Where does group success stop and individual merit begin? How do you compromise on musical vision without losing a bit of yourself in the process? Is such a thing even possible? These questions seem especially insightful when directed at someone like Nathan Vincent Duvall (Duvall), a creator who’s had to consciously choose between major success as part of Disciples and making waves as a producer in his own right. This is his story, and it’s definitely one worth telling.
Duvall wasn’t as much into music as a young South London-born lad, even though he was around it every minute of the day. With a mum in music PR and a dad in national radio, it was hard not to get swept along with the tide though, especially when his dad became a radio programmer for the first black radio station in England: Choice FM, now known as Capital Xtra. Though hard to imagine in today’s musical landscape, this radio station was so new that when someone called in to request a song they didn’t have, they’d have to run ‘round the corner to the nearest record store, buy it and bring it back before the commercials had finished. Most pre-teens in the U.K. would have made their first pennies frolicking about on a paper route back then, but this actually was Duvall’s first job at the age of 9.
It was a bit later at Reigate college in Surrey that Duvall first fell in love with the art of music production, through a course called Music Technology. He remade his favorite hip-hop and R&B records from the likes of Donnell Jones and Nelly, got sucked into all things house music through college friend Gavin Koolmon and happily clung to everything from the early Daft Punk to Deadmau5 to Franky Knuckles and Kerr Chandler.
“Everything about house music was cool to me”, Duvall reminisces. “The choppy vocal samples, the jacking drums and especially the bass! I loved it all. I still loved hip-hop, R&B and pop as well though, and so I asked myself if there was a way to fuse it all together? I realized that I needed to learn how to write actual songs with actual lyrics that made people feel something, so I left college and went on a path of my own.”
Duvall wrote and produced for artists like Little Mix, Omi and Snoop Dogg, honing his craft through writing camps in Sweden and the United States where he had to write, produce, record and demo mix two songs a day. Though it felt good having success as a producer for other people, he wasn’t fully satisfied. The inner artist stirred, and the thought of forming his own band soon drowned out all other voices.
“I went back to my college friend Gavin, and we formed a group with Luke Mac. We called ourselves Disciples and would sit in my studio in Shoreditch, East London for hours. We talked about music, played old-school Dr. Dre and Natedog records, Hot Natured records, progressive house records, pop records, old funk records, anything. It was mayhem! Disciples took over my life from 2012 to present day. We toured the world, made songs with Calvin Harris and David Guetta, won a VMA award, got nominated for two BRIT Awards, played on Jimmy Fallon Live in New York, you name it. It was crazy! We had something special, and we still do. But still, I didn’t feel complete, and I knew I’d never feel that way until I’d go and start doing my own thing. I needed to make my own rules, to create my own environment where both winning and failing would be no one’s doing but my own.”
And so we fast-forward to the year of 2021. By signing with Armada Music, Duvall has chosen creative freedom. His influences perfectly describe the way he bounces around production, artistry and performances: Diplo because of his can-do attitude, Pharrell Williams because of his ability to reinvent himself and the artists he works with, Calvin Harris because of his service to electronic and Quincy Jones for seeing something special in MJ, nurturing his talent and making timeless music. It’s in here that we find the artist Duvall wants to be, as well as his dream of combining his love for hip-hop, R&B and pop with the house sound that made his eyes light up so many years ago.
“I needed a label who understood that and not only see me for my success with Disciples, but my potential as a producer and artist in my own right. Armada Music was the first label that didn’t bullshit; they saw the vision and allowed me the freedom to do what I do best. We spoke about more than just dance music, because the scope is so much bigger. It’s worldwide and it’s genre-less. To us both, it’s just about great fucking music.”