Diggin' on Nathan Davis
"LIVE @t The Six String Café" - CD Release
Not too close, but still a little personal - By Annette Warner
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He's still alive, and everybody thought he'd be dead at 25.
He's 29 now, and Nathan Davis can be described in no less than a baker's dozen of words. Ask Nathan and his baker's dozen goes something like this: Love, Sick, Bitter, Hurt, Rage, High, Numb, Ache, Remorse, Sorrow, Hope, Disappointment, Apathy. Those words translate from a self-described personal hell into another baker's dozen for the listeners of his incomparable style. Powerful, Poignant, Compelling, Dynamic, Urgent, Creative, Brilliant, Prolific, Emotional, Insightful, Dangerous, Passionate, and Vivid.
To some, you'd have to add 'A**hole' to that list of words. But, you know what? It really doesn't matter if you like him personally. If you are one of those sensitive peeps - if you don't already - you'll learn to hate the fact that you admire his talent. Then again you may end up being controlled by the mere wish to be Nathan Davis before it's all over with - who knows how much therapy you've had. But, in spite of all the negative energy this Memphis-style troubadour seems to thrive on, it purges itself into songwriting brilliance by pen and melody. You can despise him, and still stand at the foot of his stage enslaved by an emotional outpour that lands a little too close to home. That, my friend, makes you a fan of Nathan Davis. Like it or not.
It appears the best time to catch him on his best behavior, is when he's performing and catering to his audience. For many that 'look' into an artist lifestyle is pretty cliché. For Nathan, it's the cold hard truth. He believes he sucks everywhere else in life and this [performing] truly is his priority. Any interaction with Nathan other than that…you are seriously at risk for getting your feelings hurt. The fact that he has a place within himself to blow up is cause to be thankful. Nathan Davis running loose with no muse is the end of the world - guaranteed. In spite of Nate's unique flavor, imagine a darker Paul Simon and Neil Young lyrically with a hangover and less pressure on their testes…more 'Memphian' and mixed with some reflective Joe Cocker at times, vocally. His words are sharp as a knife, anywhere they are laid down. And it's quite possible that the only thing sharper... is the staples attached to the 11 x 17 poster of Nathan, that a drunken fan wanted punched into his own back at a recent gig in Wilmington, NC. His bare back, folks. Yes, it happened. Nathan rose to the occasion with a grin only Nathan Davis can provide at a time like that. Pop!
"You got nothing to lose, when you burn all your bridges away..."
The recording production of this incredible live performance is a superior example of what a good chemistry between artist and producer brings to the table. John Custer, the project's producer, states, "Great artists make great music. That doesn't mean they make great neighbors or fathers or husbands or fishing buddies. The greatest song ever written was written by a fallible human being. Some of us choose roads less traveled, some of us choose roads never traveled. Nathan's been down a lot of roads that people never return from. He doesn't hide it."
And still it may appear to some, that some of the rockiest roads Nathan has chosen have been his favorite roads to date.
AW: It's obvious you experience many motivations for writing your music. But, what touches you the deepest?
ND: I'm fascinated by death. I always have been. What I think about daily isn't really what I write about. I'll have spurts of emotion that hit me hard and jolt my muse, but most of what I read about or study is the darker side of the human condition. Even though my lyrical fodder is dark, it's a different kind of dark. If I wrote about what was in my head all the time, I'd limit my fan-base considerably.
In the true artist way, Nathan has as many mirrors as a Disco Ball...
AW: What makes you cry, Nathan? Come on…give me a sensitive side...
ND: Death and George W. Bush.
AW: (Sigh) What makes you laugh?
ND: Tasteless jokes. Dane Cook. The British band "The Darkness".
...and some of Nathan's mirrors are reflective of every artist's dream ...being a part of the world's big musical canvas, being listened to, and really heard, no matter the numbers...
AW: Describe your favorite audience and venue atmosphere.
ND: Ideally, it's the shows in listening rooms where the focus of the venue isn't the bar, or the pool tables, it's the stage. Some of my favorite shows have been in places where you don't feel like a "buzz salesman". My favorite audience is any audience. Any night I have one is a fortunate one.
