Jeff Montalvo – better known by his alias, Seven Lions – continues to dominate the electronic music world with his eclectic tracks and captivating performances. Hailing from Santa Barbara, CA, the 29-year old producer and DJ has played at Ultra Music Festival, SXSW, Electronic Daisy Carnival Las Vegas and more, continually building a name for himself as one of the most impressive performers and artists in the music world right now.
He’s in the midst of traveling North America on his latest tour, aptly titled The Journey (see upcoming stops on his website here). We had an opportunity to chat with Jeff before one of his two shows at The Fox Theatre in Oakland, CA to dive into the roots of his career, hear about the current tour and his latest EP, “Creation” (give it a listen on Soundcloud), as well as learn what his future plans may be.
Tell us about your origin, coming from a small town just north of Los Angeles.
Well I grew up in Lompoc, an even smaller town. I went away to college, then moved to Santa Barbara after. I guess that’s when the music thing started taking off in Santa Barbara. My first paid gig was in Isla Vista for $200 at some winter party.
I had played a few [frat parties] before too, but the frat parties I had played before were so long ago that house music wasn’t a thing. We went to a frat party and played and the people said “no, we don’t like house music.” They pulled out our CDJs and put on top forty and we were like “ok, right on.” It was a long time ago.
Do you think Santa Barbara has had a big effect on your music creation as a whole?
No, because we were always traveling. We’d go to LA for raves and stuff, so I don’t think so. Santa Barbara was always a place to go relax and be myself and do my own thing. It’s not really about music for me there. It’s more about friends.
You [and your wife] just moved to Seattle, correct?
Yeah, I love it. It’s awesome. I wish we were there more often. We’re about 25 minutes northeast of the city.
Tell me more about your post-tour ritual once you get back home.
If we’re really lazy, there’s this place that has what I call “shitty chicken.” It’s my favorite. Any place that has questionable meat, whether it’s legit or not, I like the really dirty, gross places. And I just get Asian food, teriyaki chicken. It’s my shit. She [my wife] hates it, so she gets Thai food.
This new tour has a theme – can you elaborate around where it came from?
For this tour I wanted to go do stuff and take advantage of the fact that we’re driving across the country. So we’re trying to go see a bunch of cool places, cool tours. It’s been fun so far – we did the Redwoods, we did Crater Lake, we’re going to Santa Cruz in the next few days to do some hiking.
Santa Cruz is rad. It’s nice to step away from the city too, I bet.
Definitely. I mean, cities kind of end up looking the same after awhile, so its nice to get out for sure. I think we’re going to stop at Joshua Tree after LA too.
What stops on the tour are you looking forward to?
I think Seattle was probably the one I was really most excited for, because it was the biggest room and we ended up doing really well. I think that’s the biggest room for the whole tour – it was 5,500 people or something, and we’re not playing any rooms that size, so that was kind of like the crescendo and now we’re just kinda chillin’. But I mean, The Palladium is going to be sick for sure, and New York.
Do you get tied of touring all the time?
Yeah, I definitely do, but it’s just part of it, you know. I would regret it if I didn’t give it 100%. Later on, if I decided to take a month off or a year off, I would look back and be like “why the f**k did I do that?” So, you know, I’m really just taking it all and doing as much as I physically, possibly can.
Do you think this will be your best tour thus far?
I mean, I hope there will always be more and more crazy s**t down the road, but this is definitely the coolest thing we’ve done by far, just because it’s our own production. I’ve spent a lot of time with our visual guy and tweaking the show, making sure it’s perfect, so yeah. It’ll be hard to beat for sure, because I don’t know the next time we’re going to do production. It’s a lot. This whole tour, it’s so much to put together, and so many people working on it, it’s pretty insane. So I know we’ll probably do another one again, but probably not for awhile. It’ll be a minute. I think we’ll just do some festivals next year and chill.
Tell me about the inspiration behind your new EP, Creation. Is there a relation between its title and the name of the tour?
Yeah, kind of. The Journey was a track on Creation, so it’s tied together in that way for sure. But other than that, its just kind of a collection of songs that were more experimental and less crowd pleasers. You know, “Leaving Earth” is something I’ll never play live, but I really liked writing it. Very experimental track. Even “Coming Home” was so left field because it’s almost indie pop in a way and I knew people were going to be like “what the f**k?”. But I just wanted to do it, and I’m pretty proud of the EP as a whole.
So with that experimental angle, do you see yourself pushing more into those genres in the future, or going back to creating tracks that you’d play live?
I think the next EP is going to be straight down the middle, what you would expect in a Seven Lions EP. It’s not going to be as left field for sure, because I’ve been working on new songs for awhile and getting ready for the tour. I wanted to make songs that were, I guess, not what people would expect, but more along the lines of what I’ve done before. Like, really basic.
How was the dynamic and creative process in producing your new collaboration with Said The Sky and Illenium?
I had the track that I had been working on with Hallien for awhile, and then it kind of went off in a weird direction that I wasn’t feeling. I thought, “I need to refresh this,” so I hit them up and was like, “I have this track, it’s kind of halfway done, are you down to work on it?” So they worked on it, sent it back to me, and we sent it back and forth a few times and finished it up.
Do you guys ever get in the studio together and work?
No, it’s all email. All of my collabs have been that way, because I don’t really feel like I work well in the studio with anybody. I like to sit down and just really get into it. I don’t like to talk or anything like that.
Who do you look up to as mentors or inspirations? People you keep in mind?
I’d say Above and Beyond are always in the back of my head, like “What would Above and Beyond do?”, you know? Those guys are amazing.
Who would be your dream tour partner?
Probably them, for sure. Just because their shows are so special and I would love to be a part of that. I’d like to tour with Xilent and Said the Sky… those are some other acts that are cool.
What’s been your favorite festival you’ve played thus far?
Probably EDC, just because I used to go to EDC. When we play EDC, we’ll go in the crowd and chill. I like EDC a lot.
Do you get a lot of attention when you’re out in the crowd?
Not at night! And I usually just go to the techno stage, and people who listen to techno are too cool to care anyways, so it works out well. And at night, if I put my hair back or put a beanie on, especially now that I wear glasses, people won’t notice me.