Nick: This is Nick and I’m with Evan. Evan Davis.
Evan Davies: Yeah.
Nick: Welcome to Music for the Head and the Heart.
Evan Davies: Thanks for having me.
Nick: So I thought we’d start off with how you got into playing music and what instruments you currently play?
Evan Davies: I guess I got into music when I was a kid. My dad worked for a community music project, so we always had music around the house. Both my parents play a lot of music. They used to play in a band together. Yeah. I just ended up tinkering around on guitar, and what have you, when I was younger.
Evan Davies: I played guitar in high school, in a heavy metal band, also bass guitar. Then eventually found myself playing double bass in a bluegrass band. And then moved onto the mandolin and also tinkered about on the banjo and the fiddle. So I kind of play all of those in some small way. But mandolin is kind of the main one for me.
Nick: Do you still play double bass, or is that, that era moved on?
Evan Davies: When I can get my hands on one. Yeah.
Nick: What do you find is different about each? And do you have a preference for any particular instrument, or any style of playing?
Evan Davies: Every instrument has its own kind of qualities. What I love about the mandolin is I can kind of navigate between playing, especially in traditional music. I can play folk tunes but I can also play the accompaniment, I can play chords and I can play the tune and that, or I can just kind of sit in between the two if I like.
Evan Davies: Fiddle is really nice because you can get lots of long sustained notes. I play in a kind of cosmic jazz band where I, yeah. But, like the long notes are just kind of necessary to be able, because I’m playing with the Holmes saxophones and stuff, so yeah. I need those long notes. Yeah. And for writing as well, I find the guitar and mandolin are probably my main two instruments for writing.
Evan Davies: They’re just, yeah, guitar is kind of like, feels like just bigger mandolin. It’s like playing the mandolin, but I have more sound. I just get a bigger sound of it, and I don’t feel the need to have a band accompanying me, which is also a great thing, but it’s nice to be able to do both.
Nick: So I know you teach at Leeds Music College.
Evan Davies: Yeah, Leeds College of Music.
Nick: Leeds College of Music. So, what is it you’re teaching there?
Speaker 3: I teach mandolin and banjo on their folk degree. Yeah.
Nick: I’ll resist all my banjo jokes. But for people who are starting out with either mandolin or banjo, what advice would you give them? Sort of like as a starting point?
Evan I guess because they’re instruments which are used in folk music, there’s lots of old source recordings, which are kind of the source for how a lot of traditional music has developed over the last, you know, 50, 60, 70 years. So kind of go back and listen to, especially for banjo, listen to Earl Scruggs, he was kind of the pioneer of his style of banjo playing.
With mandolin, I go back, and Bill Monroe was kind of the first one, but I guess I’d go back to the seventies and go back to Sam Bush, and yeah, Sam Bush is probably the main influence for Mandolin. So, go back to these really great people who kind of pioneered new styles on these instruments and kind of listen out for what they’re doing, try and sort of transcribe some of the things that they’re doing. That’s a good, handy thing to do.
Nick: And what are the sort of, when you have students come, what are the common misconceptions people have about learning music that you have to sort of often sort out quite early?
Evan Davies: That’s a good question. I think perhaps that people sometimes put different styles of music in kind of a box and then, and don’t let them kind of go between each other, because I play a lot of bluegrass, but there’s a lot of interest on the course for Irish and English and Scottish folk music as well.
Evan Davies: So I like to try and kind of teach those styles of music and the techniques that come with those styles, but also kind of try and keep it, keep it loose and keep it free, which is what I always do when I play bluegrass. Do lots of improvising and and always, always listening is the thing. Yeah.
Nick: Well, it’s a long way from heavy rock bass to bluegrass. That’s like a fair old journey in that respect. So in terms of, I know that you play with different types of people, so it’d be useful just to get a sense of the sort of styles of people you’re playing with and what you like and love about each of them.
Evan Davies: Wow, that’s a lot. Well I guess the main kind of style that I play really is bluegrass. I have a band called The Often Heard, who I gig with most regularly, but I do lots of songwriting on my own. And after having played so much bluegrass, I think a lot of my songwriting and kind of general composing style is influenced a lot by bluegrass and kind of acoustic music.
Evan Davies: Honestly, when I play with The Often Herd, and with Ancient Infinity Orchestra, which is the cosmic jazz band, it doesn’t feel very different. It feels like I’m just there with a tool, with a kind of tool of expression and I’m just listening and responding and I think, yeah, that’s kind of, that’s not something that’s different about each one, but that’s what I find in common with almost everyone that I play with. I just find that I’m just trying to be present and listen and respond with the instrument.
Nick: You talked a little bit about songwriting. What tends to be your approach to writing your own material?
Evan Davies: I think, well, I’m kind of, as a composer, I’m kind of, I’m kind of a tinkerer. I tend to just sit and noodle about on my instruments and then usually some kind of melody or some kind of riff or some kind of chordal idea will come out. So that’s why I tend to think of myself as kind of a composer as well as a songwriter.
I find the words come a little more difficult than the music. I think I could just sit and write music as you know, till the end of the day. But when I write songs, I tend to find that I just, I kind of just spit ball with some lyric ideas and then try and link them together, and then kind of take a step back and kind of go, what is this song about? What am I talking about? And then start to grow the kind of narrative around that.
Nick: And if people want to find out about you either from a teaching perspective or from an audience perspective, listening to any of your music or buying any of your music, what’s the best way for them to be able to do that?
Evan Davies: Well you can check out my bands on Facebook. The Often Herd, heard spelled spelled H. E. R. D. Ancient Infinity Orchestra is another one. And I have a website, which is Evan Rhodri Davies .com. That’s E. V. A. N. R. H. O. D. R. I. D. A. V. I. E. S.
Nick: I’m glad you spelled that, because I can imagine people going, no, it’s not that spelling.
Evan Davies: Probably quite unnecessary.
Nick: Excellent. Well thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Evan Davies: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Nick: And we’re now going to, in a couple of seconds, hear a couple of pieces from you. But, thank you for dropping by.