"I remember as a kid getting my hands on a Beatles greatest hits
...and would get goose bumps listening to it."
Of all bands to be influenced by (only to end up on the opposite side of the spectrum in style), the Beatles steal that title for being Nathan's start. Most musicians start out fairly similar, having been influenced early in life somehow by someone, whether family or friends or famous musicians, in a way that was positive. For Nathan, rendering such an inexplicable talent didn't begin with playing like Greg Brady, AKA Johnny Bravo, and rocking out in front of the massive family after Sunday dinner. He actually harbored his true fascination as a secret for some time.
AW: What are your earliest memories of realizing you were 'stuck on music'?
ND: When I was young, I wasn't allowed to listen to anything but some country music and gospel. I'd hide my records from my parents and listen to them at night when they would go to sleep. I remember getting my hands on a Beatles Greatest Hits that had "I Saw Her Standing There" on it, and would get goose bumps listening to it. I had always been interested in music, deeply, but didn't really have a focus until that point. I wore that tape out.
"...for once in my life I am working with a producer that I don't hate."
If one can say anything about Nathan's live performances, they record very well. Of course, like any good production's potential - it can be screwed up. Just not with John Custer's name going on the credits. And, according to Custer, as long as Nathan is the artist...it's a win-win. When asked to describe a couple of the most difficult moments in the project's process John replied, "Difficulties in recording only arise when artists' weaknesses appear and have to be camouflaged."
AW: Any weaknesses?
JC: Nathan has no weaknesses, so there were no difficulties. Nathan's performances are untouched and recorded exactly as they were performed. The live disc is a compelling showcase of Nathan's music in its raw state which shows the strength of his songwriting and his vocals and his playing. ...An acoustic, a piano and a vocal... that's balls. The man will play his songs with a six piece band or by himself and they are just as bludgeoning either way.
AW: Nathan, How do you feel about your work with John Custer?
ND: John's just a brilliant man. His vision was the same as mine, and for once in my life I am working with a producer that I don't hate. He lets me be insane when I need to be, and somehow funnels all of my dark emotion into my music, and that's the best thing he could do. Bottom line...none of this would be happening if he hadn't believed in my work, and he deserves just as much credit for it as I do.
AW: Do you have a particular favorite that is included on the project?
ND: 'Long Way Home'. We really whipped that crowd into frenzy during that one....it's usually the ones that the audience get into that are my favorites.
In any situation, Nathan delivers perfect performances and it's just one of the reasons he won't be around long to be jealous of. Whether that means death before or after fame is anyone's guess at this point. But regardless, Nathan Davis is inarguably headed for Memphis with all the means. Davis is a fascinatingly deep and dark, and painfully honest artist, a phenomenally passionate singer, and quite simply, a songwriter's songwriter.
"Tear out my eyes, and give them to a nice guy going blind, just tell him they've forgotten how to cry."
Davis is not just one of those average, bitter dudes with a guitar, bitching about politics and pick-up trucks or the partying all night in spite of their tired-of-toting-gear girlfriends. Nathan ditches the wall in this recording. The entire CD is packed full of some of the most unbridled and talented songwriting imaginable. You can visualize his feet erupting as Nathan's intense vocal desperation rips straight up from toes at the end of one of the most memorable songs on the project: Too Long in the Wasteland. Nathan's weathered and tan vocals share an urgency that equals his burning, percussive guitar work, transporting his audience into the 'Nabyss' known as 'Nathan Davis LIVE at the Six String - Fresh Out The Wasteland.' Another supreme track is Long Way Home. Nathan's memoirs of that songs creation are a bit deep and personal:
"That song is about a few people, one was a girl I dated for a while that I left behind to join a band. Second verse is about a friend of mine, Russell White, that died in a car accident when I was about 15. Third verse is about my friend Marlon...we grew up around the same town under some pretty f**ked up circumstances. We used to deal dope together and I chose to take the music road later on. He chose to stay a hustler."
