Though she didn't start playing music professionally until after she had moved away, Katy Davidson of Key Losers (formerly of Dear Nora) says that Phoenicians seem to be able to sense that she's a native.
"It's a cool feeling," she says over the phone from Fun Fun Fun Fest, where she performed playing guitar in YACHT. "Phoenix is pretty much my favorite place in the States to play."
Davidson took some time away from watching bands at the festival (she was particularly excited about Omar Souleyman and Big Freedia) to discuss her new album, California Lite, the strange myth of California, and why Phoenix is cooler than Portland (in a way).
Key Losers is scheduled to perform Monday, November 14, at Trunk Space.
Up on the Sun: California Lite seems to have three specific geographical locations. Maybe I'm being a little presumptuous when I think of Arizona as one of them, but obviously there's a lot of Portland connections, obviously a lot of California imagery.
You've spent a lot of time in all three places, but what influenced your decision to focus on California with the album? Katy Davidson: Well, I wrote most of the album when I was living in Long Beach, and I was just taken with how much time I spent in my car. Not even necessarily because I needed to; I worked close to home, but going out to see friends, spending time on the freeway, getting into that mental space that you get into when you're just in your car, especially alone. Driving, it's not like a mental space that you can compare to other times in your life. It's almost dreamlike in a way. That combined with driving past oil refineries -- the drive itself would be dreamlike, [but] everything would be so blunt, like driving past an oil refinery with an American flag wrapped around it. It's so much awesome fodder for songwriting, at least for me, living around that.
There are some really Californian sounds going on, too. A lot of Steely Dan moments and Laurel Canyon sounds.
That's 100 % intentional. I loved thinking about Los Angeles in the 1970s. I love David Crosby's solo album where he invited all the other Laural Canyon people over to sing in his living room...
Is that "If I Could Only Remember My Name?"
Yeah, love that. So it was just fully ripping on that stuff, in a 100 % conscious way. It's sort of like, like I described when I was writing about the album, that time, at least from this perspective, in 2011, it just seems so beautiful and golden. I almost picture it like a beautiful movie. Yet, there were so many awkward, terrible things going on at that time in the world, too. I love the play on those two things.
Sure. In that same vein -- your band on this record features Tom Filardo (Asleep in the Sea), Karl Blau, Phil Elverum (Microphones/Mt. Eerie), and more. It's kind of, like that Crosby record, a big, sprawling thing.
It's kind of true. When making this record, outlining what I wanted it to be like, I've grown up with these people musically. We're all just getting better and better, and I was like, "I want all these people to show up on this record and just be free." At this point, we're all friends, you know? We've all been playing together and playing shows for however long. Yeah, I just kind of assembled my dream band, and they all agreed to it, and I just set them free. I couldn't be happier.
Obviously, you feel fairly home at Trunk Space. I've seen you play there a couple of times as Dear Nora. I imagine it's a pretty comfortable place to you to be.
It is. In the US, Phoenix is one of my favorite places to play. People are always very appreciative. Even though I started playing music professionally after I left Arizona -- I grew up there -- it still feels like people embrace me there as a native. It's a cool feeling. Playing Phoenix is pretty much my favorite place in the States to play.
I feel like I've been talking about how so many elements of '70s and '80s soft rock are popping up on indie records. There's sort of a renaissance of people being interested in the sounds right now.
Yeah, I think that there is to a certain extent [laughs]. You probably heard the Bon Iver record. It's there. People are exploring soft rock a bit. It's nice to hear when there's really genuine songwriting backing it up.
[Opposed to it] just being an aesthetic choice.
Do you feel like that Bon Iver record doesn't back it up?
No, I do. I didn't meant to make it sound like I don't. I'm thinking of -- I won't name any names, at all -- but I do think there's been a renaissance of the soft rock sound, and it's like, just like any other genre of music, you can just tell when the song writing is not there. And also, you can tell when its just a throw back. I'm looking for great songwriting, and a little bit of a hybrid with anything contemporary. Some bands are doing it, but maybe not doing it so well.,
California Lite has elements, but it doesn't sound like a throwback.
Not over the top.
And I like throwback records, but it all depends. Listening to the record, you are doing your thing, signature sounds that people associate with the Portland scene you are a part of, but there are smooth jazz, saxes, a little more stuff going with keyboards. Even the imagery: the front cover has this pastoral scene, and the back has this more concrete, realistic --
It's like, oh, that's really pretty, but that's because the sky is super smoggy.
That's what I was trying to explain earlier. I'm so invested in the relationship between image and reality. That's summed up in the title: California Lite. California has always been this dream place. Even to this day, I love that people in Portland are like, "Ooh, I'm moving to LA, its' going to be great." That dream has not ended, you know? I'm so into the image and then the reality. Not to say that they are exactly opposite, but exploring the duality.
I love visiting LA, but then there are times where you're like, "How can anyone live here?"
It's kind of a place of broken dreams. Don't get me wrong, I loved living there. It was incredibly inspirational.
So when did you move to Portland?
Right around Christmas the beginning of 2009.
Does that same duality exist in Portland? Shows like Portlandia poke fun of the idea of Portland being this artistic heaven. Does that ring true to you?
Sure. It's totally true. That show, it may be flawed in certain ways, but it's coming from something that is real, and something that is really happening. And it's funny.
I feel like you have to really truly love a place in order to make a show like that. They don't hate Portland, but I could do that with Phoenix: point out all the flaws and snicker, but at the end of the day, I'm here because I want to be here.
Right. Yeah. Portlandia is funny, and Portland has its own issues. Ultimately for me, though -- California is this incredible symbol, and it has been for decades. It's too powerful not to play around with.
A lot people in Phoenix talk about moving to Portland, to the point of it becoming a joke. But Phoenicians move to Portland to achieve some sort of Northwest dream.
Let me put it this way - I play bigger shows in Phoenix than I do in Portland. I guess I'm kind of new. I know that sounds kind of funny, but I just moved back. And oddly enough, I don't play many local shows. So, we'll all this awesome community of musicians, and I'm in with all these incredible bands and musicians, but it's not like I'm a giant star in Portland, or even close. Maybe that's why I like it. I just go around and live my life. Visit my friends recording studio and play a little bit, and then I go on tour.
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It's so easy to be extremely mobile. I mean, Phoenix is way cooler than Portland in a lot of ways. It's because Portland has already transcended being cool. It's not cool anymore.
[Laughs] Portland is so cool that it's not cool anymore?
Yeah, it's cooler now to stay in Phoenix. I should tell all the Phoenix hipsters that move to Portland, "Hey, it's cool in Phoenix again."