Roy Davis expands musical worldview

Posted March 18, 2010, at 5:54 p.m.

2009 was a tumultuous year for Roy Davis. He started off in Maine, headed for Nashville, found himself fly fishing in Wyoming, and made a pit stop in Nebraska before finally returning to Maine last October. During that time, he somehow was able to record an album, the graceful, confessional “We Are a Lightning Bolt,” his third release with his band, the Dregs.

Twenty-two is a good age to do that sort of thing. When you already have two albums under your belt — “Grey Town” and “Deadweight,” two dreamy alt-country LPs — the drive to move, to change and create is stronger than just about anything. By the time Davis got back to Portland, his outlook on lots of things was pretty different from when he started, at least if the stylistic changes and maturity of “Lightning Bolt” as compared to his previous two is any indication.

“We recorded the whole album in a bunch of places, in Nashville and Maine. We mastered it in Omaha,” said Davis, now 23, who will perform with Calvin and the Free Will Agents and Jump Buck at 8 p.m. Saturday at Roots & Tendrils in Belfast. “It took a long time. By the time we were ready to put it out, I was tired of some of the older songs, so there’s a lot of new stuff on it as well. It feels different to me now.”

Davis was born and raised in the Waldo County town of Montville, moving to Portland shortly after graduating from Mt. View High School. He immersed himself in the Portland music scene, writing and recording with his friend and fellow songwriter Travis Kline, himself a member of the Dregs. His music shares space with the acoustic side of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, the Jayhawks and the quiet intensity of Pedro the Lion. Country roots, indie rock outlook.

After “Deadweight,” though, Davis got itchy feet, and took off for Nashville in early 2009. The country capital of the universe seemed like a natural place to go, but it turned out to not be such a perfect fit after all.

“I was only there for about three months, which was about as long as I could take,” said Davis. “It was interesting to be in a culture that’s so surrounded by music all the time, but the whole evil side of it got to me. On one side of the river, it’s all cool, indie rock people. On the other side, there are workshops on how to write a hit song. It’s very corporate. It just kind of grosses me out.”

Through a friend, Davis got wind of an opportunity to work on a ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming. He took off for the west, and for six months worked and lived in the high wilderness, playing music for the guests each week. Eventually, he began fly fishing, leading guests into the river for hours-long trips.

“I fished by day and played music by night,” said Davis. “Those were my two responsibilities. It was awesome. And it was a surprisingly receptive audience for my music. People really liked it.”

As awesome as it was, Davis knew that his idyllic existence in Wyoming couldn’t go on forever. By October, he decided to make his way back to Maine, to get back to reality, finish his album and start touring. While he was gone, Portland producer Jon Nolan mixed “We Are a Lightning Bolt.” Davis stopped in Omaha to master the album, and upon arriving in Maine, his third LP was essentially ready to go. It came out officially in January of this year.

With “Lightning Bolt,” Davis intentionally wanted to strip away some of the affectations of alt-country, and let the songs speak for themselves.

“I’ve been listening to roots music for my whole life, and to an extent I think that is always going to shine through in my songwriting,” said Davis. “But with this, we wanted to put the songs through completely unaffected. I don’t feel like any of these songs are country songs, even if there’s a country lick here or there. People put a lot of expectations on themselves in songwriting. I don’t want to write for a specific genre. I just want to write songs.”

Roy Davis and the Dregs will play with Calvin and the Free Will Agents and Jump Buck at 8 p.m. Saturday at Roots & Tendrils on Cross Street in Belfast. Admission is $10, and all proceeds will go to benefit Konbit Sante and its Haiti relief efforts. For information, visit www.myspace.com/roydavismusic.

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