In 2017 I started regularly attending Quaker meetings for worship, I spent a lot of time in therapy, and I started microdosing psychedelics. I had asked the band I’d hired to play on my last album Away to be my new band, the new version of Okkervil River, and we’d gone on a long tour of America and Europe that was my favorite touring experience I’ve had since 2003. In some ways, I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I’ve been able to play music for this long.
The election happened while we were in Brussels, on a rainy horrible morning. Crossing over into England later that day, I met a border guard who had worked at the Berlin wall on the night that crowds of East Germans showed up wanting to cross over, when someone on his side had to make a judgment call to open fire or to let everyone through. He told me the story, trying to make me feel better, and I couldn’t help crying in front of him. He looked at me sadly, like a nice dad wearing a police uniform.
The new band had a recording date booked to work on songs while we were still tight from tour, and I had some material prepared but I wanted to write more. And if December 2016 was good for anything it was good for writing new songs. I wrote “The Dream and the Light” at a vacation home adjoining Frank Sinatra’s old place in Palm Springs; a friend’s father had died and she was treating herself and his nurse to a vacation and invited some friends along. Then I went to the Away cabin and wrote more new songs. We hit the studio and recorded about ten songs in three days, everybody playing together in the room and me singing vocals live. “The Dream and the Light,” “How It Is,” “External Actor” and “Pulled Up the Ribbon” were recorded during those sessions, as was “Famous Tracheotomies,” an autobiographical song about a lengthy hospitalization I experienced as a little kid.
I had intended the new songs to continue in the exact sonic vein of Away, but almost immediately they started to diverge somewhat wildly. The sound was more electric and playful – it was a happy sound, because I was happier than I’d been in years. I decided to keep going in that direction.
Benjamin Lazar Davis is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, arranger, composer, and producer based in Brooklyn.
His forthcoming full length album Nothing Matters — his very first as a solo artist — came out of an extensive period of touring followed by a difficult break up. To make the record, Davis spent all all of his money on instruments and recording gear, including drums and drum machines, both nylon and steel string acoustic guitars, an electric and an upright bass, a pump organ, a mellotron, a Moog, and an upright piano. He worked on the record every day, for 30 straight days, in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house in Saratoga Springs, and once finished, he mixed it back in Brooklyn with his high school friend Luke Moellman (GGFO).