John Davis has some history behind him. A Washington native, he grew up amidst the local punk scene. Inspired by shows such as Fugazi, Davis delved into the music scene and formed a own high-school band when he was 17. Punk icon Ian MacKaye once showed up before a performance to wish them luck. Since then, Davis has been a founding member of post-punk band Q and Not U, writing and performing with that group from 1998 to 2006. He then collaborated with Laura Burhenn for the pop duo Georgie James. In 2008, Davis struck out on his own with Title Tracks. The tunes on his first solo album, It Was Easy, are upbeat and catchy. Davis, however, is serious as a heart attack when it comes to his love of DC music. With a North American tour under his belt, he spoke with us about his eclectic listening tastes and his upcoming album.
Where’d the name Title Tracks come from? Why not just John Davis?
“I don’t really have a reason. I’ve always had trouble with band names. It always takes forever to come up with one. I don’t even remember what it means. I just wanted something, and it’s alliterative and sounds good together. I can’t remember what inspired it. There are too many others named John Davis. If you go into iTunes and type in ‘John Davis,’ you’re gonna get a bunch of wildly different sounding people.”
It’s been said that you have a “Holy Grail record collection.” Do you have any favorite gems?
“That’s an exaggeration, but I guess I’m pretty nerdy about it. I like to have certain pressings and originals. My favorites are the ones I can find cheap when they’re actually worth a lot. It feels like you’re cheating if you just get them on Ebay. I like records from all kinds of decades. I like to collect soul stuff and Columbia records from the 1960s, like the Birds and Bob Dylan. I just really like having LPs. It’s the closest thing we have to a time machine. I went through and catalogued everything I have a few months ago. I stand behind every record I have.”
Where in Washington do you like to buy your records?
“Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring. It’s amazing, it’s huge, and their prices are really fair. But I also really like Crooked Beat, Red Onion, and Smash. I think Washington is a good town for record stores.”
What are you listening to right now?
“I’ve actually been getting rid of my CDs for over a year. I’m down to 500, and I’ve been putting everything on my hard drive, so that’s what I’ve been listening to, seeing what I want to keep and what I want to sell. I was listening to Ornette Coleman’s ‘Beauty Is a Rare Thing’ and Sharon Tandy. I just listened to the Revillos’ ‘Rev Up.’ I have stacks of records that I bought recently that I listened to before I filed them away: Otis Redding, Moody Blues’s first record. I like punk and hardcore, easy listening, new age, power pop, country. There’s not a genre I can say that I completely dislike.”
You’ve been a part of bands since at least 1998. What’s it like to switch from a group to being solo?
“It wasn’t hard at all. Toward the end of Georgie James, I was doing the writing by myself. You have periods where you can’t stop writing and other times where you have nothing to give, and I couldn’t stop writing. That was the first time I’d ever done writing on my own, and that showed me I could do it. It can be hard, but you get through it and finish and it’s still just as good. I’m hoping to be in collaborative acts again, but Title Tracks will always be just me.”
You’re about to begin recording your second Title Tracks album. What is the writing process like for that?
“It came together fairly quickly. My inspiration never flags throughout the course of writing. On the first record there was a bit of a hangover from Georgie James. I think this record will be coherent in a way that the first one wasn’t.”
Throughout your music career you’ve played a variety of instruments. What’s your favorite to play and why?
“I probably like guitar best. That was my first instrument. I started playing when I was 12, so it’s the one I feel the closest to. I only kind of knew drums before I joined Q and Not U, and I really learned with that band. There’s a part of my personality that likes the drums because I get to hang back and do my own thing and not be front and center. But the guitar edges it out for number one.”
You’re playing the Black Cat Saturday, but earlier this year you were touring all across the country. How is playing in Washington different?
“Our shows here tend to be good. It’s rare that we have a bad show in DC—our friends are here. But with all the touring this year, some of the places we went, it was the first time we’d been there and it’s fresh to them, so it’s a bit of a relief.”
What is the Washington music scene like these days?
“I’ve been going to shows in DC for 18 or 19 years. When I first started going to shows, in my opinion, it was a golden age of music: Jawbox, Tsunami, Velocity girl. It slowed in the late ’90s and then it picked up again. Recently, it was sort of accepted that things have slowed down as far as DC bands making a splash, and it feels like that’s started to change. This year compared to last year is dramatically different. Shows were limited to clubs in the past few years, but that has changed. Many shows have happened at St. Stephen’s and the Big Bear Cafe, and even house shows have made a comeback. I missed that slightly more anarchic experience, and I feel this year is going to be a good comeback. A little less bar rock and a little more punk. “