A favourite lockdown release of 2020 and an album that’s rarely off the decks at AUK Towers is Richard Davies and the Dissidents’ debut album, ‘Human Traffic’. From the rollicking “grab-life -by-the-scruff-of-the-neck” title track to the John Mellencamp / Rick Springfield-like sensibilities of ‘21st Century Man’ via the infectious melodies and note perfect guitar soloing in ‘Long Road to Your Heart’, ‘Human Traffic’ takes a road trip to a place where rock ‘n’ roll swagger meets Johnny Thunders, making a detour along the way via Ian Hunter, Paul Westerberg, Alex Chilton and the Rolling Stones, all the while never stopping to forget it’s the tunes that matter. A melodic pop/rock gem in other words.
Mark Underwood of Americana-UK sat down with Richard Davies to discuss the release of his debut album, talk about creativity under Covid, and what it really means to be a 21st Century Man.
It must have been hard making the decision to put an album out during lockdown, especially seeing as it’s your first solo album. I know the record’s been about two and a half years in the making. Why decide to release it now?
We had finished the record when lockdown started in March and I talked to Nick West at the label (Bucketfull of Brains) – he wanted to stick to the release schedule and I agreed. The record did take about two years to record, but it was recorded in short bursts when schedules allowed the band to get together. Looking back, I’m really glad that we put it out when we did, a lot of people have told me that having some new music to listen to helped ease the pressures of lockdown. I suppose it was a bit of a risk, the world seemed to be falling apart in March, but so far so good, so thanks Nick!
It’s a terrific record. You must be delighted with the reception it’s receiving.
Thanks Mark. I am really pleased with reception the album has been getting. A lot of people have been really supportive and it’s important to me as an artist to make that connection with people who love music. I have actually been quite surprised that quite a diverse cross section of people are enjoying the record and I think that’s a really positive thing. I should also add that there’s a great team working behind the scenes and they’ve played a big part in getting the record the attention it’s received so far.
Are most of the songs ones you’d written some time ago?
Most of the songs were written whilst the recording process was underway, so they are quite recent, although I wrote ‘Echo Road’ a few years ago. For the first time I was writing songs that I was going to sing myself, and I found that aspect of the whole thing very enjoyable and rewarding, but also a little intimidating. It can be quite difficult writing for other singers, as everyone has their own way of delivering the lines. Writing for yourself is a lot easier. It was great to able to write something on a Sunday afternoon and then go and record it the next day.
How has lockdown been for you? You seem to have taken it as a good opportunity to record a number of videos as well as undertake some rehearsals with the band.
I think lockdown has been a really strange and difficult time for many people and the usual way of promoting an album is to get out there and play some shows, but of course we couldn’t do that. Tim was really the driving force behind the videos and pretty much organised everything. My wife Boo shot me with an I Phone, and now everyone knows what our living room looks like! I do have to thank Darren Stockford for the excellent ‘Way of the Wild’ video, he did an amazing job and of course Nick for the ‘21st Century Man’ video. We have only just started to get back together for rehearsals (socially distanced of course!), and I’m happy to say that the band is sounding absolutely wonderful!
The video for the first single off the album, ‘21st Century Man’, features yourself and each of the band members in self-isolation in your homes. You’ve said it’s about “confronting change”. What does being a 21st century man mean to you?
‘21st Century Man’ is about confronting change. We’ve managed to get to a point where masculinity is considered to be toxic, and looking at the people who are supposed to be running our lives, it’s not that difficult to see why. It’s probably easy to to be a little confused as a man right now, you know, you’re taught as a child that you have to be strong and that you shouldn’t show emotion, but I think we have to keep listening to new voices and to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we’re not in charge any more. If we can do that and unreservedly embrace equality, we’ll be ok. I hope.
What was the inspiration behind the album title and the song of the same name?
‘Human Traffic’ is about transience, fragility and fate. The world seems to be moving very quickly right now, but most of us are kind of in the same boat, life can be a struggle if you’re not wealthy. I thought of the title when I was sitting in a traffic jam in Oxford and everybody just seemed so pissed off, that whole thing of getting up and driving to work seemed so miserable at that moment in time. There was a homeless guy sitting on a bench just watching the traffic passing by and he seemed happier than everybody, I guess he was the inspiration for the song. I’ll go and find him at some point and buy him a couple of drinks.
Has the current situation changed your own approach to writing and recording? Has lockdown proven something of a spur to the creative process?
Strangely enough, lockdown has been a very creative period for me. I’ve written most of the next record during lockdown and I guess I’ve just been able to find the space to do that. There has been very little pressure to write, but I have found myself just wanting to do it. In terms of recording, I’ve been doing stuff on ‘Garage Band’ on my phone, but I am really looking forward to getting back into the studio. I still get very excited about being in a studio and am more aware than ever of the wonderful possibilities that exist in that environment. I guess it’s a case of absence making the heart grow even fonder.
“It’s dog eat dog… you gotta fight to survive”. Does ‘The Way of the Wild’ expose the lie that there’s a genuine interest in a kinder, more considerate society post Covid?
I sometimes wonder if I was maybe a little harsh in that song, I do believe in trying to be as positive as possible. Having said that, a lot of people are suffering right now, not least many of my musician friends and government support has been pretty non-existent. I don’t really believe that the current government is really that interested in building a kinder society, but hopefully I am wrong. I do think, however, that the younger generations seem to have a genuine interest in making the world a better place and that gives me cause for optimism, but there’s a lot of work to do.
‘Lay Me Low’ is a traditional Shaker hymn that you’ve decided to update on the album. It’s a song that’s been covered by the likes of Nick Cave, Coope, Boyes and Simpson, and The Albion Band, and it’s one that seems very suited to our times. Do you have your own favourite interpretation of the song?
As you point out Mark, the song does seem very suited to these times and I think that’s why I decided to record it. In some ways its a cry for help but it also has a defiance to it. The version I first heard was the Coope, Boyes and Simpson song and I fell in love with the melody and their beautiful harmonies. It remains my favourite interpretation, apart from ours!
The other cover on the album is ‘Heartbeat Smile’ by Alejandro Escobedo, who is such an inspiring person in so many ways. Tell us a bit about your own musical heroes?
I’m a bit of a latecomer to Alejandro’s music, but am now a definite convert, I love his songs, and you’re right Mark, he is a very inspiring artist. My own musical heroes are Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, The Stones, David Bowie, Gram Parsons, The Kinks, Johnny Thunders, The Only Ones and Tom Petty, and many more besides. I’m not quite sure what has attracted me to these artists, maybe a sardonic vocal style, maybe a certain worldview, but definitely a way of writing melodies that just seems to connect with me. Simon Moor of The Snakes has been a real help and inspiration over the years, we’re great friends and I tend to play him recordings before playing them to anyone else.
It would be great to hear these songs performed out on the road. Have you hatched any plans for live dates, perhaps in 2021?
We haven’t arranged any shows yet, but I’d like to reassure people who’ve bought the record that it’s an absolute priority and we’re talking about a couple of possibilities at the moment. I really am looking forward to getting out there and playing the songs live. I have a really great band and I want people to see them, but as I’ve said before, we’ll have to be patient and wait until it’s safe. I can’t be the only one who is missing the live music experience, something that was a big part of a lot of peoples lives, I also think it’s really important that sound engineers, lighting people, techs and everyone else involved in putting a show together get to go to work again, they’re really feeling it right now. I feel a genuine concern for those unable to make a living at the moment and hope we can get back to playing live as soon as possible. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Thanks so much Richard. It was great talking to you.
‘Human Traffic’ is out on Bucketfull of Brains Records, through Proper.