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Interview Thu Jul 29 2010

A talk with Jason Davis of Archeology

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In the middle of the '00s, somewhere outside of Ellisberg, Wa., hopefully amid a grid of criss-crossed string and with trowels in hand, Jason Davis and Daniel Walker met on a college archeological dig for Native American relics. A number of early collaborations and tours later, the two of them formed a band named for their shared passion by joining with drummer Benjamin Haysom and guitarist Zach Dilday in the summer of 2008.

Since then, the prolific group Archeology has released 5 EPs, and this past March its members released their first full-length, Memorial. It's a tight collection of harmony-laden folk tunes running just over half an hour and possessed of the kind of bittersweetness you're likely to experience on a cold, lonely fall day around sunset.

The band will be playing to a Chicago crowd on July 30, a perfect show to catch before Lollapolooza rolls into town and takes over. But be careful where you get your info on the where and when. The show was originally scheduled to take place at The Cave, but it's since been moved to Double Door. Music starts at 8 pm tonight, and tickets prices range from $18-20. As a preview to the show, Jason Davis sat down for a brief interview to discuss the band's style, lyrics and ambitious output

GB: So you've already had five EP's in the last year?

JD: We had three more announced EPs, and then we did two that were kind of under the radar. We were really new to the concept of releasing our own records, so the first two we just did shows around and released them that way. It sounds really foreign now, and I can't even believe we were at the point that we had to find out about how to get our music on iTunes independently and whatnot. The last three, we put a lot more effort into them and toured around them.

GB: You guys have been touring the West Coast a lot. Is this your first time playing in Chicago?

JD: Yeah, we've been touring the West Coast and then some of the interior Western states like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana. But we haven't been east of the Mississippi yet as Archeology. We're brand new to the Midwest and the East Coast, so it's exciting.

GB: Have you been to Chicago as members of other bands?

JD: Yeah, we've all been in other acts before that have toured around. Actually, Daniel and I were in another band that did a lot of DIY touring. We were called Mon Marie, and we played Chicago and around the area probably four or five times. Definitely no real high-profile shows, but we were there. Great town. So much to do. It's absolutely amazing.

GB: So when exactly did you and Daniel start playing together?

JD: Daniel and I actually met as part of a college archeological course. We were out doing a field study and got to talking about music. That was in 2005. I found out that he played bass. I was actually working with a singer-songwriter and helping that singer-songwriter record an album. I needed a bass player, and it turns out I had some friends who knew Daniel, and they said "Oh, he's a fantastic bass player, and he has a real grasp of melody, so you should have him do the project." So I did, and right away I was really impressed. From there, I had a friend who lived in Michigan who was flying out to the West Coast, and we were going to start a band together. I recruited Dan to be the bass player for that project, and we've been playing together ever since.

GB: So there was a gap between Mon Marie and Archeology?

JD: We stopped touring with Mon Marie in the summer of 2008. While we were on that summer tour, [Daniel] and I began writing for Archeology. By the time we got off tour, we had a handful of songs, but we didn't know what we were going to do with them. We were throwing around the idea of having them be new Mon Marie songs or maybe even starting a side project. But when that band ended, we decided to take a little bit of time off and move to a different town. That's when we moved to Portland.

GB: What was the inspiration behind Archeology?

JD: We got our feet on the ground and got a place to live and jobs. Then we started really recording and heading up Archeology. By the time New Year's came around, we decided this was something we really wanted to put a lot of effort into. So, as a kind of exploratory process to figure out what sound we wanted, we decided to go ahead and write 25 songs in a year. Instead of saving the best to push out to the public, we decided to release every little bit we wrote and let people decide what they like. We were just going to be true to ourselves and write the music we wanted to write to see how people reacted.

So, we released those 5 EPs starting January of 2009, and we did that all the way through November of 2009, which is when we started getting the idea that we wanted to change our style a little bit. That's when the idea for Memorial came about, so from late November/early December [2009] to January [2010], we wrote. It was a really quick process -- only about a month and a half that we wrote the whole album and recorded it, and we released the album with River Seine on March 20.

It's been kind of a whirlwind. Our first show as Archeology was in March of 2009. It was on a tour, kind of a trial-by-fire thing. We didn't really have any practice at all. We just got up and played the songs. I'm sure it left a lot to be desired for the audience, but it was good for us to play the songs and get that reaction.

GB: It seems like it was a pretty fast ascent for you guys. In the music industry, do you think it's easier or harder to get your name out there these days?

JD: It's easier to get your name out there, but it's harder to really stand out in the crowd. Obviously having quality music is one thing, but often you hear tons and tons of fantastic bands that aren't being noticed right now, and I think the key to being noticed or to sustaining yourself as a professional musician is just longevity. You just have to stick with it.

We were really fortunate right away. For some reason -- I still haven't figured out why -- we just connected with a decent number of people right away via the Internet and releasing our EPs, and that allowed us to tour. And we had some connections in the industry, a few people who allowed us to book shows where we didn't deserve to book shows and to play with bands that we didn't necessarily deserve to play with. So we bypassed a few of the coming-of-age moments that a lot of bands go through.

But not all the way. We're still playing a number of small venues, and there are definitely nights when there's not a ton of people in the clubs, so it's still definitely a process.

GB: Memorial is a very trim album. It's just over half an hour long and full of quiet harmonies that tend to evoke a similar bittersweet quality. What is the writing process between you and Jason or among the band as a whole?

JD: I think everybody in the band brings their own flavor. I write the majority of the lyrics, and I usually just pen my thoughts in long form. I'm not very good with brevity, so when I write an idea down, it's usually a couple pages. And then one of us will come up with a melody or with a chord progression, and then we'll take those lyrics and try to maintain the idea as much as possible but make it fit within the music.

So we're very lyrically-based, and I think the avenue we've chosen to present those lyrics is acoustic folk, if not delving into twee sometimes, especially earlier on. As far as the harmonies go, I think we're all just kind of suckers for them, and it just becomes a natural thing where we couldn't imagine a song without it.

GB: Both you and Daniel have had pretty similar pasts. You met on the archeological dig, a shared interest, and you both had fathers who were preachers. How heavily does all that come into play?

JD: At first, we didn't really know what to write about. Even though we have been in bands before, I think we're still really new to being artists and being musicians and what that means to have self expression. So when we started Archeology, we kind of took it as a challenge: "Let's see how much we can write, and let's see what we want to write about." We wrote about different places in Portland, and there just wasn't nearly as much passion behind that, and we started getting more and more personal in our lyrical content. The older stuff was really happy, and as we started delving into issues with our pasts and the music remained happy, it just didn't feel right.

GB: What are some of the issues you explored?

JD: It depicts what it was like from our backgrounds, from our very religious, very conservative homes. The way I grew up was all I knew. The picture my parents painted for me was really all inclusive. I had no idea what was actually out there, and it took my own exploration and experiences to figure that. Memorial is really all about that process and about the discovery that there's more than one path in life.

I think that's why on Memorial there are some very somber moments, but there are also some celebratory moments. There's freedom in thought, and you can choose your life. It's a great feeling, and it should be celebrated.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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