Mark Davis

Mark Davis
Additional interview footage with Old Reliable’s Mark Davis, who just released two solo albums, Don’t You Think We Should Be Closer? and Mistakes I Meant to Make.

Thanks for taking time out, Mark. I gather you’ve just got back to Edmonton from some gigs. How did that go?
I just got back from Winnipeg last night. The trip defies description. Hard to sum up in a few words, but we had a few obstacles. I got sick the night before we left, we had a little vehicle difficulty, some less than satisfactory motels here and there, and then we got a speeding ticket. $402! I’d never heard of anything like that, nor had anyone in Winnipeg. Then Michael my drummer got sick as well, so all pretty bleak.

On to brighter topics. Congratulations on your two new albums. Seems to be unanimous critical rave reviews. You’ve been aware of that?
Yes, I’m really pleased with the reaction. It’s a strange thing. The one record there went to No. 1 on the Roots chart nationally, and has basically been in the Top Five for a month, but I still can’t get a show in Saskatoon. Six people paid to see me in Winnipeg, after all those obstacles we overcame on the way there and back. So it is kind of baffling. Certainly the reaction to the records has been above average, I’d say. Can’t say I’m overwhelmed by it. The same thing with Old Reliable. We’ve had the band 13 years, and generally speaking we’ve received near-unanimous positive reviews, but it’s the same story. Critics like it but the public don’t really know what to do with it.

Any apprehension over releasing two CDs simultaneously? Seems a pretty gutsy thing to do, with the risk of being attacked for it.
I wasn’t in the least bit apprehensive about that, in any way whatsoever. As far as the way critics would view such a thing, I didn’t even consider it. Not until our publicist Ken [Beattie] may have mentioned it, or Dawn who runs Saved By Radio. Ken sort of said right off the bat, "two records at once? I don’t know, that’s a bit odd. Why not condense it into one,” he may have suggested. But it didn’t cross my mind for an instant. I didn’t pay any mind to any suggestion to do so. Not out of any disrespect to Ken, cos he’s been doing an absolutely fantastic job of publicizing the records. That piece of the machinery is there. The label’s there to support me, the publicist is there, but that is sort of where it stops. I don’t have sufficient infrastructure at this point. I don’t have the manager or the booking agent working 45 hours a week and I do have my day job. You know what it’s like with booking. That’s like a fulltime job. You have to get through to people, not just by email but by phone. They seem to always want follow-up phone calls. So, anyways, back to the records. I felt I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I was driven to it by having to endure the process of making Part 1 [Closer] over a two-year span, due to lack of finances to keep things going at a reasonable rate at the time. It sort of dragged on. There are several guests on the record so there is obviously the time that goes into co-ordinating those people’s appearances. But generally that record dragged on. I shouldn’t say dragged on because it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. It was a great experience as it was my first solo recording. I felt compelled to make Part 2 [Mistakes] after sitting with the songs on Part 1 for nearly two years , and it not yet being presented to the public. I couldn’t do anything but sit around and listen to it, over and over again. Becoming more and more critical about it. Over-analyzing it. The opportunity came up to make a very spontaneous record and I chose to do that. I also felt like with Part 1, the material was very old to me. With the process taking two years, the songs by the time they are released six months to a year later, they are already four or five years old. They may be songs you’d written two years prior to going into the studio.

So you no longer have that close rapport with them?
Exactly. So there were many reasons for making a second part. After two years I also felt is this really all I have to show? I felt I had more in me so I wanted to put out two actual pieces of merchandise.

The phrase in the bio is that they should be viewed as fraternal but not identical twins.
They look like they belong together in many ways, which was what I intended. Certainly with the backs of each records and there’s an overall aesthetic of sparseness to it. So they are very similar, companion packages but I also feel they stand alone, that was the idea of making two. The aesthetics of the covers are clearly similar, but they’re pretty different overall. I believe they stand alone. No one has to feel obligated to buy them both, that’s for sure.

Are you intrigued to see which album certain of your friends or fans gravitate towards? Can you almost predict that?
Well, I think it has been fairly unanimous, that the majority has gravitated towards Part 2. I can’t really explain that. They are totally different sonically.

I see they’re recorded at different studios, with different engineers. I guess that would guarantee some sonic differences.
The first was recorded in Edmonton at Riverdale Recorders with Scott Franchuk, who I’ve recorded with many times. A great friend too, we play baseball every week. It is a pretty dense, lush album, with each tune having many tracks, and several guests on there. There’s a lot more going on somehow. It is more autobiographical, I should add. More personal. Part 2 is sparse, spooky. Took two days to make rather than two years. It is a different sonic aesthetic. It was recorded in Calgary with Dave [Alcock] at Sundae Sound. I’d worked with him on the Old Reliable record, along with Scott Franchuk.
I tried new things my voice on it, treating it more like an instrument, much like one would treat a guitar. You hopefully won’t play the guitar the same way all your life. Hopefully you grow and start experimenting. From sitting with Part 1 so long, I started singing along to myself a lot as I listened to it. As a result I started finding what I thought were really good harmonies for some of the songs and I started thinking about that — so with the opportunity to make Part 2, I thought about reversing the harmonies and the lead. So there are a lot of lead vocals in the higher register, with the harmonies down low.
I decided to make my voice be the No 1 sonic standout quality of Part 2 rather than complicating it with organs and other instruments. On Part 1 I probably played 15 to 20 different instruments. Obviously I had the time to do so, the studio is just down the road. With Part 2 I had to knock it all off in 2 days. It’s a lot less self-referential too, thematically. There’s a move to greater level of fiction in my writing, for sure. So there are drastic differences between the two.

