For a little wisp of a thing she has a powerful voice and a strong percussive style on guitar that is a bit Shawn Colvin and a bit KT Tunstall. Davidson also uses a digital looper and beatboxing to round out her sound but, according to this interview, she is about to strap drums to her feet for added flavor.
I met Davidson for the first time when she opened for the sold-out Robert Earl Keen show at Off Broadway back in March. We spoke while REK played, but it was pretty loud and, as with any Keen show, shenanigans were in full swing. I was very interested in picking up our conversation in this interview as she prepares to play LouFest on September 8 in Forest Park.
Kevin Edwards: We actually met at the sold-out Robert Earl Keen show at Off Broadway last March, and after your great set you and I stood back by the bar and listened and talked a while.
Andrea Davidson: I remember! And I don't know if I emailed you about it but we really enjoyed the review.
Well, thank you, it was a fun show. When we spoke in March you told me about winning the Tipperary Song of Peace Award for your song "Natchez Trace," and it's such a great song and a great honor, but I didn't get to write much about it in the review since Mr. Keen was the focus, but now the focus is you. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little about the song and the experience.
Absolutely. Well, the song stems from a time in my life when I was essentially getting hired to play bars where they were OK with me playing my music but they wanted me to also play songs that people knew, cover songs, where people could have their drinks and kick back and relax and enjoy the show and sing along. I was feeling pretty unattracted to that and I was really wanting to do what I'm doing now, you know, making a living playing my own stuff.
And so I just essentially took a hiatus from everything that I was doing. And I had been booking myself anywhere from 3 to 10 times per week, just playing, playing, playing and most of the time in Louisville. So I have a really great friend who lives outside of New Orleans and she's a singer songwriter and I just took the Natchez Trace. I drove it all the way down; it starts just west of Nashville and it goes all the way down to just outside of New Orleans.
I didn't know that.
And it's really cool because you can't drive trucks on it, there's no semis allowed, you can't drive more than 45 or 50 miles per hour.
It's amazing! It's like driving in a park but you're not driving in a circle, you're getting somewhere else.
So I just took that trail and really took my time on it and that's when the song started to be written. And when I met up with me friend we just continued the excursion and drove all over the Southeast and ended up in Coco Beach, Florida where I have family and we stayed there.
It was just a writing excursion. The point was, "All right, if I'm going to make a living by playing my own songs then I'm going to have to really start focusing on writing. And there is nothing that inspires me more than being on the road, being in new places and seeing new faces. That's a very creative energy for me.
So that's where the song came from, and I guess it was about a year later I heard about the competition for the Song of Peace Award. But I had no recording of the song, I'd just been playing it live for about six or eight months, and the deadline for the competition was in 48 hours, I had only 48 hours to submit the song.
So I found this really awesome local guy who got me in the studio and we laid down some rough demo versions and we literally got it to the post office, the one that was open latest in Louisville, at like 7:55 p.m.
(Laughing) Nothing like cutting it close.
It was awesome! And then we got the notification that I had made the top 10, and when you make the top 10 you have to fund yourself to get to over there to Ireland for the actual competition. So I started a Kickstarter campaign because I didn't have the money.
And all the wonderful people in my life that believe in me and support me and what I'm doing helped again and funded me and an amazing fiddle player to go over there. And so we did, we went over there. And they loved it. And we won!
Yeah, it really is a world-class thing, and I'm glad we got to share that story because writing really is the core or the heart of what you do. I mean, songwriting is important for a band but for a solo performing artist, or at least one that performs in a stripped-down mode, the song is the thing.
I have also read that you have said you have had an explosive summer in terms of songwriting and that you didn't even need fireworks this year for your Fourth of July…
…because you were fairly exploding with new material. You've just told us some about your songwriting process: it seems as though it can be road driven and comes from new places and experiences, but is it generally more contemplative or more of an epiphany?
I'll tell you what, the process seems to be an evolutionary thing and it's not any one thing or another.
Initially, I thought I needed to travel and be out in nature, I realized this summer that regimenting and structuring time to focus on writing really works well for me. So basically what happened was, half of June and half of July, I'd been gone and out on the road, but when I got home I got my hands on this thing called a Fender Stratocaster…(laughing)
Oh yeah, I have one! I love them!
