STUDIO SPACE: DREW DAVIS
(Interviewer: Scott Sumner, SS Editor for SPACES)
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Drew Davis has been performing live since she was 11 years old and began writing music when she was six years old. Now, at just 23, she has developed her talents to become an incredible singer-songwriter. Throughout her career, fans have compared her talent to the likes of Eva Cassidy, Patty Griffin, Fiona Apple, Sara Barielles and Brandi Carlile. At the early age of 14, Drew was the youngest musician ever to play the National Women’s Music Festival. She released her first full-length album when she was only 11 years old, and she currently has two albums available on iTunes and other online mediums, 2008’s Traffic and 2012’s Old, Old Heart. Throughout the years, Drew has played shows at several reputable venues all across in country in musical cities such as Los Angeles, Nashville, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta and many more. Her music has also been featured on numerous TV shows and films. Some network placements include MTV, Showtime, Bravo TV and many others. Currently, Drew lives in Austin where she plays around Central Texas on a weekly basis and tours several times throughout the year. Because Drew is still so young, it’s hard to say the direction her music will take in the future. What is not hard to predict, however, is the success and recognition her music is sure to achieve if placed into the right hands.
For a preview of Drew’s upcoming album, here is an acoustic, pre-mixed/mastered version of her song, “Settle Down.” Listen now!
For more, check out “Bottle of Sin” on SoundCloud!
Talking Music and the Restless Vintage Soul
Scott: You are a native of Columbus, Ohio, the capital city that musical talents such as Phil Ochs, Dwight Yoakam, Joe Walsh, Nancy Wilson and numerous others have called home. One of your songs, “Ohio,” speaks to the bittersweet act of leaving a familiar place, the struggle in “finding oneself,” and the mixed emotion of returning home and leaving again. Share with us a bit about your Ohio roots and how growing up there resonates in your music.
Drew: Right to the personal stuff – I like your style!
What else can I say about my time in Ohio other than I was in hurry to grow up and made a lot of mistakes. I was restless and unfocused – I was so desperate to be sure of who I was, but had no idea who I wanted to become. Needless to say I acquired a lot of songwriting material from my days in Ohio and the reflection period that followed.
The first album, which was recorded the summer before I moved away, right after I turned 18 years old, essentially embodied retellings of experiences the way I wanted to see them. For the second album, I took on a bit more accountability. “Ohio” was a really important song for me to write. It was my third year of college, and I was enduring the nine-hour drive from Athens, Georgia back to Columbus for Thanksgiving. A nine-hour drive alone can provide a lot of reflection time – for better or worse. I remember suddenly feeling overwhelmed with memories of the person I was and having a revelation that, even though I had developed and matured, I was still that same person and couldn’t write off all of my past experiences as negative. Instead, I needed to embrace everything that made me the person I was at that moment in time and consider all previous moments as stepping stools for growth and as learning experiences. I started to sing in my car out of nowhere and wrote “Ohio” in the time it took me to get from Cincinnati to Columbus, no paper or pen handy. The line “I painted myself a whole new person in hopes of coming off as young, but there ain’t no escape from this old, old heart and the things that it’s already done” really summarizes the kind of catharsis I needed and felt while writing that song, which is why I decided to name the second album “Old, Old Heart.”
Scott: How old were you when you first took a serious interest in music? Who are a few of your musical heroes?
Drew: Even though it might sound ridiculous, I first took a serious interest in music back in preschool. My mom would always harmonize with CDs in the car, and I started to copy her as soon as I could speak. I started writing songs non-stop at the age of six and even had enough material that I was proud of to record and release my first full-length album when I was 11-years-old. It was called Lil’ Bit of Everything. Talk about childhood embarrassment. Of course, I keep that CD tucked in the very back of my closet and hardly mention it, but listening back I’m actually not completely embarrassed by every song – which still amazes me. There’s a song on that CD titled “Enigma” that I wrote in fifth grade. I mean, really… what 10-year-old is writing songs about enigma? Looking back now I must have been a pretty weird kid. My initial interest in writing songs and wanting to be an artist at such a young age really is an enigma to me. It might sound cheesy, but I guess the only way to explain it is that music is just one of those things that was always meant to be part of my life.
As far as musical heroes, I could list about a million – both well-known and completely unknown artists. But since this article probably has a word limit, I’ll narrow it down to one. Patty Griffin is by far who I idolize most. She is such an amazing storyteller. Not only is she a phenomenal songwriter and musician, but she also serves as a role model for me in the industry. She is a songwriter first and foremost, which is what I aim to be. I remember watching her live at The Palace Theater in Columbus. Everyone around me was sitting on the edge of their seat, and the sold-out room was so quiet that I literally heard someone sneeze from up on the balcony. The whole concert felt as if she was reading aloud a story, and everyone listening knew that every word would be just as important as the last.
