
Will you be catching more vibes?
Well I had a good load of music done and ready then I became a father so I took a break for a while. I’ve got loads in the pipeline including a single with Bcee and Charlotte Haining, a new collab with Tempza and loads of backing tracks out with vocalists, so that should keep me busy. In the meantime, it’s all about the album…