Posted by Tobias Carroll
Over the last decade or so, John Davis has played in a host of acclaimed bands, ranging from the classically-minded pop of Georgie James to the dynamic post-punk of Q and Not U. His current project, Title Tracks, finds the urgency in blissful hooks; their second album, In Blank, is out now on the Ernest Jenning Record Co. When I first met Davis in the late 90s, it was through his zine Held Like Sound, which covered Dischord Records and Dave Brubeck with equal enthusiasm (and made some unlikely yet welcome musical connections as a result). And that discussion — of writing about music, and where it can lead — is how this particular conversation began.
When I first came into contact with you, it was via Held Like Sound rather than any of the bands you’ve been a member of. Are you still writing?
I haven’t been writing about music for a while now. After many years of fanzine writing and freelance writing for some bigger newspapers magazines, I was pretty burned out. I didn’t really want to have to justify why I liked something. I just wanted to enjoy it. Here and there, in the decade or so since, I’ll write stuff on my blogs about music but I generally haven’t. That said, I intend to start writing again eventually. I’d like to write books down the line, though I think that’s a few years away from happening.
Do you feel that your experience writing about music has had an effect on the songs you’ve written?
Not really. I think the way that you can compare the music writing and the songwriting by saying they both come from the same place, which is a love of music. Songwriting, though, is about creation whereas the music writing was about spreading the word on music I liked. I think the extracurricular activity that most influenced my songwriting lately was the couple of years that I did radio shows on XM and WOXY. That pushed me back towards a mix of punk and newer music, whereas towards the end of Q And Not U and most of Georgie James, I was really focused on 60s and 70s pop and rock music.
Getting focused on the music that I focused on for the radio shows clarified for me what I liked and what I wanted to be doing with songwriting. So, you can hear that all over the upcoming Title Tracks record, In Blank.
What have you been reading lately?
We’re a little over a week into a European tour and I’ve finished a couple things already. I read Final Cut,which is a chronicle of the making of the movie Heaven’s Gate and how the resultant excess and egoism played a major part in bringing down United Artists, a legendary film studio. After that, I read a slight 80s detective novel that I picked up at the thrift store called California Roll. The book cover threatened that it was about to become a “major motion picture” but I don’t think it ever happened. Overall, it was a fun day’s read. Now, I’m onto a somewhat dense biography of Fritz Lang that I’ve owned for ten years and, for some reason, have never read.
Anyway, I’m about 1/4 of the way into it and I like it. I can’t wait to get home and watch all of the movies of his that I haven’t seen yet. Once I finish the Lang bio, I have another sort of hefty tome called Nixonland in store. I imagine that should take me out through the end of the tour.
What are some of the books that have affected you the most over the years?
Books definitely have a big impact on me. My lyrics always are peppered with references to books I’ve read. Really, I often use that as a spark when I’m getting a song started. I’ll think of a book title or something else related and twist it into a lyric and go from there. As for book content, my favorite books run the gamut from 20th century American literature like Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio, Death In The Woods) and John Cheever (Bullet Park, Falconer) to music writing (I’ll read pretty much any book on punk, R&B, jazz, rock, etc.) to detective fiction (Chandler, Himes, Hammett, Pelecanos) to general non-fiction, which is primarily what I’ve been into the past few years. I’m really fascinated by American politics of the 20th century so I read a lot about that.
(Photo credit: Eamonn Aiken)