Scott: You’ve released two albums thus far, 2008’s Traffic and 2012’s Old, Old Heart — both very much displaying your versatility as an artist. There’s the playful pop of “Blue Eyes” (Traffic) and the bluesy “Bottle of Sin” (Old, Old Heart). Jazz and R&B shines through on “I’d Be So Kind” (Traffic), yet you’re also right at home with those songs in which you find yourself more exposed musically. The pensive, personal trio of “The BS Song,” “My Bruises” (Traffic) and “No Law” (Old, Old Heart) all stand out to me. Talk about some of the ways in which you are inspired to write such a wide range of songs. Relating to process, does more of your material begin lyrically, conceptually, or melodically?
Drew: I try to develop my songwriting craft every day. I have no real method, except that I never write down or record anything because I always figure if I can’t remember it, then who else is going to. I write the lyrics and melody at the same time, almost always while I’m at the piano. The song can develop from either a chord progression that I start randomly singing over or an emotion that I feel strongly about getting out in a song. I usually get it all out in one sitting. For example, I was just in Minneapolis laying down the tracks for the newest album, and my hotel was about a 30-minute train ride from the studio. While I was waiting for the train, I got this concept of “I knew he would,” something us ladies often think to ourselves after things have gone sour. I thought about the concept on the train, and when I got into the studio, I sat down at the piano for about five minutes, came up with chords, and recorded the song right then and there. And that’s how the majority of my songs are written – minus the train. Because I am always so focused on expressing myself lyrically and because I am so used to being a solo artist, a lot of my songs often project different styles because I am rarely ever thinking about what they are going to sound like with a full backing band. I don’t have an arrangement-type brain. That’s why I do feel at home with those performance pieces. They typically don’t need anything else than what I have to offer, and everything that you’re hearing is all me. That’s not to say I don’t love those full band songs equally. Having a band, especially for live shows, can certainly be a lot more fun and more dynamic. But I like to have whoever plays with me, whether it’s inside the studio, on a stage or in my living room, have a creative say in the shaping of the song’s arrangement. That’s probably why a lot of the songs sound so different from a stylistic standpoint. Recently, I have been working on developing who I really see myself as an artist, digging into the music I love to listen to and incorporating creative feedback from various producers. I am hoping this new sound will translate on the new album.
Scott: You spent a few years in Athens, Georgia as a college student and you’re now based out of Austin, Texas. How did the Athens experience help hone your skills as a performer? How has it been finding a place for your talent in the Austin music scene?
Drew: When I first arrived to Athens, I had just finished up my first sponsored full-length album (not counting “Lil’ Bit of Everything,” of course), and I should have been ready to really dive into music and promote the CD. But, like I mentioned earlier, my priorities were all mixed up. I wanted to focus on what I thought it meant to be a college student. The first two years I spent in Athens were a great time, but a complete wash as far as music was concerned. Towards the end of college, I slowly started to refocus on the reasons I moved to the musical mecca of Athens in the first place. But, my Athens identity was already misplaced and confused. Not to mention, during my time in Athens, the music scene was really dominated by jam bands and electronic music. Finding a place as a singer-songwriter in a town where the majority of people wanted to booze, dance and even wave the occasional glow stick in the air seemed like an impossible task that was too intimidating for me. I made a little bit of splash on the scene by the time I graduated, but not enough to really identify myself as an Athens musician. When I moved to Austin in July of 2012, I made a promise to myself to really pursue my passion and embrace being a musician. Because my heart and my head have really been all in, I have had some amazing musical things happen this past year. I love living in Austin – it is such an amazing city, but I think my new outlook and my new commitment to truly being a musician have really allowed me to have no regrets since moving here. All of the positive things that have happened this past year have made me a true believer that if you stop simply wanting something and actually go for it, the universe will lead you in the right direction to get where you need to be.
Scott: A few of your songs have been placed and featured in the mediums of film and television — certainly a compliment to your abilities as a communicative writer and performer. How did this success come to be?
Drew: My success with music placements can all be attributed to MySpace. Just kidding, but not really. Back in high school, when MySpace was a legitimate thing, I received a message in my music page’s inbox from a woman who worked for a licensing agency called “inthegroovemusic.” I had three original songs posted online that I had recorded in my living room with my amazingly talented friend Jim Zartman, and “inthegroovemusic” had taken a particular liking to a song I wrote titled “I Swear It.” They asked for the master recordings of the songs to put in their database of songs they licensed to clients because they thought my songs would be a great fit for TV. I was ecstatic, to say the least. I asked Jim to send over the songs, but he had recently purchased a new laptop and lost the master recordings we had laid down a few years prior. To my surprise, “inthegroovemusic” offered to fly me (and my mother since I was under 18-years-old at the time) out to Minneapolis, where they’re based, to re-record the three songs I had up online. We picked a long weekend in July of 2008, and, to their surprise, we finished recording those three songs the first night I got there. Not sure what to do with the rest of the time they had allocated for me, they asked if I had anymore material. I spent the rest of the weekend laying down as many songs as I could, and a 10-song album was released about four months later. The placements followed shortly after the release. I am lucky enough to have had nine out of the 10 songs on the album utilized somewhere and many songs from my second album, placed as well. “inthegroovemusic” is an amazing musical entity. They have always had my best interest at heart and have served as a beacon of trust, reliability, and respect in a sometimes-shady industry. Most importantly, I still own all of the rights to my music, which is essential to me. Thanks to them, I have had many songs used on Showtime, MTV, Bravo and more. We are now working on our third album together.
