Dan Davidson Crosses Borders With Six Songs To Midnight EP
Canadian Country artist, songwriter, and producer Dan Davidson recently released his latest EP, Six Songs To Midnight, and for him it represents a subtle turning point in his professional career for a few different reasons. It further cements his decision to move into country music as a songwriter and performer and it also is the product of a conscious choice to try to reach out to country music fans in a more global way, finding the elements in his music that can cross borders best.
Davidson had a significant crash-course in songwriting and touring with the indie rock band Tupelo Honey and continues to follow a pattern of remaining independent as a musician, releasing singles that are then collected as EPs, in his solo country work. Since then he’s also become a producer and a collaborative songwriter which had added further dimensions to his experience of the music industry. I spoke with Dan Davidson about the twists and turns that make Six Songs to Midnight a great representation of his musical direction right now, his international mindset, and the DIY elements he still embraces when reaching out to fans.
Americana Highways: It seems like this collection took a different path for you than working on previous EPs. Is that true?
Dan Davidson: For normal albums, I block off time in the studio, and I sit down and write and record, but it just didn’t come together that way on this one. I think I started writing for it without even knowing that I was writing for this record. Some of the songs came together recently during the pandemic, and some of the songs I rediscovered a love for. Some of these older songs had set me on a trajectory down this path that set the sound for this collection. I basically tried to collect all the tunes that felt belonged together and I felt summarized this chapter of my songwriting.
AH: Does that mean that when you looked back at some older songs, you saw elements of what your sound direction might be at the moment or in the future?
DD: I think that’s totally true. Two songs on the record are older, including “I Do,” which I wrote on a trip to England. It was then that I realized there might be something I could tap into which could cross borders. Writing for Canada and America is one thing, but reaching Australia, the UK, and France became a big thing for me. That became part of this record, realizing that there’s a big world out there and a lot of people to get music to.
Another of the older ones was written on a writer’s camp in the Dominican Republic. It’s a day I call “my best day at work ever.” I was sent to work with a bunch of Canadian and American artists, writers, and producers. Instead of hanging out in a studio by the coffee machine, I was sitting on a beach with a bunch of my friends drinking beer in between writing breaks. That was “Don’t Judge a Beer by Its Label.” Once those two songs happened, the rest kind of followed after that.
AH: When you look at this collection, how do you articulate what you feel the songs have in common?
DD: I was thinking about that recently, wondering what the common threads were. I think a lot of it accidentally became poignant for our current times. The two themes seem to be “get drunk and fall in love,” which seems to be a thing I do with songs, and the other one is a kind of cheeky “I get by with a little help from my friends” thing. There’s definitely a vibe of “we’re all in this together.” It’s not serious by any stretch. “Roll With It” is a great example of that. You just find a way to keep a smile on your face in all the craziness. It comes from me being a bit of a merciless optimist. I feel like I’m always trying to be that guy.
AH: I think the world needs millions more of those people, so please continue. I see comedic elements that you bring in with some of the songs and videos, not taking yourself too seriously. But you don’t leave out the texture of real life when you do that. You seem to have some sidelong realism in there.
DD: I think you’re right. I’ve always asked myself about that. It’s an era where there’s so much music and there’s so much coming at everyone from every angle. People are always trying to say the right thing at the right time, but as an artist, I feel like personality has always got to win out. I think that artists really thrive when their fans care about them, and the best way to create that is to give them a glimpse of reality. I’ve never been afraid to show that side.
A lot of the videos I’ve made in the past were just me and my best friend Travis, who’s a video director, and we’d jump on a plane to somewhere crazy to shoot a video. We shot a video in Tokyo where they dressed me up like John Wayne meets Elton John and they had me walk around, just shooting how weird the Japanese people thought I was. Doing crazy things was a big part of my personality early in my career. Now I think I’m leaning a little more on the artistic angle. But there’s still that element where I want to communicate that artists are real people too.
AH: You seem to have built up a lot of knowledge about how to be an independent artist when working operating in a band in the past. Has that helped you with the transition to being an indie solo artist?
DD: Luckily for me, all those lessons learned with an independent rock band as a really young guy stuck with me. When I launched my country career, I was ready to hit the ground running and it put me in a great spot. It can be a scary place for artists, even signed artists, so I feel lucky to have that knowledge.
AH: How monumental for you was the decision to move from rock to country?
