Patrick Davis

Interview: Patrick Davis Talks Personal Connection and “Carolina When I Die”


Patrick Davis photo by Zach Sinclair

Patrick Davis Talks Personal Connection and “Carolina When I Die”

Despite the fact that South Carolina native Patrick Davis is a relatively young man, he has already spent many years as a professional songwriter, writing for Guy Clark, Jimmy Buffett, Jewel, Lady A, Morgan Wallen, Maggie Rose, and many more. Two related paths have taken him further into more personal songwriting and performing, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

Firstly, over the past decade, he’s gradually built up a series of successful events in multiple locations known as Songwriters in Paradise that bring the spotlight to songwriters who share the stories behind their songs “in the round” and make a connection with small audiences in locations like Healdsburg, California, the Napa Valley, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and more. Secondly, though Davis has always done some solo work, more recently he made a decision to focus more fully on writing and recording a solo album, Carolina When I Die, which will arrive in 2024, and playing live shows with his touring band as Patrick Davis & His Midnight Choir.

Ahead of the arrival of Carolina When I Die, the songs “Six String Dreams” and “Beautiful Day For Flying” have been released. The video for the latter includes footage from Davis’ recent marriage to fellow songwriter and performer Lauren Jenkins. I spoke with Patrick Davis about the evolving role of songwriters right now, working on his new album, and making that essential personal connection to his work and with audiences.


Americana Highways: The music on this album feels pretty timeless to me. Is that something you think about?

Patrick Davis: I’m trying to make music that will last for long after we’re all gone.

AH: I think a lot of people might feel that way but are afraid to say it so openly, that they hope that their work will last a long time. That probably changes how you work and how you feel about the songs.

PD: I would hope that everyone in the world could have that feeling about everything that they do, whatever it is. I think the world would probably be a kinder, gentler place if we all had this aim, to do things that aren’t just about today. For me, personally, I always try to set out to write and record songs that, hopefully, when you hear them, you think, “How did that song not already exist? That should have been a standard!” No one hits that all the time, or even ten percent of the time, but the idea all along should be that you’re trying to write a song where people can’t believe it hasn’t already been out there in the universe.

I’m very proud of this album and what’s on it, but at the same time, I’m not silly enough to say that I hit the mark like that on all these songs. But there are a few of them where I think you might feel that way about them, wondering, “How did I not hear that song before?”

AH: There are several really classic sounding songs. If you want something to last a long time, it’s natural to look to things that have lasted a long time.

PD: One hundred percent. I don’t really follow trends very well. Like Oscar Wilde said, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” You should ask yourself, “What are the best things in the world?” I don’t care if it’s the best cities, the best wines, the best music, but there are two types of music, good and bad! None of us are ever going to write “Yesterday” again, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be your goal. That sort of idea really gets lost in this world with everyone trying to be an Influencer. They aren’t thinking about tomorrow, they are thinking about how to get “likes” today, and that’s not sustainable.

AH: And internet time moves incredibly quickly. What gets attention today will probably not get attention tomorrow.

PD: Exactly, it’s where content is king, too. I’ve seen that a lot in Nashville, which is a machine. They don’t care about quality, it’s just the constant need for content. I have to be completely against that. I follow those old guys who were trying to put out music that meant something, not just music that meant something financially. It has taken me a lifetime to figure that out, though. You have to be bull-headed and sure of yourself, and that takes time. As I always say, I’m a late bloomer.

AH: In my experience, late bloomers often bring a lot to the table because they’ve worked in different fields and had different observations that can now be applied. It might be unconventional but it’s helpful.

PD: I’m not upset about the “late bloomer” thing, because it does allow me a clarity that I would have never had as a 25-year-old. I have a deeper understanding of not just who I am, but what I’m not. That’s a powerful thing.

AH: I know that you perform live a lot and part of the pay-off for you of writing original music is to get to see other peoples’ responses. On top of that, you seem to really like to do that alongside other people. Your live band is rather giant!

PD: When I really figured out what I wanted to sound like, my heroes were all older folks. Joe Cocker had a band called Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Lyle Lovett had a big band, and Van Morrison always had a big oufit. Bruce Springsteen, too. Those guys were always the sound that I wanted. One thing that’s beneficial for me is that after doing songwriting for so long, I was able to get myself into a place financially to where I could take ten people on the road.

I don’t play a crazy amount of dates, and I play the Southeast mostly. But I take out what I call “Patrick Davis & his Midnight Choir.” And it’s up to fifteen people. It’s horns, it’s singers, and we all wear our Sunday best. Everyone wears suits and dresses, and I want to present the music in the way that’s a celebration of being connected. In the end, that’s all anyone wants, is to be connected. I feel like the best way to convey that through my songs and performances is with the Midnight Choir.

