THE SKY’S THE LIMIT: COLBY DAVIDSON LAUNCHES CAREER
BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
“When you’re so close to the art it could be kind of hard to decide what it sounds like. I know my influences, but I might think it’s more (like), ‘Oh, the guitar sounds more like this.’ But really someone else might think, ‘No, it sounds more like this.’”
Attempting to pigeonhole the music made by emerging singer-songwriter-guitarist Colby Davidson is a fool’s errand indeed. The California-based artist’s influences are as varied as, well, the spectrum of music itself. When asked to rattle off luminaries he lists as inspiring his own sound, Davidson namechecks everyone from Bob Dylan to Mumford & Sons, John Lennon to John Mayer, Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd, The Band to Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
I recently spoke with Davidson about his just-released debut single “Capture the Wind,” and – undaunted by the prospect of tackling yet another metaphoric impossible task – about his forthcoming track, the overtly optimistic “Keep on Chasing Rainbows.” Clearly, Davidson has his professional sights set sky high while keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground, knowing that the path to superstardom is steep, but not impossible to conquer.
Let me begin at the beginning, and I certainly don’t mean when and where you were born. I’m talking about what I call the proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan Moment. Let me say that I once produced a nationally syndicated radio program celebrating the 30th anniversary of U2, and Bono said that he got into the band after – and here’s a quote – “Years of standing in front of mirrors with tennis rackets and golf clubs (laughs). And he added, “You just get in because you love the sound of that E chord.” How much – if at all – can you relate to this?
I can definitely relate to it. For me, it started when I was about six or seven years old. My dad said, “I’m taking you guys to the city.” He didn’t say where we were going. We thought we were going to an NBA game. And we pull up to The Warfield (Theatre) in San Francisco and it was Guns N’ Roses. So, I saw Guns N’ Roses. That’s the first concert I ever went to when I was about six or seven years old. It’s definitely partially that. I also went to Catholic school, and I’ve been thinking about this recently. They had singers that were up on a podium, and so, I thought to myself, what made them so special, you know. Why can’t I be up there? It was definitely that. (Also) some competitiveness with my sister because she sang, so I wanted to sing, too. And then Stevie Ray Vaughan, too. I didn’t play guitar until about sixth or seventh grade. And that was about the same time as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Which my mom always says that’s the reason why, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.
In doing the research for our conversation I found the influences to be varied, to say the least…
Of course, that’s a good thing. I know you’ve covered John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” Talk about Lennon a bit. What draws you in to him?
What I really like about Lennon…like, I think (Paul) McCartney is almost more musical in a way because he grew up listening to showtunes and stuff. He’s a really good songwriter and of course so is Lennon, but I think Lennon is more authentic. I really like his political songs. You can write a love song, right, and that’s great, that’s what I write a lot of. But Lennon was writing songs about politics. He was writing songs about spirituality and topics that aren’t necessarily covered a lot. I like that a lot. I love Lennon’s story. He had a really hard life. I think his mother died when he was young. “Watching the Wheels” was a great song, but also “Mind Games” was a big influence on me. I was going through a hard time in my life with anxiety and I used to go and run to help my anxiety and then I would just put on “Mind Games” and just run to that. It would also make me smile. Also, my dad was more of a Lennon fan, for sure, and so we grew up listening to more Lennon than McCartney. I never really listened to Wings. It was more like we were just listening to Lennon albums and just regular Beatles albums.
I’m with you guys – you and your dad – in that sense. McCartney, to me, was always a bit sappier…
…again, a wonderful writer, but just about everything you said I can relate to about Lennon in that a lot of the time he was talking the truth, and that’s all he wanted, right? “Give Me Some Truth.”
So, by contrast, you go from John Lennon to Pink Floyd, for example…
…that music is epic. Wide sweeping. A completely different animal. How – if at all – is your music inspired by Floyd and the like?
That’s a good question. My favorite bands, really, I always say the top three are Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. And so, I had a prog-rock band in high school. David Gilmour is my hero. I absolutely love Roger Waters’ writing style. I think “Dark Side of the Moon” is the greatest album of all time. But how it applies to this band in particular? It’s more like the ethereal aspect. That’s really what I’m trying to capture at moments. And this band is more like Nathaniel Rateliff, but if you listen to Gilmour’s solos – just the spaciness. There’s like an energy there. There’s an ethereal quality. That’s kinda the idea.
Let’s shift gears and talk about your new music, starting with the just released “Capture the Wind.” I describe this certainly beautiful song as sonically airy and lilting, with vocals reminiscent of John Mayer duetting with Jeff Buckley.
Oh, yeah, I love Jeff Buckley.
