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Delaney Davidson

Delaney Davidson

Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Monday 5th November, 2012 8:40AM

Making music on shaky ground: Delaney Davidson talks to Under the Radar about the rather dramatic beginning of his musical collaboration with fellow Lytteltonian Marlon Williams of The Unfaithful Ways. He talks honky tonk, musical liquidity and how he wants to take people back to a time when the boundaries between the musician and the audience were non-existent...

Can you tell me a bit about your new album Sad But True - The secret history of country music songwriting Vol 1?

We’re releasing it on the November 9th followed by a national tour which we’re very much looking forward to.

It’s totally different to anything I’ve worked on before in that it’s way more unabashedly country. If you were going to try and label it according to genre I guess you’d say it was country blues with a bit of gospel influence.

It really gets into the genre much more heavily than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve wanted to do it for ages and so had Marlon, and musically we were the perfect fit. Marlon has amazing capabilities as a singer and a songwriter. This is also the first release from Lyttelton Records which is a new record label owned by a guy called Ben Edwards. He’s from The Sitting Room and recorded The Eastern’s latest album, as well as albums by Tiny Lies and The Unfaithful Ways.

We recorded Sad But True with Ben and then I took it to Italy to a studio I work with over there. We pre-mixed it and Ben pre-mastered it. We put it through an old tape-machine and compressed it to get the sound we wanted, and then we got it mastered for vinyl.

How did you two meet and what spurned your creative collaboration?

We met at a gig. Neither of us knew the other guy was gonna be there, so when we showed up thinking it was a solo gig and saw the other guy walking across the carpark with a guitar it was a bit of a surprise. But, we introduced ourselves and agreed to play the show together. We found we had so much material in common and we both really knew the whole country thing and loved harmony singing. We had such a great time we decided to try and work together and things just happened from there.

What kind of relationship do you have musically – how does it work?

In terms of writing songs we work in a number of ways – sometimes it’s collaborative, sometimes we bring our own songs to the table and we also do covers of really well known classics.

It sounds like you have quite a strong aesthetic and idea about how you want to deliver you material in a live setting?

There aren’t many people playing the really honky-tonk stuff these days. Bands used to do it but you can’t really find it anymore and I think that’s a shame. We want to play a lot songs on our tour – we’ve learned 40 new songs – and we’re going to learn another 14 because we’ve got a show coming up with Tammy Neilson and there are some songs we really want to do with her. The whole concept of keeping songs alive and reinterpreting them as much you can appeals to me. You can change the key you sing in, sometimes Marlon sings the lead, sometimes I’ll sing the lead - just changing the whole feel as much as you can to keep the song liquid and moving and always changing your opinion of it.

It’s just like if you had a jewel and you turned it in the light you’d see different facets and catch different angles and light. It’s interesting how much a song can change and really evolve if you let it. It’s something we’ve really tried to foster together - the idea that the boundaries between songs disappear and you get up on stage and plays songs the audience knows, songs they don’t and lots of covers, y’know – some bands used to play four or five sets and you’d just dance and sing and drink. It was an event, it was a whole evening – into 45 minutes and a set of songs that they wrote. We want to escape from that way of songwriting where it’s all about the songwriters individual experience and open it back up again so it’s something the whole audience can relate to. We’re trying to escape from the clique mentality, or that singer-songwriter tunnel vision that seems to dominate the music scene at the moment.

How is the music scene in Lyttelton doing?

It’s been hard since the earthquakes but we’ve also had some great opportunities emerge as a result.

The lack of venues has been really difficult to cope with and also people have moved as a result making it harder to get together to practice and perform. Heaps of people lost lifetime collection of instruments and studio gear too... At the time when it first happened all bets were off – everybody’s jobs and schedules were totally thrown to the floor it kind of felt like that feeling when you were a teenager and you got out of school and it felt like an afternoon lasted for two weeks or something.

The positive was that the Lyttelton scene started to take off, because instead of everyone furiously rushing around to gigs and different places, we were all in one place and some music was born out of that. Me and Marlon really cemented our relationship during that time. We were actually in the middle of a conversation about how we might be able to work together when the February earthquake struck, sitting in Lyttleton, and one year later when everyone had the two minutes silence we were in the middle of recording, and we thought, ‘there’s no way we’re taking two minutes silence right now because what we’re doing is about making noise’.

How has your style changed since you started making music?

I play a lot of different instruments so my style has changed accordingly. I find the instrument I play takes me further into different styles. When I was younger I used to play the guitar so I played lots of blues. When I was growing up and started to play drums I began to play totally different stuff – mostly jazz influenced. Then when I started to sing I found that country music was the right sort of music – I didn’t sing before that but someone asked me to sing at their birthday party and I played a whole bunch of Hank Williams songs – I just found country music to be full of stories and interesting harmonies which felt right to me. Country music songs contain all the things I find enjoyable and interesting about singing. I think this music has to be about human experience. You can be as dumb-arse and simple as you like but people have to be able to relate to it and things that they’re going through in their lives because that what makes it work.

What can people expect from the tour?

We’ve put a real honky-tonk band together for this tour. We’ve got a pedal steel guitar and double bass, and there are three of us who sing harmony vocals and then with this wailing pedal steel in the background it’s just fabulous. We’re particularly looking forward to a show on Waiheke Island with Tammy Neilson on the 17th of November. She’s won a bunch of country music awards in New Zealand. We’ll have the Wine Cellar sting section with us and it will be really nice lush, saturated, syrupy sound. We’re really looking forward to it.


Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams are on tour now - click here for dates and tickets.