Q & A: Danvers
Far from the frenzied math-pop and tribal rhythms of bands past, Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!'s David John Williams is now operating under a different name. As Danvers, David charts deeper and murkier waters with skeletal guitar lines and hazy jazz chords - recalling a world of illicit Prohibition-era bars and crackling acetate records all coloured with a distinctly 21st century melancholy. Propelled by the sharp, minimalist percussion and lurching atmospheres, Danvers delivers each song with a croon and a holler, the impossible biological offspring of Thom Yorke and Leadbelly.
Following on from the debut single ‘Paper Skin’, a home-spun, bedroom recorded affair that proved to be a sleeper hit among the indie music media both here and abroad, the latest single ‘Oh Darling’ saw Danvers collaborate with Melbourne producer Jono Steer and the end product is rich stew of hazy blues that boils over into compressed drums and simmering effected guitars.
We caught up with David on a rainy afternoon and discussed Danvers over a coffee in Degraves cafe.
I never know if interviews need a formal starting point or if they should just flow, but could you please tell me about Danvers?
Of course! Danvers was and still is a musical project that has been in the works for a couple of years now. It was an excuse for me to experiment with some stuff that was more introspective and not really the type of thing that anyone else wanted to get too involved in - When I was younger it was an excuse to mess around and play with different ideas but it has really been in the last year and a half that I’ve wanted to take the whole thing a lot more seriously. I’ve borrowed the sound heavily off stuff that I used to listen to as a kid, lots of folk and blues.
It seems like everyone is dabbling in blues and folk music these days. Are musicians feeling like they can experiment more with the music that they enjoyed when they were younger?
Well that’s it really. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing where people of my generation are listening to that style of music again - It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice to perform that genre in particular, but it was a conscious choice to assemble the ideas so that they were more easily identifiable as only one genre. I didn’t want to make music that was a bit of this and a bit of that. I wanted to focus on a smaller idea.
Was it an idea that you took to Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! originally or was it something that you felt more comfortable keeping to yourself?
Having played with Fire! for so long I’m a huge fan of the democratic musical process, but Danvers was something that I wanted to start by myself and then outsource other people for their skills. Everybody that I’ve got in the Danvers band now I look to for a certain element, as well as being able to play really well it’s also their tonality or their ear, I can look to them all and learn from their talents as performers.
How many people are in the band?
There are three others. Mark Gage from Foreign/National, Sam Stearne (the drummer in Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!) and a guy called Rory O’Connor who was in an Adelaide band called ‘Steering by Stars’. We’ve all got other musical stuff going on.
And how long have you been playing as Danvers?
Well I was kicking around Adelaide for a while but it’s only probably been around the past year and a half that I started taking it seriously. Now we’re trying to get out, play shows and push toward releases and that sort of stuff.
But Fire! is still together? I was a fan.
Oh yeah for sure. At the moment everyone is just off doing their own stuff.
How will you know when it’s time to get back together?
I don’t know. Probably someone will just send someone else a text message or something. Nathaniel and Caitlin are off performing as ‘Manor’ at the moment and things were headed in the direction of everyone wanting to do their own thing for a while. For example I didn’t think that everyone in Fire! Would dig the stuff I wanted to do as Danvers in the same measure as I did.
I would suggest that it’s also good to have a creative outlet, or a side project.
Absolutely. I’m always thinking of new things and it’s hard to have to say, “will this fit within the band format?” That’s the way it goes.
You said that you’ve only been performing for around a year and a half but were you writing music before that period started?
So much stuff! Writing it, recording it, listening to it and putting it out onto some obscure part of the Internet. All of that was leading up to this and in total I’d say it has been around four or five years. One day I just decided to put that little bit more effort in and be a little bit more critical with it.
It felt like the right time?
I felt it in my waters (laughs).
I love that expression! Is the Internet good for things like that - The fact that you can release music and see what the reaction is?
You could say that it cuts both ways. Now that everybody can put music out, it means that nobody can really put out music and it gets noticed. Because everybody is doing it the stream has become incredibly diluted. But really it’s not a bad thing to have this outlet for releasing whatever you want. It’s a learning curve though, knowing where to put your stuff and when to release it. It’s trial and error.
And what’s your writing process like, if you don’t mind me asking that very clichéd question?
Nah I’m always interested in hearing the answer to that when it’s asked to other musicians. I approach it from a musical element; I’ll pick up my guitar and play it until inspiration strikes. It’s funny because you can be playing for hours and hours and come up with nothing or pick it up and in two minutes you’ve got a song. In my experience it’s the quick ones that work the best. Lyrically I just write stuff down.
Do you keep journals?
Yep. I’ll write things down and look back on them and think, “that’s a cool line” or “that’s a load of crap”.
I wish I could keep a journal.
It makes you feel like you’re a big whale sifting through plankton. There’s so much deluge and lots of barnacles. I feel like I’m constantly raking for good ideas.
There’s only one type [of journal] that I like and I can only find them in Adelaide so I stock up whenever I go back. It’s not like I’m writing down, “Dear diary, today I was sad” or that type of thing. My phone also works well but it’s not the same. I’m not great at doing a narrative lyrical thing. I’m not very good at telling a story that’s worth telling.
Do your lyrics then come from personal experience?
Mainly personal experience, they can get a little schmaltzy sometimes.
Schmaltzy like cheesy?
I listen to a lot of old timey, jazz and blues and there’s so much emotion in it that sometimes I have to borrow one liners and overuse words like “baby” and “honey”. I think they’re nice words. When you listen to a guy like Howlin’ Wolf singing about his “baby” and then Justin Bieber singing about his “baby”, there’s no comparison. I think one of the reasons that I’m so drawn to jazz music is that you’ve got these artists with really unusual sounding voices.
I came to the decision a while back that I didn’t want to sing like anyone else, I just wanted to sound like me. You’ll find that when you start singing and sound very different to other performers you’ll get a lot of people saying, “that’s new, that’s different” and then you’ll get others who are saying, “I don’t like that, I can’t relate” There’s a great contingent of the music populous who just want to listen to something that doesn’t provoke them in anyway, but to take the next step you need to release the fear of making your music a reflection of yourself. Having said that, as a performer someone will inevitably say, “you sound like so and so”.
I guess the fact that people are commenting at all is a good thing, you know what they say - All publicity is good publicity.