Okay, so the question is, how on or off the mark am I?
I’d definitely say Jeff Buckley. I think it’s got a more Mumford & Sons vibe, but John Mayer, too. When you’re so close to the art it could be kind of hard to decide what it sounds like. I know my influences, but I might think it’s more (like), “Oh, the guitar sounds more like this.” But really someone else might think, ‘No, it sounds more like this.’ I think you idealize things. But, yeah, that’s a really good description.
So, tell me about the writing of the song.
I wrote that song in, I believe, 2015 or early 2016. I kinda was going through a post-breakup thing and, you know, like, every songwriter is kind of a poet. And they romanticize. It’s kinda like, oh, if I can’t have you, no one can. It’s not my fault. You know, you can’t capture the wind. It’s impossible, which is what the song’s about. Some people, you wanna love them but you can’t.
I’m very much a lyric guy, so I picked up on a couple of lyrics. What happens when you metaphorically capture the wind? The lyric says, “Impossible they say.” What say you? Impossible, in fact?
Really, like I think in relationships, if it doesn’t work out you probably shouldn’t chase it. That’s kinda the idea. You know, I’m gonna fight to make this work. You know, I want to make this work. What is it gonna take? I’m really appreciative that you’re into lyrics because a lot of people aren’t. And I found that out recently. And that’s my biggest thing: I like writing songs for the lyrics.
Let me throw one more (lyric) out at you. It seems to me in the song that the stakes are high I guess because the last line in the song says, “If I can’t capture the wind I will die.”
Right. That’s kinda like mellow dramatic, but it’s kinda the idea that when you really love someone you might think at the time that you are soulmates, and if you believe in all that, it’s saying you might die emotionally. You’ll still be alive, but your life might not be great. But at the same time, you get over it and you live. I don’t know, I feel like that’s a different song or that’s not as interesting. I think you gotta raise the stakes. Definitely. And that’s the idea. So yeah, you’re not gonna physically die, but you’re gonna die emotionally. It’s like you’re not being alive then.
It’s a great song. What about “Keep on Chasing Rainbows”?
That’s another breakup song. So that song was written in 2018 and, I was just going through another breakup. The third woman I’ve loved in my life. I think we were both in love with each other, but she didn’t fully understand love because she kinda comes from a broken home. The whole idea is like, keep on chasing rainbows. You can’t ever catch a rainbow. You can go after it as much as you want, but you’re never gonna get it. And so (the lyric), “Keep on chasing rainbows till you find your pot of gold/and if it don’t shine as bright as you’ve been told/you can trace your footsteps back to me/back on down the line/something purer than gold you’re gonna find.” That’s about love, essentially. You can chase all the material things in life, but really love’s purer than gold. It’s the best thing. It’s one of my favorite songs, actually.
I will say this: if you in fact did chase down a rainbow, I would think you might expect to find a pot of gold albums down the road (laughs).
(Laughs) I wish!
Let’s get into just a little more background bio.
Yeah, so I was born in Berkeley (CA.), lived in the East Bay until I was in about fourth grade and then moved down to Santa Cruz. Nature, they say, influences music, and I think that definitely influenced me. Santa Cruz is basically like mountains and forest and then beach. Like there’s no in between. And so, I think that influenced my music, too.
How much – if at all – did family dynamics play a role in your initially turning to songs and songwriting probably for solace?
There’s a weird dynamic between me and my father because my father would quiz me on music and showed me so much of it. My dad doesn’t play music. He can’t play anything. But he knows a bunch about music. He really got me into music. When we moved down to Santa Cruz, basically my dad became very depressed and for a period left the family, so there was that dynamic, too. I don’t wanna say I’ve had a terrible life, but I’ve had a hard life in a lot of ways. That definitely contributes to the music. Like, I love my dad and everything, but there was that kinda heartbreak for a long time. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the things my family and I went through.
Let’s wrap it up with a fun and very hypothetical question: If John Mayer, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons are all playing in the same city on the same night, which show would I see you at?
Can I ask a question?
Is this Bob Dylan in his prime, or is this Bob Dylan now?
(Laughs) That’s a great question! Bob Dylan in his prime.
Bob Dylan in his prime. Hands down. Bob Dylan is my favorite songwriter of all-time. I think Bob Dylan’s also had the biggest influence on me. I don’t know if you know the album Chimes of Freedom, but it’s a compilation of Bob Dylan songs covered by other artists. My mom bought me that when I think I was a sophomore in high school. That whole album changed my life. Bob Dylan’s the greatest songwriter of all-time.
I wouldn’t argue with you on that. And yeah, we could go on. Alright, Colby. Take care. Bye-bye.
Jim, thank you very much. You, too.