Elise Davis brought us back to country music in 2015 with her album The Token. It featured songs that emulated the country trope of one night stand & hot nights in songs “I Go To Bars And Get Drunk”, “Make the Kill” , and “Motel Room.”
Davis released her new album Cactus on September 7, 2018. It is a different mature creature based as much in rock as country with songs “Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, “Hold Me Like A Gun”, “Married Young”, and “Lone Wolf.”
Cactus brings a larger soundscape of instrumentation. It is a welcome change to standard country. For info visit http://www.elisedavis.com/
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making Cactus?
ED: To me, overall making an album doesn’t feel like a challenge. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of hard work, and stressful in moments, but the task of making an album is one of my favorite parts about being a musician. Because there are no rules. I guess I would say the biggest challenge of it for me before recording- making sure I have chosen the exact right songs for the record. When it comes time to make an album I look at the collection of songs written since I last recorded. Then I choose a group of about 20-25 songs and whittle it down until it feels like the right songs for the album. Saying what I want to say. That can be the most challenging part because I am so particular. But, after I solidify and feel good about the songs, the actual process of recording is so much fun to me. Because like I said there are no rules, and if you try something and it doesn’t work, you just try something else. It’s fun to hear things different ways even if you don’t end up going that direction.
FEMMUSIC: What was your vision for the album?
ED: I had been obsessively listening to Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, and Aimee Mann’s Mental Illness, before going into making this album. I was very inspired by elements of both of those albums and referenced them when working with my producer on the direction. I wanted heavier harmonies, more acoustic guitars (than my last album), and for the first time ever full string arrangements on most the album.
FEMMUSIC: What lessons did you learn when making The Token that changed how you made Cactus?
ED: Every time going into the studio I feel I come out in the end having learned more about myself as a singer, a songwriter, and artist. The Token was exactly what it should have been. I call it my late night boozy mid-twenties album. Raw electric guitars, mostly recorded live, more elements of rock throughout the whole album. With The Token I wanted to make an album primarily electric guitars, bass, drums, keys, and something I could emulate live with a 4 piece band.
By the time I was getting ready to make Cactus I realized I wanted to go a totally different direction production wise. Not worrying myself with something I could exactly pull off live. Making The Token the way we did was right for the time and for that album. What I learned was that I didn’t want to make another album in the same way. And I know in the next album I make I will want to go a different direction than both The Token and Cactus. That’s part of the fun of it! 🙂
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Jordan Lehning. How did you meet? Why did you decide to have him produce the album? What did he bring to the project? What do you look for in a producer?
ED: My last manager introduced me to Jordan Lehning. He had known him for years before and been a long time fan of his work. He sent me several records he produced. I was looking into several producers at the time but there was something about Jordan’s work that I was especially drawn to. In particular Jasmin Kaset’s (of Birdcloud) album Quiet Machine. I must have listened down to that album 200 times. I love the way her vocals sound, the quirky and creative production, just all in all a great album.
We decided to meet for drinks and talk music and I knew by the end that he was the guy. He pointed out a couple songs I had sent him (Lone Wolf, Man) that I wanted to record and made comments about them that let me know he understands me as an artist.
In a producer I look for someone who is creative, not afraid of trying out different things, someone who thinks outside of the box and doesn’t feel there is any format we have to try and stay in. On top of someone who I vibe with and will drink whiskey with me and be patient if I end up asking to do 25 vocal takes of a song.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
ED: I wrote my first song when I was 12 years old. I didn’t plan on it beforehand, I had never thought about being a songwriter, I had been learning guitar and knew a handful of chords. My parents grounded me from going to see a rock concert (Bush) in downtown Little Rock, (I was really just wanting to go drink beer with 16 year old boys), and I was so upset I ran away. Eventually I came home to realize no one had cared or even noticed I had left. I was so angry I ran up to my room and my guitar was on my bed. I locked myself in the bathroom and wrote a song called “Big House” about feeling alone in a big house. (haha). And truly from that day on I was hooked. I had found my outlet for emotion and its never changed. Since I was 12, anything I am feeling or going through, the main way to feel better or cope with my crazy brain is writing songs. So, I would say my technique really just revolves around trying to get truths out that I experience, to tell stories, and to express how I feel about a certain situation. That’s my main rule to myself as a songwriter. Trying to write what’s real.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest influence on you and why?
ED: This is a really tough question because there have been so many. So rather than messing with all the songs that have influenced me as an adult, I am going to say the one that I remember as being the very first. When I was 10 I became obsessed with Jewel’s hit album Pieces Of You. I know it was an influence to me as a 12 year old writing songs. But in particular I will never forget as a kid hearing the song “Daddy”on that album. It’s dark and weird and intense, and funny that I loved it so much at that age. I was in awe over the way someone can express such deep emotion in the words and phrasing of a song. Hearing that song and realizing I could let out my emotion that way too was a beautiful thing.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
ED: Yes and no. I’ve just chosen to not think about that too much. I am sure I have been more than I realize, haha, but I am just going to say what I want to say and make the albums I want to make. My albums talk a lot about sex, and in particular the freedom in being a sexually liberated woman. When I put out The Token I got some flack on the internet about a song called “Penny” and some dude calling me a slut, having daddy issues, etc. A man could literally be singing the line “I screwed her, and then another chick the next night, and I’m awesome because I have sex all the time” and that same dude criticizing me would be like “Hell yeah!”.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with, or tour with? Why?
ED: There are a lot of people I would like to collaborate with but the first one that comes to my mind is Blake Mills. He is an incredible guitar player, producer, singer, and I love his albums. I think it would be awesome to hear him play guitar with some songs I have written.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
ED: I would like the new age of streaming music to be more fair in paying the artists for their work.