Taylor Davis, "Brighter"

We first met the Dallas-based singer and songwriter Taylor Davis almost two years ago exactly, when we reviewed his Motel Songs album. About that release we observed that Davis' "format may be widely utilized, but through innate talent or sheer force of will, he's found a style all his own." That style is more poised and focused on his new album, entitled Brighter. We spoke with Davis about the new album, the challenges of working as a Metroplex musician, and getting his girlfriend to sing.

Tell us about the differing experiences between writing and recording Motel Songs and Brighter.  What lessons did you learn from the first time that you applied to the new record?

I recorded Motel Songs at one studio in Austin with just a few people playing on it. Recording the album was a fairly short process when I was home from short tours during the summer. The producer Mark Addison really taught me a ton about making records during that process. The biggest thing I learned was that less is more. The more times you record a vocal take, the worse it sounds. I really learned to simplify my parts and not to try to get them 100% perfect. After you've tried to get a vocal line just right and re-recorded it ten times, you get really tired and frustrated and the original take usually sounded better.

With Brighter I really new that I wanted a specific sound (even though a lot of the songs sound completely different from each other) and I let go more. A bunch of my friends contributed little and big parts here and there. And we recorded it in about six or so different places. Using minimal gear we made a fun-sounding album that I am very proud of.

You had quite a few other musicians working with you on Brighter.  Did you call them in when you had the idea for, say, a cello part or a banjo, or did they help you decide where those instruments might fit into your songs?

John Pointer is a rad cello player and string arranger in Austin, and I knew he would be able to come in and knock it out. He played a bunch of parts and we stacked them on top of each other so it sounds like a few cellists playing at once. And I wanted to put banjo on "Is It Okay," and I didn't own a banjo yet. I was talking to my girlfriend and she said she had it covered. She made a few random calls and got Noah from Jason Boland's band to come in and do it. She felt so rock and roll for hooking that up. Noah came to the studio and played the part in less than fifteen minutes. I knew I wanted a girl singer for the song "Brighter," so I made my girlfriend do it. She had never done anything like that before, but she sounded great.

How would you describe the Dallas music scene?  Have local outlets and venues been supportive both of your music and the music you enjoy?

Um....no comment...there have been a few people that have always been wonderful to me. Janice from KTCU, Pascale Hall from Opening Bell and a bunch of other people...but I feel like there is a big problem in Dallas. There are a few outlets for bands to get their music out to a bigger audience, but those outlets are completely closed off. A lot of venues and media (press, tv, radio) only talk to you if you are among the thirteen cool bands in Dallas. I am not cool and have never been cool, so they don't return my e-mails.

We found a clip of you playing on something called “Live on Gordon Keith.”  What was the experience like playing on television, and is it something you’ve done before?

In Austin I played on the morning news show a few times. They are really open to including even tiny bands on their news shows. It adds credibility to the city and their shows if they include indie music. The Gordon Keith show happened because a friend of mine had to cancel and he gave them my number. They called me that morning and asked if we could do it. Luckily the guys that were playing with me at the time were great and made it happen. That was my brush with minor TV fame in Dallas and it only happened because someone canceled last minute. Ha Ha (crying inside).

If YouTube is to be believed, the song you performed on the show - “Is It Okay” - is at least three years old.  Was there a reason you waited until now to release the song formally?

"Is It Okay" is a very old song, and actually this whole album has been done for over a year. Some of the songs are five years old. That is a long story. I used to tour year round in my car all over the country. It was a blast. I started making a new album and got a small taste of the business side of music for a few months. During that time I canceled a tour to stay home and work on things, and I ended up waiting for a few years and nothing happened. During that time I kind of got hit in the face with life, which I wasn't used to because I was always on tour. I had a few family members die, some major family drama, a relationship end and my band broke up. After all that I decided to take a long time off. I started resenting music and really forgot why I loved it in the first place. During that break I got some puppies, a hot babe and went back to school. So my life is drastically different now. I decided to finally put this album out for myself. The first line of the album is really funny, because I wrote it years ago and it is completely true now. It's super lame to quote yourself but whatever: "I'll write some words and put them in a song, and sing it every night. Eventually I will make another record with all of my heart, that no one will ever hear." It is so true, but I don't care anymore.

As a musician doing much of the legwork yourself, what is the most frustrating aspect of doing what you do? What’s the most rewarding?

People don't e-mail you back and don't really give a crap in general. The most rewarding thing is finishing something. I love playing live, also. It is just a great release of energy, and if I don't play a show for a while I feel weird.

You have a lot in terms of an online media presence.  How has that helped you build a career?

I don't really know. I think it is kind of synthetic. You see a lot of bands trying to create an online buzz, and they all pay dearly for it. I think the best thing is if people like your music and tell their friends about it. That will make a band have a career in the long run. It would be very nice if bands could have access to outlets that reached a real human audience, but those are reserved for "the cool" bands or record label bands who are paying a crap load for it. Having a million friends on MySpace doesn't mean anything anymore, because musicians ruined that site by spamming people. And Facebook will probably follow in the future as bands start to abuse it more. There is no replacement for people liking a band and burning a copy of the cd for their friend, and then that guy inviting a bunch of his friends to the band's show.

Last, what are your plans to promote the new album?  Have a tour or any special shows lined up?

Well I hope so...I am going to be playing in NYC May 14 at The Living Room and playing around Texas as much as possible. I hope people like the album and buy it or get it somehow. Hopefully things will go well and I will be able to get some cool shows and get the word out a little more. We'll see see what happens!

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