"I’ll probably open a mescal bar. Or make instrumental music for Arby’s commercials."
An Interview with Katy Davidson
Katy D is the singer songwriter from Portland, OR behind such projects as Dear Nora, Key Losers, and Lloyd and Michael. Occasionally she is a touring member of Gossip and Yacht. I recently had the chance to speak with her over the Internet and asked her thoughts on music, Arby’s, visual aesthetics, and the global debt crisis.
THE BELIEVER: The idea of travel has always been so present in your music. Can you reflect on moving/travelling and how it has impacted your life and artistic/aesthetic choices?
KATY D: Yeah, freeways, rental cars, airplanes all keep popping up in my lyrics, and they have for years. I’m obsessed with travel. It’s something we all do, all the time. Why the hell do we move around so much? The restlessness is comically exhausting. Though the act of it can be likened to existing in a vacuum. We get in some kind of metal tube that takes us from point A to point B, and spatial and temporal concepts become suspended. We listen to music, we have conversations, we zone out, we zone in, but we can’t really do much else in the moment except for travel. In fact, we don’t even travel, we just sit while a metal tube travels us. Appropriately, the physical act of traveling can be quite dreamlike. I remember once having a nightmare about being in a plane crash…while on a plane. Also, I guess I’m obsessed with travel because it’s so fundamentally human. From early human migration across the Bering Straight 20,000 years ago, to Joni Mitchell traveling across the US in the 1970s, composing the album Hejira—we are born to travel. Travel is life. And yet travel inhibits life—our largest living organism, Earth, is choking on cumulative toxic exhaust from our contemporary forms of transportation. It’s a conundrum.
BLVR: I guess the idea of “home” really makes most travel pretty cyclical. That for the most part you go somewhere with the intention of returning. I imagine that your house is very in tune with your interest in travel. Could you tell us about the place where you live and some items or memories that reflect your journey through existence?
KD: I live in a beautiful house in north Portland that my friend owns. I have a nice bedroom and a music studio here. It’s probably the nicest place I’ve ever lived in my entire life. I’ve been working on making my space feel less like it belongs to a touring musician and more like a comfortable “adult” home—not like Pottery Barn-ed out or anything, but let’s just say I have a bed frame now. I don’t really care about stuff, and I don’t keep a lot of stuff. Some of the things I’ve deemed valuable enough to keep around are 1) my 1978 Guild guitar that I bought ten years ago, 2) my photos and journals (which feel more anachronistic by the year), 3) the cassette tapes of original music me and my friends released between 1996-2000.
BLVR: From what I understand you tour as a live musician for a number of bands and occasionally tour on your own songs as well. Could you describe the difference between touring on someone else’s songs and touring on your own, how it makes you feel emotionally, physically, mentally?
KD: I don’t really tour in support of my own music anymore, but I am currently employed as a touring multi-instrumentalist for the band Gossip. I stopped touring my own music because it was bringing me more strife than joy. If I had a kick-ass band and we were all in it together, I would probably enjoy touring down to San Diego and back a couple times a year, but it’s certainly not something I want to do alone. Touring with Gossip is a complete trip. The band is incredibly popular in Europe and I have found myself in some hilarious situations because of this. Picture us in an air-conditioned black Mercedes minivan, led by police escort down the busiest street in Cannes, France, at the height of the film festival, traveling from TV appearance to the next. I love playing live with Gossip. Everyone in the band is insanely gifted at their instrument, and is able to jam or switch gears at any moment. It’s not boring at all. We don’t play to backing tracks like basically all big rock bands do now. Spontaneity is still an option. All that being said, I will be ready to leave behind touring forever…soonish.
BLVR: What are the plans for post tour era Davidson?
KD: I’ll probably open a mescal bar. Or make instrumental music for Arby’s commercials.
BLVR: Do you dig on the roast beef sandwiches?
KD: Absolutely not.
BLVR: I sort of like the weird Arby’s oven Mitt logo. Since you’re from Arizona, where strip malls and corporate entities are pretty prevalent, can you tell me about any strip mall experiences you have had that are engrained in your memory? It seems like they are really present in some of the tracks on “California Lite”.
KD: I grew up in a small town in Arizona where hippies and ranchers alike had the foresight to outlaw chain stores in the 1970s (Dairy Queen was grandfathered in). Over the course of the last forty years, Phoenix crawled and sprawled outward, and today strip mall stores crowd my town’s border like football linemen: Verizon, Wendy’s, all that crap. So I grew up with both the reality of serene Sonoran desert, and the nearby cancerous corporate insanity of Phoenix. I think the effect of both of these powerful elements creep into my music. Today I see chain store strip malls as portals or access points to a dark, vaporous, all-controlling, all-seeing, God-like corporate entity I think of as Big Brother (not the government, something which controls even our government).
BLVR: Part of me feels brainwashed because I find weird comfort in Chili’s, because when I was growing up overseas it was the only “American” thing around. I know touring can sometimes get totally insane, can you describe a period of time on tour where you found solace in a super unlikely place? Also, as an artist how do you feel about the intense debt crisis our world is falling into? What is your stance on money? Do we need it?
KD: Me too! I’m brainwashed, too. Once a Dunkin’ Donuts in Prague saved my life. My thoughts on the global debt crisis? It only makes sense that a system centered around the fantasy-based idea of never-ending “growth” will eventually collapse, or at least be forced into rapid evolution. And money? I don’t know, man. This is an exciting time to be an artist. There’s rich fodder in this transitional moment. But there’s also a lot of distraction. I want to continue to push myself to make music that truly reflects our present reality.
BLVR: Any idea what the next record is going to sound like yet?
KD: I’m recording a Key Losers album and a Lloyd & Michael album right now. So far the Lloyd & Michael album sounds like a summit between Depeche Mode, Dire Straights, The Roches, and Peter Gabriel. Lots of pop, prog, and synth elements with huge harmonies and crushing lyrics. The new Key Losers album is a little more of a mystery. It’s not as far along. But it will be minimal and weird, and there will be a lot of blending of digital and analog elements. I’m challenging myself a lot on this one. I wrote a song in 7/8. It’s going to be really beautiful.
BLVR: So hypothetically, if both albums had to have a one time live performance all the way through, where would be the ideal place to perform them? Also, are there any currently practicing artists that you would most like to collaborate with?
KD: It would be fun to perform at Arcosanti, that 1970s experimental utopian community in central Arizona—also where I celebrated my 8th birthday. I want to continue collaborating with every artist that participated on the last Key Losers album “California Lite” (too many incredible musicians to name, but specifically Nicholas Krgovich). Lloyd & Michael has plans to collaborate with a wind ensemble called City of Tomorrow and we’re really stoked about it. Maybe Lloyd & Michael/The Roches collaboration?