There’s a moment in a short school project film about the Chicago folk punk scene where Davey Dynamite stands, legs apart, a battered guitar around his neck, locking eyes with a bearded man less than a meter away as he sings his heart out for all he’s worth. The man bellows the lyrics back with the same amount of intensity and gusto, as if the lyrics mean as much to him as to the young man who wrote them. Rather surprisingly, that bearded man turns out to be a professor of Anthropology which seems to be a fitting summary of Davey Dynamite the artist. He is a singer with that rare ability to connect with his audience on their level no matter who they are or where they come from. He has that uncanny ability to frame instantly relatable lyrics around passionate and powerful punk songs.
Davey grew up in and around Chicago and has been playing as “Davey Dynamite” since 2010 when he discovered the city’s thriving and nurturing punk scene. After a number of solo acoustic albums sprinkled with a handful of “plugged-in” tunes, his new album “Holy Shit” finds him supported by a full band on every track. It is without doubt one of the most inspiring, raw and dynamic releases of the last 12 months. 11 taut, anthemic punk songs replete with irresistible hooks and seismic choruses that sit somewhere between Frank Turner and Against Me! Just like those artists he has an exceptional ability to write lyrics that describe the human condition in new and interesting ways. Below, Davey tells us more about the recording of “Holy Shit”, his influences and what inspires him to write songs that rally against injustice and intolerance in contemporary society.
DS: Can you remember the first album you fell in love with?
Davey: I’m not totally sure which came first, but I fell in love with the first three CDs I ever bought: The Clash’s first album, The Ramones Mania compilation, and Guitar Romantic by the Exploding Hearts. Either those, or Poodle Hat by Weird Al…
Ha. Love Weird Al. You’ve been compared recently to early Against Me meets Frank Turner. What do you think of that claim? Would you count either of those artists as influences of yours?
Totally! I love love love them both and they were definitely some of the first acoustic/folk punk bands that I got into. Being compared to Against Me! is interesting, to me, because I don’t really hear their influence in my music. That doesn’t mean it’s not there, though, and I consider it a huge compliment, regardless. Frank Turner, on the other hand, I definitely know I rip off. Sometimes when I go back to his music, he will have a line or a way of playing something that I’ll realize I subconsciously lifted from him for my own work. He’s never heard my music, but I think he’s ripped me off, too, ha ha. I can explain that some other time… “Rock and Roll,” off of the new album, is actually a purposeful response/continuation to both Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My” and “I Still Believe” by Frank.
I can definitely hear the “I Still Believe” influence. Need to go back and listen to “Hey Hey My My” now. How did you get into punk music? When did you start playing music and how did the Davey Dynamite project start?
My neighbors/best friends Ryan and Corey. They joined the school band in elementary school and then quit pretty soon after, but I stayed in it until the end of high school (I was a drummer/percussionist the entire time). When we started getting into punk rock, my parents were nice enough to let me get a bass on the condition that I take lessons for it. For the next few years, I dived into playing/learning music through punk and the school band at the same time. The move to playing acoustic music was forced by my transition to college. It’s hard to bring all of your stuff to a dorm room, so I just brought an acoustic and serendipitously found the local open mics and one of my best friends, Dave Green, who got me into folk music and a bunch of contemporary punk stuff (like Against Me!). I kept writing solo songs and Davey Dynamite became an actual project when I started releasing solo demos in 2010.
Were the songs for the “Holy Shit” written over a number of years or specifically for this album?
They were written over three years, but I knew that everything I was writing over that time would eventually lead to an album. The concept of “Holy Shit” definitely inspired the way I wrote some of them, but my album concepts are always pretty loose.
“Holy Shit” is definitely your most fully plugged-in release to date. Your previous album “WAITT” was about 50% plugged-in and before that you seem to be almost entirely acoustic. Has Davey Dynamite officially gone from singer/songwriter to full band for the foreseeable future?