Oh you do? Yeah, man, I mean, God, I've always played acoustic, it's just always been my thing, but I got my hands on this electric guitar and I started playing and writing on that and it's just totally broken everything open for me. I started experimenting with different tunings, I had always played in standard tuning, and I just decided to mess around.
Because you know when you get out of standard tuning, it's kind of like starting over, finding the chord structures.
And so it can be a little bit intimidating, but instead of looking at it as something I can't do, I'm going to embrace it as this part of the journey, part of the discovery, and it just busted everything open for me. The combination of the sound and tone I'm getting with this Strat, and a friend of mine made this thing, this piece of styrofoam and felt that I put under the bridge and it's like a muter. Plus I have this delay pedal and I'm getting this sweet, choppy, rich, delayed, sort of muted sound, and it works really well for rhythm playing.
That is one of the things I pointed out about your set with REK; you just have a rock-steady rhythm hand so I can only imagine what the new equipment and style sounds like. And alternate tunings really are very cool as I think they kind of force you into noodle mode. And you find things that you never, ever would have found in standard tuning.
Oh I agree with you, and it sounds like you've done your experimenting too.
Well, I haven't taken it as far as Joni Mitchell with her 43, if that's even mathematically possible, tunings.
Yeah, but in a way, I'm really looking up to her. It doesn't have to be anything that anyone says it is. It can be my own experience. And be my own discovery. I don't have to Google tunings, I don't have to go sit in a lesson or go to college; I just simply have to have the frame of mind that I love to create. I know I can create, I know I've been given the gift to create, so I'm just going to sit down and explore and not put that pressure on myself for it to be or turn out a certain way but rather just explore the experience.
Open chord tunings can be pretty fun too.
Absolutely. And when I got home this last time from the road I had all these songs sitting in Dropbox and in preparation for LouFest, I'm taking these new songs out and diving into them and figuring out how to work them and turn them into something fresh, something that can work in a live show, you know?
I've also read that you released an EP this year, "Inspirit," and it is receiving really good reviews including my own personal stamp of approval. With this flush of writing and new guitar sounds, are you planning any other releases in the near future?
I'm definitely planning more releases soon. There's a lot of stuff just sitting and waiting for me to get into the studio and get it done.
I am releasing a single soon, "Come Over," that was written with a guy named Shannon Sanders, who has done a lot of amazing things, and we had a great energy. I haven't written a lot with other people, but the experience I had with him made me think that I should probably do it more often.
I think it infuses a little something different, brings in a different angle that has to be good for the creative process.
I really think you're right, and a lot of my life I've spent that time by myself and it's been kind of a sacred, solitary thing for me, but now it's evolving, it's all changing and growing. The environment I need has changed. I always thought you had to be alone. Now some of the songwriting I've done with other people makes me realize that's not necessarily the case.
I just need to be open. I need to be open to whatever the creativity is offering me, not to say any more that it has to be this or it has to be that.
Right…that seems right to me.
So, yes, there will be more releases and the single will be played at LouFest, and the song will either be available for download then or soon after.
You've been on the road a lot this summer and are still playing a lot of dates with Robert Earl Keen; he keeps coming back to the Andrea Davidson well and I can certainly see why. It was a pretty rowdy crowd at Off Broadway the night I first heard you and you handled it very well. You're kind of a blossom among the sagebrush with all the boys in the band, and you seem to get along great, almost a brother and sister kind of vibe.
I'm telling you, man, these guys…I keep trying to tell people but I'm not sure it comes across…but as talented as these guys are as musicians, and they are incredible, the way they play, especially as a unit…they're like an aspen grove. They look like they're separate trees but underneath, you know, the roots are all connected. And it just feels so amazing.
But as amazing as they are in the realm of musicianship, just who they are as people is what is just really amazing to me. They have just scooped me up and taken me in and I have learned so much.
I guess we've done about 50 shows together, starting last fall, so it's been about a year that I've known them. And there have been shows where I've had a guitar pickup go out or I've broken a string and they just come to the rescue. I mean they just take care of me and they teach me.
I think you had a problem with your guitar the night I saw you, and right away you were delivered another guitar by someone in the band.
