Rich Davies is a musical force to be reckoned with. A dominating presence on stage, he commands audiences wherever he goes. Ne’er a week goes by without him playing a show or two. Whether it is indie pop hits, blues screamers or Americana folk, his appetite to play live, perform and create music is insatiable. Not surprisingly when we at GigBill heard of his new musical project and a residency, we wanted to find out more.
In the middle of introducing Melbourne audiences to his band the Low Road and fresh single off his new album Already Dead, we wanted to find out more about what draws him to Melbourne and the many stages and bands he plays.
Hailing from Scotland, what drew you to Melbourne over 10 years ago?
I was chasing the love of a female, and when that didn’t work out, I found that I’d fallen in love with Melbourne and its arts sub-culture. On the other side of the world from where I was born, I had found a place of belonging. I found my people – my home.
Have you noticed the scene in Melbourne change in the time you have been here?
I don’t know how much I have observed it change, or that my tastes have expanded and changed with age. When I was a youngster, I’d pretty much exclusively be going to loud indie and rock shows, dancing, rocking out and partying hard. But I honestly don’t remember the last time I busted my killer moves on the dance floor. When I’m going out now, I mostly go to folk or Americana type shows. But I still love dirty, kick-ass rock – I just can’t handle the hangovers nowadays. I should change this.
As an artist you have covered a lot of ground. From indie rock in the Spun Rivals, heavy Americana in Devil's Union, folky solo work and balls out blues in King Wolf. Tell us how those bands fit together with one Rich Davies.
Music is music to me. I don’t really think about it as genre specific – I will get inspired and I will write what comes to me. As a result, in pretty much every project I’ve been in, we have always been somewhat outsiders to the genre that we were labelled under. For example, Spun Rivals played shows with indie pop bands, but we had a pretty alt-rock vibe going on there too. We weren’t straight up indie-pop – we were exploring odd time signatures and structures. Being pigeonholed is almost essential for marketing but I find that I write more songs and am a much happier human when I just let the song writing be free… and then working out what pigeonhole it goes in can be dealt with later.
Rich Davies and The Devil’s Union was as far as I was concerned, a direct progression from Spun Rivals. But with more of a focus on exploring Americana influences, and I was starting to get a bit braver and allow for my lyrics to be heard over the instruments. There was a pretty dark tone on that first album. People said it sounded similar to Nick Cave, and I can see that now, but at the time I’d heard very little of his stuff. There were heaps of eastern scales used on that album. We got booked to play with lots of country tinged bands and post-Cave kinds of bands, which was great – we were just happy to be getting booked.
King Wolf began by accident, where I hooked up with Benny James from Black Guild and Dirty York, and a seasoned blues bass player called Ben Wicks for a one-off blues show. We couldn’t believe the chemistry that we stumbled upon, so we decided to keep doing it. Again, we are labelled as blues, but we are hard rocking and somewhat the outsiders there too. We don’t think too much and we have a bloody great time, and that is why it has been a success.
The new solo folk thing – that is without any doubt a direct transition from The Devil’s Union album, as I was promoting it, I was doing a lot of solo acoustic shows. And this upcoming album was born out of the songs I wrote just after that. As we got into pre-production for the album, I realised that there really wasn’t any need for drums or electric guitars, so we decided to set about making a record that sounded like it could be played live in a living room on acoustic instruments. So when it got to the moment where we hit record, we did even decide to record it live in a living room. It is pretty much the same thing I have always done, but with a pallet of acoustic instruments, rather than a rock band set-up. By stripping it back so far, it really does let the song and the lyrics come to the front. It’s an album of songs – we don’t have riffs or drums to hide behind. If the song didn’t cut it on its own, then it got chucked in the bin. I believe that it is my best work to date. I can’t wait for you to hear the full album later in the year.
Do you think you’d be able to do so much musically and with such a diverse range of bands in another city? Or does Melbourne have a unique set of attributes that make that possible?
There is a strong independent music and arts infrastructure in Melbourne, and it should not be taken for granted. I have had the joy of being able to play with many high calibre musicians in this town – their skills have been sharpened on these streets, they are tough like street fighters, they are ready to deliver the killer punch in whatever situation they are flung into. We are indeed lucky. For sure it is a cottage industry, and it sure would be easier to bring the ideas and vision to realisation with more money around. But we are all in it together, and that community spirit shines brightly – the results are good art, and good times making it.
Tell us about your new backing band.
I’ll gladly tell you about my new band – they are some the best musicians I have played with. They are called The Low Road. On each side of me I have Ayleen O’Hanlon on banjo, and Stuart west on double bass. Ayleen is an amazing talent – she is an amazing singer/songwriter, and she also sings in a country band called The Shotgun Wedding. I am a big fan of hers and I’m honoured to have her in my band, just as I am Stuart. I’ve known him since the old days, when he was in a young indie pop band called The Box Rockets. I’d had on my mind to call him up to play music together for years, and I finally got the opportunity for this project – I absolutely love the chemistry we have, and his mind reading abilities! I have Rob and Lauren, who have come along with me from the Devil’s Union. Rob played drums in the DU, but he such a fine musician to have on the team – I just chucked a mandolin in his hand, and that was that! Lauren and I have a deep musical chemistry – the bond we formed on that Devil’s album was something that I will always cherish. I couldn’t have not had her involved in this band – she is amazing. She is playing piano on a few songs, reed organ on a few others, and singing and stamping her feet on some others. It is just a pure joy working and spending time with these musicians. Odds are this isn’t going to make us a million bucks, but it sure can go a long way to making us feel rich in our hearts.
How do find playing shows at Some Velvet Morning?
Some Velvet Morning is a fine venue. It makes me think of Cheers for musicians. I’ve enjoyed going to see acoustic music there for many years now. There is a lovely and warm community around that venue, and launching my new project there seemed like the natural thing to do.
Catch Rich Davies and the Low Road as they play their last few residency shows, Sunday evenings at Some Velvet Morning in Clifton Hill.