At the moment, I am going to continue towing the line between acoustic and electric. Jake and Matt (of Seasonal Men’s Wear and Praise the Sinners, respectively), are my main dudes to back me up when we can get together. We’re all busy, though, and I still love playing solo, so my shows are mostly just me and then a full band set every now and then. In terms of recording, I am going to continue going with my gut on what I want from the songs/concepts. Basically, I’ll do whatever I have the resources and time for and whatever my friends are willing and able to help with.
What was the thinking behind re-recording the acoustic album with a full band?
Basically, I knew I needed this album to be a full band-electric-high-energy-in-your-face album, but I also wanted to pay my respects to the way I have been performing the songs for the past few years. Plus, I like the idea that, when the acoustic album comes out, people can choose which one they like better, haha.
How easy was it to adapt the acoustic songs to a full band?
Sometimes easy, sometimes ridiculous! I have been playing/writing for myself for so long that I did not realize how strange some of these songs are laid out. One song is literally just the same three chords the entire time with only changes in dynamics. Another one has five stanzas in the verse, which is very unintuitive if you are not singing it. You have to be intimate with a lot of my songs, musically and lyrically, to understand why they’re put together so stupidly. Luckily, Jake and Matt had the skills and the patience to figure it out. I apologized so much.
Were there any songs that proved to be difficult to re-record?
A few, definitely. Both “Mowing at Grandma’s” and “The 4th of July,” since they are the quieter ones, took some time to figure out. That part was fun, though, since I was able to play around with ideas to try and be different from the acoustic album. Doing things solo has always allowed me to develop a weird picking style/tempo over time, so it was hard to retrain myself for the more standard punk songs.
The striking thing about the album is how spontaneous and raw it sounds. Were the songs recorded in single takes and are there many overdubs?
Thank you! More than me, that is a compliment to Paul Aluculesei, the main dude behind the controls. I usually did about three or four single takes of a song, and then Paul meticulously went through and took the best from them all. There were a good amount of overdubs as well, and we would go through everything together to talk about what sounded best and what was needed. I want to be the kind of artist that can nail it without overdubs and shit, but I tend to go too hard when I record vocals, so there were a lot of takes that would start wonderfully but end with me winded and without much of a voice.
The lyrics on the album come across as very raw and personal. How easy was it for you to be so open on record?
My writing style has always been very personal. I’m afraid to count the amount of songs that don’t have “I” or “me” in them. I feel like that’s the way I write best, though. That being said, there are things said in this album and throughout my music that I do not really express in my day-to-day life. I have always been super quiet and avoided conflict at all costs, so writing ended up being my release and the way I state the ideas I’m too cowardly to bring up in person. I’m not quite sure how healthy that is.
Is lyric writing a cathartic experience for you?
Definitely. As stated previously, it’s how I get out my ideas and my frustrations. I am a serial overthinker, and it really helps to put things in the condensed terms that are forced by the simplicity of both folk and punk music. I also realized, recently, that so many of my songs are me talking to/yelling at myself. They serve as reminders of who I am, who I want to be, and what I believe in.
You rally against intolerance and injustice in many of your songs. How important is it for you to convey a message in your lyrics?
I would not feel comfortable making music if a good amount of it was not dedicated to speaking up about social and political issues. I am a person with a lot of societal privilege, and I know it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to fight for equality and diversity. I can only hope that my songs about these issues are helping in some way, but I know there is always more I can do. Punk rock got me into politics and then I was lucky enough to have teachers and friends legitimize and give nuance to how awful this world can be, so I try to be very dedicated to making it a better place.
Take for example “Man Enough”. What are you trying to convey in the line “Every time a kid hears a synonym of gay, the barrel of a gun gets closer to a brain”?
This one line could be the entire song. Both literally and figuratively, I am trying to express the violence that comes from bullying and silencing people who are anywhere on the LGBTQA spectrum. If you grow up finding that the word used for your identity/sexuality is never once used to mean something positive or worthwhile, you will no doubt make some unhealthy connections. Fuck all that shit to hell, for real.
