Chris Davisson of The Davisson Brothers Band Finds Home Is Where The Heart Is
The Davisson Brothers Band will be releasing their new album, Home Is Where The Heart Is, on April 28th, 2023 via Rollin’ The Dice Records. This West Virginian Americana band has always moved between genres, and for this new collection, we get a fair idea of all the places they’ve been while they also build toward their current sound, which is a folding together of Country traditions and Bluegrass/jam-band traditions.
Writing the songs on Home Is Where The Heart Is proceeded from this exact combination since Chris Davisson decided to purposefully gather together Nashville songwriters and also members of the Bluegrass/jam-band community and get them writing together with he and his brother Donnie. The result was a beautiful experiment that Chris Davisson repeated with even more collaborators the second time around. Without planning to, Chris and Donnie’s songs tended toward ideas of home on their family farm in their native West Virginia. Produced by Brent Cobb and David “Ferg” Ferguson, the album also features friends Tim O’Brien, Rob McCoury, Stewart Duncan, Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman, Ronnie Bowman, Kyle Tuttle, Lindsay Lou, and more.
I spoke with Chris Davisson about his long connections with members of various musical communities and how those connections came to fruition for The Davisson Brothers’ very personal album, Home Is Where The Heart Is.
Americana Highways: I came across your helping Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman with his solo debut album, Enjoy the Ride. It’s really excellent that you encouraged him to explore more collaborative songwriting.
Chris Davisson: He’s a wonderful person and a great human being. He’s a one-of-a-kind character.
AH: Everything you just said is exactly how he feels about you all, too.
CD: He’s kind of been a mentor to us. He took us under his wing when we were just young guys trying to learn the festival world. He was the granddaddy of festivals. He showed us the ropes and then some!
AH: His story was inspiring because he was doing something that was scary to him. This sounds like it’s all come full circle because he helped you out, then you helped him out.
CD: Exactly! Like everybody in the touring world, especially the jam-band guys, they hit it hard. He always had side projects and stayed on the road but when covid hit, he was grounded. He ended up coming to West Virginia and I have a little fishing camp up on a trout stream in the mountains. He had his motor home and parked it there for a few days.
He stayed and we did some meet ups. He didn’t have any plans, and I said, “Let’s go to Nashville. Let’s go down and write some songs!” But he had never done a co-write before, so I got him in a room. I got our friend Sierra Ferrell in there, too, since she had never done a co-write before either. We wrote seven songs that day and magic happened! A switch flipped for Vince, and he knew this is what he needed to do. He’s moved to Nashville now. It’s been a great thing.
I’ve always had this kind of thing in my mind since we come from a jam-band, bluegrass background. Early on in our career, my dad has us out there doing country music. As soon as we were out of high school, we were introduced to bluegrass and jam-band festivals. We did that for years and were influenced by Leftover Salmon and Vince. We’d do things with them. Several years later, we got a call from folks in Nashville and we made a record there. At this point, we wanted to go back and make a record where we could mix the jam-band world with the writers of country music. It’s been an amazing collaboration. We’ve had fun watching these worlds collide.
AH: A lot of what we’ve been talking about regarding Vince has bearing on what you’ve been experiencing in the past few years. Not everyone instinctually wants to be collaborative about songwriting. Is that something that came natural to you all, or did you come across it in some way that turned you onto it?
CD: We had an uncle who lives up on our family farm up in West Virginia. Our family helped found the town we live in here in Clarksburg, West Virginia, that was in Virginia before it was West Virginia. We still have one of the original pieces of our family farm and land from the 1700s.
My uncle really never left the farm much in his whole life, and he’s in his mid-60s now. He’s never seen a Wal-Mart or a mall. He goes to town once or twice a year. But he’s always been the songwriter in the family. My dad was more of a bluesy, rocker kind of guy. As kids, we’d write songs with my uncle, my brother and me, as a three-way write. Over the years, we ventured out on our own, and Donny and I would write, even going down the road. He’d have a guitar in the passenger seat.
We got introduced to Nashville by the head of A&R for Sony Records. He was the first person who said, “Guys, I love everything you’re doing, but I have guys who write every day. They have a special gift of getting in a room with an artist and enhancing things.” I found it very unique. I didn’t know if it was going to work, but it was lifechanging. It was like these guys had known us our whole life. They’d ask us questions about our family. They’d let us lead, but the ability they had made us better. I’ve carried that over the years. We look at it as another tool in the toolbox and it helps us evolve, I think.
AH: It sounds like a way of getting things out of yourself, creatively, that you may not know are there.
CD: One hundred percent. And you’re looking up at things, but they are looking down at things from the sky in terms of perspective. Also, my brother and I are very different people and different personalities, but they have a way of bringing both of us together. It’s a really cool thing. I always have looked at it like Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Jerry had all this music and Robert Hunter was this master lyricist. We’re born with our skills, but some people have a special gift. If you can’t learn from these people, you’re doing yourself a disservice. But we still make sure we only do things that feel right to us. We live and breathe every lyric and note we record and write. We stay true to ourselves and where we come from.
AH: That makes a lot of sense as a guideline because there are a lot of great ideas that may not be right for you. It has to fit.
