Dave Davison, the frontman for the indie trio Maps and Atlases, recalls the enthusiasm his father had for music. He tells a story from his childhood when he was learning guitar and subsequently wearing out his cassette of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in the car. Davison’s father heard something he had not picked up on before in the metal masterpiece.
“I remember him very distinctly saying, ‘I never listened to these guys when they were releasing music, but this is so good,’” Davison recalls over the phone. “He really got super into it. There were so many times he would come back to a record he had heard or just came out … he was probably more into Radiohead than I was. I really love that enthusiasm as a trait in people.”
You can see the smile on his face when Davison tells stories about his dad. There is the time he helped the band sell merchandise on a tour stop in Iowa, or when he stayed to hang out in Los Angeles after the end of a long tour. These memories are bittersweet. The musician lost his father six years ago to brain cancer. His death served as the inspiration for Maps and Atlases’ latest album, Lightlessness Is Nothing New, the Chicago band’s first album since 2012’s critically-acclaimed Beware and Be Grateful.
Davison’s father died right before the math rock group toured on that record. Davison believes that going on the road was a positive thing to do, and was grateful for the distraction that came with a full-length touring schedule, and being surrounded by his friends and bandmates, bassist Shiraz Dada and drummer Chris Hainey.
When the tour ended, Davison took time away from the band to create something new. Instead of writing specifically for Maps and Atlases, he wanted to see where the music took him. As the songs Davison was writing began to take shape, he knew Dada and Hainey would be the perfect musicians to accompany him.
“It was interesting to re-form the band in an organic way, not that it ever broke up,” describes Davison. “I’m glad it came back together the way that it did.”
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There are moments of radiance in Lightlessness Is Nothing New to balance the dark subject matter. It encapsulates the duality of feelings one has when someone leaves you sooner than expected. You are grateful for the time you had together, and happy they are no longer suffering, yet there is the realization that they won’t be able to share in the successes that life continues to bring.
Davison says the album’s second single, “Ringing Bell,” is the most straightforward song he wrote about this time in his life. He did not want to get the message muddled. While the complex rhythms and melodies feel buoyant, it describes what seems to be a moment between father and son listening to their favorite music, just as the parent’s soul begins its journey upward. He croons, “Strange to think that you know what comes after / While here the music just keeps playing on.”
“It’s not just grief, even though that is part of it,” Davison says. “It’s being sad and anxious, but also being in the world, and having fun. The year after my dad died, I had a lot of great times and experiences. I also felt down. It’s not just a constant heaviness. There is extreme elation in between. It’s really interesting.”
Maps and Atlases are scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 9, at The Rebel Lounge. Tickets are $15 to $17 via therebellounge.com.