How important do you feel it is to stand up against homophobia, misogyny, racism with the world in its current state?
It is as vital as it always has been. I can only speak for the US, but there seems to be a growing backlash against all progress that has been made for people who have historically gone through state and cultural oppression. This is sadly par for the course, I am learning, so we need to step up as hard as ever for each other.
Can you tell me a little more about 4th of July? Is it based on a real person/experience you’ve had?
This song wasn’t really written with anyone specific in mind, but I have both known and read about people who cannot be around fireworks due to PTSD or have had their labor exploited or have been thrown in prison instead of getting the help they actually needed. The last part, about government surveillance, is something I highly encourage people to learn more about. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), is one group doing really great work to protect our rights on the internet. Without organizations like them and all of the activists who take complicated technological concepts and translate them to the public, we would be in deeper water than we already are.
With everything that happened politically in 2016, have you been inspired to write more overtly political songs?
I knew that this album had to be done before the US election, because I knew that we would be living in a different world afterwards. I do not know which direction any new songs will go, and I will take my time in writing them and letting them come to me. That being said, I have no doubt that anything I do or make moving forward will involve politics and fighting for change in some way.
How did the link up with Dying Scene Records come about and how has it worked out so far?
Danny, the wonderful brain behind Don’t Panic Records & Distro, made a press release and submitted the album to a bunch of people and sites to promote. They are the ones who did the initial digital stuff and doing the vinyl release, which I am so stoked about and thankful for. Dave, from Dying Scene, came across the submission and dug it and sent me an email with an offer to put it on Dying Scene Records. It has been amazing, and I have nothing but thanks for Dave and everyone involved. Dying Scene Records’ motivations are wonderful in their simplicity, and they have helped a bunch of people find my music who may not have otherwise.
Has the reception to the album exceeded your expectations?
Very much so, especially with Dying Scene getting involved. I am proud of this album, and would have remained proud of it regardless of how many people liked it or found it. In all honesty, I expected to have a small response that I would build up over time by playing shows and giving out CDs over the years. That’s how I have always done it and will continue to do it, but the work of Don’t Panic and Dying Scene have already brought the album to more people at a remarkable pace. I really don’t know how it compares to other albums/bands and I really don’t care. The fact that anyone at all gives a shit is so meaningful to me and I work hard to not take any of it for granted.
Watching the documentary on the Chicago folk punk scene you did a couple of years ago, it is clear that you have an incredibly strong relationship with your audience. Is that connection what keeps you going and how would you characterize your relationship with your fans?
I definitely do try to have some kind of connection with the people who experience my music. It means something different to everyone who hears it, so I try to respect that and give it all I’ve got every time. Also, I feel that some of the best and most inspiring shows are the ones where the audience is completely equal to and as vital as the performers. I actually have a song called “Friends Not Fans”, which is a line I subconsciously lifted from the amazing musician and activist Evan Greer. Of course, I want to impress people and get them to like me and think I’m cool and talented, but I think it’s so important to keep my ego in check and make sure I am never taking anyone for granted just because my particular skill/art form is very public and based in a hierarchical culture.
Which songs have really connected with the audience on “Holy Shit”?
That’s a hard question, because it seems to be on a very individual basis so far. I definitely have songs from other albums that have always stood out with audiences more than others, but this album has been different. “Holy Shit” and “Transitions” seem to do well, and I have gotten “The 4th of July” and “Man Enough” to do very well in the past. Other than that, it has definitely varied and been dependent on the show’s atmosphere/audience.
What’s next for you? Tour plans…etc……
The current plan is to book a bunch of Midwest weekend tours after the vinyl comes out in the spring. I recently lucked out and found myself a full-time job, but that means I won’t be able to do any extensive touring. I will still do my best to get at least a week or two in this year.
“Holy Shit” is available for pay what you want download here.
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