AH: I’ve heard about your “Songwriters in Paradise” events and they seem to be doing very well. Do you think people are ready these days for that more direct experience of songwriters and songs?

PD: It’s very important for me that songwriters are embraced. I think that everything’s cyclical and we’ll get to a point where a songwriter will be embraced on a grander scale. Pop and dance music are popular now, but I think people will get bored with so much noise. I think there’s a greater place for it. There’s a different and much deeper connection when you’re able to really talk to audiences and tell the stories behind the songs. It happens every single time.

AH: The events speak for themselves, since you’ve clearly proven that people want this. I think a lot of fan groups got more personally connected to musicians on social media during the pandemic and it’s a similar sort of reaching out. I hope it continues.

PD: I think that’s accurate. When I was a kid and heard Led Zeppelin or Guns ‘n Roses, in my mind those people lived off in a fairytale land, in a castle, with dragons. In today’s world, where people have so much access, people expect more from us. A lot of people think that means more pictures and videos, but I ask, “Why don’t we actually give them more? Why don’t we describe and tell them the stories behind these songs, and make them feel a part of it?”

I was reading Steinbeck last night and someone was talking about The Grapes of Wrath. They said that he was the first one who made the audience part of the story, who made the audience feel like this was their story. That’s really what you’re trying to do as a songwriter, is make the audiences part of the story, too. I want the audience to feel like, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. That could be my life.”


AH: With your latest song, “Beautiful Day for Flying,” that’s one of the really classic feeling songs on this album. It’s so ethereal. It feels brave that you allow it to be so delicate. Was that a struggle at all to keep yourself from changing it?

PD: I always produce my own songs. When I was doing that particular song, it just felt right. It’s a song that can be played on an acoustic guitar. You don’t need anything other than that acoustic guitar. That’s a measuring stick for any song. It needs to be able to survive on its own without any dressing up. With that one, my buddies and I were in the Bahamas doing clean-up for some Songwriters in Paradise friends after a hurricane. I had overheard a buddy saying, as I got onto a little plane, “It’s a beautiful day for flying.” What happens when you’re around songwriters is that if you say anything interesting, we’re going to steal it, and you’re not going to get credit for it! [Laughs]

So that was the title. I took that line and started wondering what it meant. We sat down and really set out to make a song that sounded like a classic. We purposefully didn’t try to make it sound like something on Country Radio. We wanted to write what the song deserved and that’s what we did there.

In terms of being classic sounding, and being something I’m proud of, it sounds like something that could have been recorded by Sinatra or Adele. You can feel it, you can taste it, you can touch it. It just has a special quality that I’m proud of.

AH: I think even lyrically, you’re very restrained in that song to keep within that feeling.

PD: Yes, it literally has one verse and the chorus! The greatest compliment I’ve received about that song is that it’s two minutes long but there’s nothing missing. That’s the biggest compliment that you can receive as a songwriter. You do your best to be concise and exact. I was actually surprised that it’s only two minutes long.

AH: There’s something interesting about how the theme and the sound go together, which is preserving a kind of airy quality, like being up in the air.

PD: It’s dreamy. They call it “falling in love” for a reason, and it’s that feeling. It’s that inexplicable thing, when it comes to love. You can’t really convey how it feels, but certain moments do feel like flying.

AH: I understand that in some ways, this album is a more personal reflection of your life. A couple of the songs, like “Southern Roots” seems to hint at that. Did you draw on your life experiences for that one?

PD: As a songwriter, I kind of collect song ideas and titles in my phone. I had the title “Southern Roots” and I was writing with my friend Levi Lowrey. He’s an incredible songwriter from Athens, Georgia. I had this idea and Levi is an incredible fiddle player, so I thought we’d be able to craft it well. The song is definitely steeped in my own personal journey. I don’t necessarily have a tree out my window! But when you’re trying to put together a story, I thought about a big oak tree in a front yard that’s seen everything.

I grew up in a small town that’s just gotten bigger and bigger. I still love that place. My family are never leaving. In the bridge where it says, “A little rough around the edges, a little older every day…,” that’s definitely me! That’s every one of us. I also am very proud to be from the South. There’s a bevvy of good things and a bevvy of bad things about the history there, but overall, it’s a wonderful place. I think that’s one of those songs that will mean a lot to folks when they hear it. I want people to feel when they hear it, “Oh, he’s talking about my life.” I think we’re at our best, as artists, when people feel that. As a songwriter, I feel like I was lucky to write that song.

Thanks for chatting with us, Patrick.

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