"All this stuff happened and I have no problem relating back to it because it's part of my history. It isn't who I am now, just where I was then. I'm proud of that, and I'm proud of it because I survived it and I'm still alive and not incarcerated and able to go play shows and be honest about who I am, and Long Way Home to me really lets me do that honestly."
Another favorite track is the 'eyegasm' inducing 'Tear Out My Eyes' [ed. note: 'Blow'] as in "rip out" which if you have any heart at all will tear, as in 'water', up your eyes. Nathan is a bit too comfortable with the idea of offing himself in this one, and I don't like to worry about such things, but it makes me want to hug him and tell him everything is going to be ok. Really!
AW: Cover bands?
ND: Cover bands take themselves too seriously.
ND: Racism pisses me off. Any kind, in any situation.
AW: Are you really as emotionally unbridled as you seem?
ND: Maybe I'm a little emotionally unbridled, but is that a bad thing, really? I can still reign myself in if I need to, but I'm a little notorious for not having a filter between my brain and my mouth. What I say is what I'm probably thinking. If more people were like that they wouldn't get their feelings hurt as often. If you got something to say, spit it. Life's too short to do jumping jacks around somebody's emotions. Let's get it out there on the table and battle it out and get on with it already. I pride myself on honesty and not making any apologies. That's why I don't have regrets. Everything I've done, I have learned something from. Pain inspires me. Death inspires me. A few times happiness has inspired me.
AW: Nate, what are your aspirations for the future as a songwriter? Performing, writing for others, etc?
ND: My aspirations are to keep writing, to broaden my horizons as a songwriter, and to tackle issues that are deeper than the ones I've faced so far. I set no limits - writing for others would be great. I've already got a few in the can that I probably won't record because they don't really fit what I do, so we're already working on that aspect of things. I'd love to collaborate with or write for some other artists.
AW: I've had the extreme pleasure of catching your live performance as well, Nathan, and a lot of personal energy goes into your stage presence, but I know that's not where you live and breathe. Describe a typical day in the life of Nathan Davis off stage.
ND: I get a lot of e-mail, and I always write back to my fans, so that takes a little while. I go walk, usually a couple of miles, I jog too when I feel like it. I make some business calls and drink some more coffee. If I don't have a gig, I usually play my guitar for a while, try to come up with some ideas. I write a lot, so I'm usually on the computer doing that. I go to a lot of shows - usually local bands, and try to hear some new music. Then I boot black tar heroin and pass out in a gutter. Just kidding...or am I?
"Man…I had a damn good time."
AW: If you died tomorrow, what would you want people to remember about you 10 years from now when all the details about Nathan are fuzzy?
ND: I'd want people to remember that I had a damn good time living. I'd want people to remember me for helping other artists I knew that I believed in. I'd want them to remember all the crazy shit I did.
AW: John, do you have some words of 'Custer Wisdom' you'd like to share for those musicians hoping to come anywhere near your expertise in capturing a live performance so flawlessly?
JC: Tips for live recording: Record everything virgin-no comp/limiting, no eq, no gate, no anything. Preserve dynamics. The key when mixing is putting the listener in the room; doing the performance justice, sonically; conveying size and emotion. Usually that can be achieved by recreating the correct room ambiance and using only small amounts of compression to maintain the natural performance dynamics.
AW: Any other parting words?
JC: To be honest, Nathan and I have had a f%#!!ing ball working together. And we've never been at odds in the studio or anywhere else. Maybe because I've spent my whole life surrounded by Yetis and small greys, I just know how artists can be and don't judge them for it, I admire them. The artist drags the truth out into the light of day. Normal people consume and die. So it's not just Nathan, it is all artists - all of us who are told that what we do is "weird." All of us know what it's like. I guess I'm just trying to say - He's this guy who somehow lived through his own private holocaust and wrote damn incredible songs about a lot of it.
AW: How about you Nathan? Any last words? Actually, give me three words….that describe your core.
ND: Hope. Hate. Music.
AW: Get out!
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