Scott: Compare and contrast the recording processes of your albums. How do you feel you have developed musically and what can your listeners expect from your upcoming release?
Drew: The album is in the very initial stages, but I am hoping for a November or December release. The basic process for all three albums has essentially been the same. I fly out to Minneapolis to lay down piano and vocals for a few days, and then unbelievably talented studio musicians play on top of the tracks. We go back-and-forth via email, trying out different ideas with each song until both parties are satisfied. Sometimes we’re more in sync with some songs than others, but the end result always brings the songs to where I want them to be.
I have really tried to develop more of a style for this new album. I am trying to direct the arrangements towards more of a soulful, vintage route. The songwriting aspect has always been important to me, but, for this album, I am attempting to look at the whole picture and capture something more organic with each song. Listeners should look out for lots of organ, old school electric piano sounds, soulful vocal performances and maybe even some upright bass. Soul is at the root of my love for music, and this album is bringing it back to the roots. I can’t wait to share it with all of you.
Scott: What can we expect from a touring standpoint and what goals have you set for yourself as your move forward from here?
Drew: I am itching to tour as much as possible this year and in the years to come. I recently just came back from my first real “tour,” and I have never felt more musical love and encouragement. I essentially put the entire thing together myself, and I felt so empowered knowing that I could do something like that after so many people told me I needed a manager or a booking agent. I also work a marketing job here in Austin that I adore, so I try to book long weekend tours or just a few weeks at a time. My next plan for departure is at the end of September. I will be playing in Nashville, Columbus and Chicago, and just recently confirmed that I will be recording a DayTrotter session while I’m out there, which I am unbelievably thrilled about. As far as goals go, I’ve decided to keep these honest and simple in order to hang on to my sanity. My goals are to stay true to myself and to remember why I love music. To never have music feel like a chore or become something I resent. To always try to believe in myself no matter how much pursuing music can seem hopeless or like all of the odds are stacked against me. And to always be proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and remind myself how truly lucky I am to have so many wonderful people supporting me and rooting me on. If I can achieve all of these goals, then I think I can achieve happiness – which is all any of us should ever really strive for anyways.
Scott: What is an album you wouldn’t want to live without?
Drew: There are two albums I can’t live without. Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker” and Al Green’s “The Definitive Greatest Hits.” “Heartbreaker” for those days you just want to stay in bed and let the world cave in on you for a while. And “The Definitive Greatest Hits” for those days you want to get up and dance and show everyone what you’re made of. In my opinion, both kinds of days are equally important.
Scott: Tell us about a time when music particularly moved you.
Drew: Music is always moving me – it’s so hard to pinpoint any particular moment. However, one moment I can recall that music moved me was when I found out my mother had cancer. We are extremely close, and it’s probably no surprise that I was devastated. I cried a little bit when she first told me, but it wasn’t until I got into my car that I really started letting the tears drop. I turned on the radio to distract myself, and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was playing. How cliché, I thought. But the more I listened in that moment, the more I felt like the world, in fact, was not coming to an end. I know John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t write “Let It Be” about that one time my mother was diagnosed with cancer, but it sure as hell felt that way. That’s when I really understood what great songs are made of. A songwriter can be inspired by whatever they want and write a song however they want to. But when a song’s meaning becomes so personalized to each listener that the intention of the author doesn’t even really matter anymore – that’s when the song becomes great – when the song transcends interpretation and becomes a universal anthem for whatever emotion it may evoke.
My favorite compliment I’ve ever received still might be from when I was playing a show in Austin and played a song I wrote about my brother, his addiction to drugs and his path towards becoming clean. The song is called “Absence” and tells the story of how he still had the drugs in the back of his mind, despite the fact that they were out of his system. We became less close for a period of time because I felt like he was so distracted from relationships with the people he loved due to his focus on a relationship that didn’t technically exist anymore. After the show was over, a woman came up to me and told me that that same song made her cry because it reminded her of her dog she just had to put to sleep. That wasn’t the story I had in mind when I wrote the song, but I was honored to have been able to evoke that kind of emotion from someone. We felt the same sense of grief, even though our stories were completely different, and that really moved me.
Scott: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Drew: I think I’ve probably blabbered enough by now! Thank you again for such wonderful and thoughtful questions!
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