DD: It was a little scary. I grew up in the Canadian prairie with just fields and farms, so it’s always kind of been there. My dad and my grandpa listened to a lot of country with their 70s Rock. It had always been a door that I kept locked in my writing, but I started to see that it wasn’t all that different from what I would usually do. I started connecting the dots between my musical journey as a kid and the roads that I had gone down as a songwriter.
I started seeing some of my friends, like Dallas Smith, having some great success in country, and we had a chat one day. He had toured in a rock band too and he told me that it was something I should think about it. It kind of made sense and I unlocked that door. Songs just started falling out of me. Before I knew it, my second release went gold in Canada, platinum now. Keeping up with the momentum of that song really launched the career.
AH: I notice that you’ve written with other artists a fair amount as well as your work as a producer. How do you think that affects your songwriting?
DD: It’s led me to some really cool scenarios. I’ve been in China working with pop artists. I’ve been in the UK working with country artists and pop artists. I’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville, too, but it’s been a huge part of my musical journey to get all those ideas out. It really helps me out and keeps me from feeling like every idea I have has to be shoe-horned into my country world as a solo artist. Some things that are potentially a great idea just might not be a great idea for country.
Country music is such a lyrical game, and everything has to be crafted just right. There are so many angles to think about and some other genres are more loose. But developing all those friendships around the world has led to some interesting opportunities. I’m usually the “demo guy” and I make a demo for the song and a lot of times all that demo work turns into production. I wrote a few songs with a Canadian band called The Road Hammers, and I ended up producing three songs on their record.
AH: I notice you collaborated with Hayley Jensen, and Australian artist, on “I Really Shouldn’t Drink Around You.” Having her on the song really changes the song because it becomes a dual perspective on relationships from both a male and female point of view.
DD: Totally. At first, I had it as a solo song, but the more we thought about it, it was a great opportunity to introduce another voice. I had just had a top ten in Australia and was getting to know more Australian artists and I was even working on Hayley Jensen’s record with her. It all just culminated at the right time. One thing leads to another in this business. It’s always a great way to find a new path.
AH: The video for that song is quite funny, with Hayley on the TV to bring her in as the second voice and having a living room set up in a field.
DD: I think typically I would have flown to Australia to do that, but it was mid-pandemic. That field is five minutes from my house, so we did what we do. Travis and I sat down and came up with the idea two days before we shot it. Sometimes really cool stuff comes out of pressure like that.
AH: The video for “Roll With It” with The Road Hammers is fun, too, with live play, but also using these rolling screens to suggest motion.
DD: That was actually shot at our office. Travis and I both have studios in the same building, and there’s a big greenscreen room. The Road Hammers were in town that weekend and we made a plan to bring in a little bit of production. We bought a treadmill and cut the top off. There was an old car sitting in one of our friend’s dad’s garage, so to make it look like I was driving, he was just off camera jumping on the hood. The car was shaking around. There’s a little bit of DIY movie magic there.
AH: I get the sense from both the song and the video that you and The Road Hammers have played live together before.
DD: Yes, we have done a couple little things together. Coming up, we’re hosting the Country Music Alberta Awards. We’ve crossed paths a lot in the past few years. They are fun to hang out with, and there are a lot of bad jokes flying around all the time. Dad jokes and bad jokes.
AH: With “Role Models,” both the song and the video really feel like they speak to these times. That one includes a lot of real-life detail that makes it more impactful.
DD: I never intended for that song’s message to be relatable to the state of the world, but both that song and “Roll With It” seem to. With “Role Models,” I guess the vibe is, “Sometimes you have a bad day, but as long as you have friends and a case of beer, things don’t seem so bad.”
AH: It seems like it can be freeing to admit that you’re no hero sometimes. Sometimes that speaks to audiences because there’s something very human there.
DD: It’s a very big “we” statement, rather than a “me and you” or “her and I.” Those kind of songs are really great for beer gardens and festivals. Everyone wants to feel like we’re all partying together.
AH: Even though the song doesn’t directly reference this, it occurred to me that the role of social media is often to tell the most perfect version of our lives. That song really undercuts that tendency with a realistic admission about oneself.
DD: It’s true. There are so many little things that can go wrong all the time, and that’s normal. But you just don’t see that online, especially from artists. Artists are the worst about that, trying to pretend that they are perfect heroes. I feel like people see through that and can tell the difference between what’s real life and what’s not. Why not try to relate to them on a level that we can all understand?
Find more info about Dan Davidson here: https://www.dandavidsonmusic.com
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