"Wish Peak" allows Davies' songs to speak for themselves
Matthew Davies might be among the hardest working men in Milwaukee show business. He's certainly among the most well-traveled.
Starting out performing while living in London, Davies has performed across Europe and the U.S. and as you're reading this interview about Davies' latest solo CD, "Wish Peak," the singer and songwriter is on the road in the south and Midwest with his band Thriftones.
Recorded simply, the 10 songs on "Wish Peak" speak for themselves, thanks to direct, unadorned arrangements that capture Davies' style, which follows the tradition of the great folk-influenced singer/songwriters from Dylan down through Neil Young and right up to today.
We got a chance to ask Davies about his experiences on the road, the sometimes frustrating moments creating "Wish Peak" and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Why don't you introduce yourself. You're in a band calledThriftones, right?
Matthew Davies: I started playing out in public when I was studying art in London. It was an easy place to play open mics because I knew I'd be pretty anonymous. When I moved back to Wisconsin I started playing the local open mic scene and took a job at the Potbelly's down by Grand Avenue Mall.
These were all solo efforts, but I did start a duo with Ryan Douglas, the artist who designed the CD. That was called the Sneaky Band. It was more experimental sound with an electric guitar and Ryan on percussion. We traveled and lived in his old RV for a while playing in national parks and the occasional pub out west in California and Arizona. We continue to get
together for music when we can, but he's living north of San Fran now.
Last tour we did as the Sneaky Band was L.A. to Milwaukee a couple years ago. The drive from Manhattan, Kan., to Lincoln, Neb., on that tour was the worst snowstorm I've ever traveled through.
Thriftones formed almost two years ago, but I've continued to book myself as a solo performer when I get the chance. Still enjoy busking when the the weather is nice and playing open mics on occasion. I'm constantly trying to figure out what it is that makes one guy and a couple instruments on stage an engaging experience. There is some footage of Neil Young on the BBC in the '70s. That's mesmerizing. There's Bob Dylan's solo performances from the '60s. Greg Brown can hold your attention. I've seen a couple of Peter Mulvey's solo gigs and he can keep an audience with him. John Prine. I guess I embrace that challenge. I hope there are still folks out there willing to give the solo act a chance.
OMC: So, why the solo record now? Is it material that wouldn't really work with the band?
MD: I think some of the songs on "Wish Peak" can be Thriftone-d. Some already have been. One of them was a song I introduced to the band; we arranged it as a rocker and when I went to the attic to record all the parts for "Wish Peak," it changed considerably. I guess that's one reason for the solo effort. Working with the band is a collaborative thing. I've got a sound I want to get across, but if one of the guys changes the path, we go with it. Things they come up with are from their musical experiences. We all listen to a lot of music. We share a lot of favorites, but we also learn about new music from each other. If it sounds good and nobody is totally against it, we explore the possibilities.
I wanted to record these songs in my "voice." Conceding that it limits the songs to the ideas I have, but also gives me the opportunity to understand more parts of the song. In turn, I think this enriches the solo performance because I can hear that stuff going on when I'm on stage. It helps me surround myself in the song. I've been recording stuff like this for a while. I released "Black Phone Mouthpiece" last year. That was done in a similar fashion but on to a cassette tape. Kinda hissy and grainy.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the songs...
MD: A few of these tunes have been in my performances for a couple years and several are quite new. I'm not sure how to describe them. It's all stuff I've seen or heard about or experienced. "Nature's Baptism," for example: I was supposed to be baptized when I was 13 or 11. Anyway, that's what happened on that Sunday. I was sitting in a pew and before they called me up I just got up and left. Walked down to the Fox River in Waukesha and sat there. Nothing against anybody's beliefs, it just didn't make sense to me. "Addicts Lament" is about anybody who's ever longed for something they had and can't get back. "Let Her Know" (is a ) straight up love song. I was playing two weeks of shows in Holland and walking around alone at night in new shoes that hurt my feet. I've been held at knifepoint in Amsterdam, I bet a lot of people have. I will say that nature – rivers, trees, snow, etc. – plays a role in a lot of my songwriting. That's a good Wisconsinite for ya.
OMC: I guess it makes total sense that a guy in The Thriftones would make a low-budget record at home. Were you planning on releasing the tracks all along or did you record them with the intention of using them more as demos?
MD: I went into the recording with the intention of releasing this collection of songs as a solo record. It is low-budget and I'm not sure if the songs benefit from that or are crippled by it?
OMC: I hear you had some issues with power cords and lost tracks. Did working on the edge like that add a dash of excitement to the project? Or maybe more a dash of disappointment?
MD: I was working with the equipment that I had at the time. A lot of the tracks were recorded with the microphone on the actual recording device. That's why I'd lose some material here and there. I'd have to move the mic from the bass amp to the drums or visa versa and a few times I'd forget to save the mix and when the cord got pulled the recorder would shut off and erase everything.
It was terribly frustrating the first time, but I only lost a couple tracks. After it happened again, with a nearly finished mix, I took measures to avoid it happening again. The whole exercise for me was about the song. I've never had the mind to go down the pro audio road. I really enjoy working with people who have nice recording gear and know what to do with it, but I am more focused on the song structure. There are a lot of parts of my life that are very structured and by the book. I think the smash and grab recording technique is just a ying to that yang. Like I said, it's about the song for me.
OMC: Will you be doing any gigs to support the record or are you back on duty with the band now?
MD: I'll be on a tour without the band Dec. 11-20, playing Chicago, Memphis, Cullman (Alabama), New Orleans, Nashville, Indianapolis, Lafayette (Indiana) and Champaign. I hope to sharpen up the program for the CD release show at Linneman's on Jan. 11 of next year. The Linneman's show will be just me, a guitar and maybe a harmonica or two. That show will be the most accurate representation of the songs. More so than the CD. It's the fleeting honesty of the live show that I feel is my most important work.
The songs will have to speak for themselves.
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