(Laughing) I know! We had a tour where Robert sold out the State Room in Salt Lake City two nights in a row, and so we were in one place for 48 hours which is a big deal. So we had a free day and that day I got together with Bill Whitbeck, who plays bass, and we wrote a song and then later on that day I got together with Tom Van Schaik who showed me some stuff on the drums.
I need to learn. I love to learn. And I don't need to be in a school environment to do that, I can create that for myself everywhere I go, if I choose to, and these guys are teachers. I look up to them. Every time I watch their show I learn something different.
They never do a show the same and that's what blows me away. They've been playing together so long but nothing is ever the same. You know, the set list is always different, what Robert has to say is always completely off the cuff, fresh and funny. He's as much a comedian as a songwriter and musician.
When I saw your performance those months back you were playing alone but I see that you used a host of musicians to help with the new release. Will you be playing LouFest solo or with a band?
I am so stoked about the setup for LouFest. Initially we were going to do the full band but for whatever reason it just wasn't working out, the guitar player couldn't do it, the bass player couldn't do it, and I was on tour when I found out they couldn't and that gave us less than four weeks to pull it together.
But there is this woman, Leora Nosko, who is in the band and she plays keyboard and sings and now we are going to do LouFest as a duo. But the cool thing is that she has the capability to splice sounds on her keyboard. So, she's going to be taking care of the bass with her left hand and then she can do padding and organ stuff all in one song.
I have also taken up a new thing that I'm very excited to tell you about. I like to play the drums a little bit. I don't play a lot but I can hold down a groove, you know? So now, in addition to the loop pedal, which adds a nice percussive thing to some of the songs, I've got a bass drum and a snare drum, and I had someone build me a wooden holder for the snare. So now I have a pedal and can play the snare with my left foot and the bass drum with my right foot all while I'm playing guitar.
I've seen performers do that on Beale Street in Memphis, and it is incredible to watch.
Isn't that cool? And it's working very well, not to do with every song, but it's like another textural thing, like adding a harmonica on a song, it adds a really nice texture. And this is something I have never done before anyone so we're busting that out for the first time at LouFest.
Did you play many festivals this summer?
Honestly, just one, we mostly played venues all summer. But I played the RiverRoots Festival this spring and it's just fantastic. Not only because it's a festival and springtime and it gets people together to share music, but that's the town where I grew up. I got to see a lot of people and reconnected with people I haven't seen in a long time and there was a lot of love and support there. I love that place.
Now I thought I read that you were from Louisville, Kentucky.
I was born in Louisville and I was raised in Madison, Indiana.
I see, but are you calling Louisville home again?
Yes, I have a place in Louisville that I reside in, but it feels like about half the time, you know? And I love it that way. I love the balance and I never thought I'd say this but I love the balance of going out, playing shows, being on the move, not being in one place more than a day or so and then that balance of coming home and just grounding out.
It's a perfect balance for me. I couldn't do just one or the other. I believe my sanity comes in the balance between the two.
Wow, this has gone quickly, but I just have this little thing I like to do if you'll play along. I have some last questions that I'd like just one word answers to. Here we go. What is your favorite holiday?
International Women's Day.
That's a new one. What is the color of your eyes?
See how easy this is?
Yeah…so easy (laughing).
Next. In order to control the people around you, do you employ fear or respect?
Okay. What do insomniac sheep count when they can't sleep?
(Laughing) That's a good question. Wolves?
How did you spend your years from 17 to 20?
What room of your home do you tend to gravitate to?
The room I call my Creation Station, where all my write my essay music stuff is set up.
That would be John Lennon.
OK and as our final question: What is the coolest thing you can buy for $600,000?
What? $600,000? I've never contemplated having $600,000! Wow. Umm.
Time is almost up! Ding!
The answer I was looking for was submarine. Don't worry; no one ever gets it right.
(Singing) The Yellow Submarine…the Yellow Submarine!
Okay, enough of my silly torture. Thank you, Andrea, this has been fun and you've been very easy to talk with.
Any last words?
Yeah, I'm just looking to blow up LouFest and really hope I see you there.
Andrea Davidson will be very busy, with all appendages employed for your entertainment, at LouFest on September 8. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest 2013.