CD: It could be even just one word that doesn’t work. We try to catch that! We dug into the writing during this downtime. It’s rewarding to play in front of twenty or thirty thousand people, but it’s also rewarding bringing a song to light in a room of two or three people. Then they are there forever. I also have four nephews coming up in music, aged 20, 21, 22, who have been on stage with us since they were three years old. It’s been so good to watch them take on our songwriting and bring their own music to light. Nothing makes me feel prouder as an uncle and nothing makes my brother feel prouder as a dad. It’s evolved. We’re already four or five generations of musicians, going back to my great grandfather.
AH: That’s an amazing story. Thanks for sharing that. Making this album was caused by a decision that you made to go do a songwriting session in South Carolina, right? And you had an intention to bring together people from different musical traditions to do it.
CD: Yes, we have a friend who puts on The Carolina Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach. These guys are really good to us and they have a lodge that sleeps about twenty people on a 1200 acre piece of property. It’s beautiful farmland with ponds. We did a songwriter’s retreat where I got the Nashville writers out of their normal element and I brought my jam-band Bluegrass friends to put everybody in a room together.
I took Channing Wilson and Rob Snyder from Nashville, who have been in our corner for a long time. I also had Adam Hood, my brother Donnie, and Wyatt Durrette. From the jam-band world I had Vince Herman, banjo champion Kyle Tuttle. We were all in a lodge together for four days. We were all hanging out together, and all the sudden I saw Vince and Kyle get out the instruments, and I thought “Here We Go.” I thought I was at a bluegrass festival.
AH: It’s exactly like a little festival.
CD: I knew we were onto something here and it happened. We wrote songs all day and all night, ate, drank beer, and had a blast. We came out of there with a pile of songs. It was magic. I thought, “This is what I’ve been working my whole career to make happen, to put these two worlds together.” We listened to these work tapes the whole ride back to West Virginia. I called my manager and said, “We have to record this stuff.”
We ended up taking that pile of songs and setting up a writer’s retreat just like that one together, but in Nashville. We doubled the number of writers and musicians. We ended up writing 55 songs in those two retreats, and we sent them to Brent Cobb and David “Ferg” Ferguson. Brent Cobb called me and said, “I don’t know if you realize it, but about 90% of these songs are about Appalachia and home. Can I name this record for you? It’s ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is.’”
Subconsciously, I didn’t know that me and my brother were doing that, but it was true. It’s been an amazing journey.
AH: It’s definitely a story of doing something differently and getting very different results because of it.
CD: It could have gone a different way! Some of my friends thought I was crazy, but it worked. I’ve got more like this coming up. I’m definitely that guy to come to, now!
AH: The song “Cross My Heart” is coming out soon. Though in some ways, it’s not the obvious song about home being where the heart is, there’s actually a lot of imagery and places in the song. That’s part of the drama of it.
CD: That song was written by my brother and his son Nicholas. This song represents a time in Donny’s life hanging out in camps on the creek. We have a creek that comes down, Ten Mile Creek, where we’ve grown up our entire lives. It has a deep meaning for us. That song paints the picture of that. This album is a little story of where we come from and where we’re at as artists. We’re making a statement. We live and breathe this music and the outdoors, and we’ve captured some of the stages of our career on this album. This song happens to have a stronger Country influence.
AH: “Mountain High” is a very different song but it’s a great preview of the album, along with the video.
CD: We have a Native American friend who’s heavily influenced us and been playing music with us for twenty some years. The beat of the song is kind of influenced by Native American music. There’s a mixture of things. Maybe it’s a Mountain Country Rock song!
AH: The vocals play a strong role, too, to the point that the song could just be pure vocals. It also brings in so many vocals that it could almost be a choral piece.
CD: That is our entire family singing on those background vocals. That’s my dad, my nephews, and a cousin of mine, and a family friend. We had our family doing boot-stomps on a hard wood floor. We put all our family around one mic for a group chant song.
AH: It’s a great statement for the album.
CD: I actually wrote that one on a banjo! I don’t do that very often. We started with the feel of that banjo. We wrote that song in probably less than an hour. It just fell out of the sky somehow.
AH: “Wild and Wonderful” is a song that has similar ideas but differently expressed. It says two things at the same time, but isn’t complicated, comparing the landscape to a person in a relationship.
CD: That song came from a unique place, too. We had gotten together up in a mountain cabin up on the trout stream. That’s the only song that came out of that session. I woke up early one morning and my brother had already gone down to the stream to fish. A family friend, Nate Frederick, was still half asleep, but I said, “We’re going write a song. It’s called ‘Wild and Wonderful.’ You see that mountain out there? It’s pretty wild and wonderful.” The weather had been wonderful but I could see a storm coming. I said, “The mountain is a lady. Let’s make reference to our state motto, ‘Wild and Wonderful.’ Let’s make this about her.” It’s got that double meaning.
AH: It’s a bit of a quieter ballad as well, which suggests more of a long relationship.
CD: Yes, and I brought in a young female artist from West Virginia, Roxy Hanley, and she brings in a mystical kind of voice. We portrayed her as the lady of the mountain with her voice in the background to capture that. She’s the spiritual voice of the mountain on that track. I think she nailed it.