JACK DAVIES Burgers and beats

Over the past year, Fremantle folk singer Jack Davies has been quietly building a loyal following throughout Western Australia alongside his band the Bush Chooks. After winning studio time from the Nannup Festival’s Rising Artist prize, Davies is ready to drop his first single Vegemite Sandwich at Mojos this Friday, August 17, with support from Fraeya, Noah Dillon, Racoo and Sara & Maeve. He recently cooked lunch for KAVI GUPPTA, chatted about his journey so far, as well as the anticipated single launch.

Jack Davies is looking for a bottle of smoked paprika. Davies, who is normally bashful and reserved, is frantically pacing around the kitchen of his Fremantle share house. His nervous energy can be felt in the creaking hardwood floor beneath us. He rummages through a backpack until finally giving up his search for the missing bottle.

“Oh dang,” says Davies. “I think I might’ve lost it. I’ll have to use some other spices. I’m a bit worried that this might turn out awful, having to concentrate on cooking while talking to you.”

We’re having rosemary mushroom burgers for lunch today, though technically he is cooking me a sandwich. Davies forgot to get burger buns at the store this morning, and instead I’ll be treated to his father’s homemade bread. Davies fries four mammoth mushrooms in a pan with olive oil, adding in diced garlic, dried chilli from his garden, and a healthy sprig of rosemary. The aroma fills the small kitchen space.

“I’m always eating tons of mushrooms since I was going to high school and turned vegetarian,” says Davies. “They’re pretty cheap and I don’t feel like I’m dying when I eat them.”

Davies has been busy. The young singer-songwriter has notched a string of gigs onto his belt, performing for audiences in Fremantle, Perth, and down south with circuits in Bunbury, Dunsborough, and Margaret River.

I want to touch on you being nervous while cooking with me watching. How is this feeling different from performing live when hundreds of eyes are trained directly on your performance?

I like to think I’m practiced and that I’ve worked to get where I am with those performances. But with this right now I’m just throwing myself in with no expectation. I’ve performed for a long time, so you get used to it. I like to have a good glass of wine, it generally gets me calm, warmed up and really ready. You can tell when you haven’t warmed up.

I played cafés in secret to make a bit of money. One time, I played for 5 hours before a gig that night so my voice was really warmed up by then. I also don’t usually write set lists, I just decide what I want to play on the spot. It used to annoy the band, but they’ve gotten used to it. Really, I would just forget to write them down. And when I started out busking, I didn’t want to just perform to a set list. You need to really respond to people listening, and not having a set list allows me to do that.

I didn’t know you busked…

I use to busk at this café every Friday and Saturday, and I’d do it four days a week when I was off school. I did that for a year or two. Then I started doing open mics, busking at the markets, started doing some gigs. I’ve stopped busking as much—I do it a little, but I’m still playing cafés. There’s a bit more respect there, you get paid alright and you get some good food.

Is that how you were drawn to folk music?

My dad had a really cool taste in music; Rodriguez, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan. When I was younger, I was really into skateboarding. The skate videos had really good music in them. There was this video I saw from a Melbourne company; it was full of Janis Joplin, Paul Simon, Bill Callaghan—all of this kind of retro music that really pulled me into that era, which led to Dylan and all that naturally.

But why does folk music suit you personally?

I guess I’ve always thought about things a lot. I overthink everything and freak myself out. It’s a good way to put something down, and makes things feel real. I wanted to have music I could look at and feel like I’ve done something. It gives you a sense of accomplishment—with music every time you write a song you feel productive, you feel worthwhile. I’ve gone so far into that realm that when you can’t write a song, you don’t feel so great. It’s not the best coping thing, but it does the trick.

What do you think of the folk scene in Perth?

It’s beautiful but there aren’t a lot of groups. I know Racoo, Emlyn Johnson, Galloping Foxleys who are really nice people that write really nice songs. They took me in in the past year and let me play music with them. Lots of folk jams at houses.

Racoo’s taught me a little bit of violin. We all just jam together and they’ll teach you little things. Sometimes they get me gigs or I get to be a part of theirs. They’ve given me a bunch of gigs actually. When I had no money and was really suffering, they said “Play these markets” and that sorted me out for a while.

That’s interesting. Do you need to suffer to write good music or tell great stories?

I don’t want to say it’s suffering so much. There’s something about having a bit of drama to create songs. It’s a terrible thing to feel. You want to be at a point when you want to be really chill and sorted and write songs you really like. At the same time, it’s the whole part of it; the up and down of life. It’s about experiencing all of it.

[I give Davies some room to knuckle out the rest of the meal. He serves the sandwiches and we sit down to munch and chat about the upcoming single. I want to point out that Davies was polite enough to light a few scented candles, and to usher me into his home with some soft folk music in the background. Natural charm, always on.]

This will be your first major work out in public. How’d the recording process go?

I don’t have any real music out there. I have some stuff I really don’t like. It’s not really out, it’s just stuff I did when I was 16. This is the first coming out for me.

The studio was really fun and really weird; it was such a pro studio, and people were looking at us 18 or 19 year olds and asking what we’re doing here. Lee Buddle was super nice and it was a good day of recording. We ended up going to Sam Perrington’s Tuna Fish Recording Company to add some extra stuff like vocals, violin, and some mixing.

It takes a long time. I’d kind of prefer to smash it out sooner. I wasn’t happy with it at the start, but then I realised it was my brain being weird. When we mixed it I thought it was pretty cool. Sometimes I listen to it and I love it, other times I think it’s weird again but I always overthink it. It’s also the first one with the band as well, which is cool. It’s a bit of a weird song. It’s a slow build kind of song—I really like it, but I think I’ve just heard it too many times lately.

What’s the song about, and why’d you pick it?

Originally it was just about driving home after something emotional happening. It was nothing bad. Just the same old drain and grind of everyday, and how it can get really tough for everyone sometimes.

I like playing it live because of the big, long build. I like the words too. I just felt like it’s quite a broad song, and it encompasses a lot of different styles with the music and the lyrics. Hopefully it allows me to go in any direction, and not be too defined in one place.

What’s your expectation once the single drops?

I always dreamed of playing music since I was a kid. I never thought I’d get to where I am now. Maybe I’ll do it for a year, make an album, get a teaching job and retire. You never know. I might get to go on tour. But hey I can live in the present. Also, I want people to know folk rock isn’t dead.

Photos by Zev Weinstein