In terms of this being your first solo project, was that stimulating in a writing and recording sense? You didn’t have the template of Old Reliable, so it was perhaps like a blank canvas?
Absolutely yes. That may have something to do with why I got so carried away in making the first record. I do feel it is my responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Again, not to deride the first record in any way. Scott was making all sorts of suggestions during it, like "we don’t need all that,” he kept saying, and I kept going back, adding another wee little instrument. So that was my responsibility that that one got a little cluttered. It was really liberating being away from the band and I do love the band. I just saw Schuyler [Janssen?] yesterday and seems we may be recording in the fall, potentially. We’ve had a few discussions about it and we’ll see what happens.

Naturally I was going to ask whether Old Reliable is still a going concern, or whether the fans are getting anxious about all these solo projects?
Fans of the band (laughs). I guess there might be a few people out there who might still care. Hopefully they are enjoying the solo stuff too. We played once in the last year and a half, and that was just Schuyler, myself and my drummer, together in my living room. But we definitely did discuss trying to make another record in the fall.

With these two records, any talk of releasing them outside of Canada? To me, they’re not just Canadiana records, but should be heard further afield.
Well, that is sort of in the hands of the label I guess. Well, not necessarily. I could pursue a relationship with a European label. It’d be nice if saved By Radio could establish a relationship with Europe somehow. It is not entirely their responsibility to do so. But no, they’re not currently available through any label or distributor in Europe. That is certainly a priority. I place a greater importance on establishing relationships with Europe than with America.

In Britain and Europe there seems to be a real affinity with Canadian artists roughly working similar terrain to you.
Yes I think so. A lot of people I know throughout the country have travelled quite significantly through Europe. I hope to get there. And I’m a British citizen. We did have some discussions with Loose Music. They did place one of my Old Reliable songs on their last compilation, called Find Your Own Country or something like that. They were very complimentary about the song on the liner notes, so that was nice. But we haven’t really had any further interaction with them.
In terms of your writing, any literary influences or inspirations you could cite?
Dozens.

Maybe Cormac McCarthy?
That’s for sure. If you arrived at that conclusion, to me that’s a great compliment. To me, Cormac McCarthy is the greatest writer I’ve ever read. I just can’t get over it. I re-read six of his books over the course of two or three months this year, and it sort of drove me crazy. The content, the actual things that went down in the books. It is just overwhelmingly bleak. He doesn’t hold back in the least. He has an amazing lyrical way of writing, it’s more like poetry, and such a free way of writing too. Almost as if he’s making up words at times. I’m really into North American over British or European writers generally. I like Thomas King and Richard B. Wright too. I’ve read everything by Richard Brautigan. He’s a big influence on my writing too. He was one of the first I found I could get into. Never really got into the Beat writers, but Brautigan is so profound, so simple, a little bit twisted. Once again this free form prose writing, making up words and not adhering to any one style. read George Orwell a lot when I was younger. Lots of Canadian writers too.

Fair to say that as a lyricist you’ve been more influenced by novelists than say folk-styled singer/songwriters?
Yes, by far. Definitely. Subconsciously and absolutely. Probably on a conscious level too. I love Townes Van Zandt and Dylan as lyricists. Beyond that I admire people as songwriters or players. Richard Thompson and the way he can sing and play guitar at the same time and write a perfect song. Someone like Richard Buckner, a great free style to his lyrics. But yes as far as lyrics go, I’m way more influenced by literature.

Find that the process of writing lyrics an be cathartic or therapeutic, personally.
Yes I certainly think there have been times in my life where I would have just lost my mind if I didn’t have this particular outlet. For example, when my girlfriend Kathy passed away from breast cancer, I had the opportunity with Old Reliable to make a record [The Gradual Moment] in tribute to her with the whole band. Without that opportunity, I really don’t know where I’d be today. Obviously every single song was about her and the experience we’d been through together, with her suffering from breast cancer for three and a half years and ultimately passing away. If I hadn’t had that avenue to express my feelings I don’t even know if I’d be making music today. I don’t know where I’d be honestly.

The fact that you’re so candid about your personal life and your loss, that does show up in a lot of coverage of your work. Are you OK with that ? A lot of artists might keep that side separate.
Yes a lot of people feel more comfortable doing so. And there are a lot of people out there quick to criticize writers who do write that way. That’s fine. It’s just a matter of personal taste. I’m comfortable in putting things about my personal life in my music. That being said, I think I’ve made a significant step aside from that, perhaps starting with Part 2, and certainly with the newer stuff I’ve been working on recently. It is not about me at all. It is influenced by things that have happened to me but is by no means about me.

You like the idea of creating characters and scenarios in a fictional way?
Yes, definitely. Some songs are cryptic, no matter what. Some people may not understand what they are about necessarily or they can make their own conclusions about what they’re about. I write a lot of those songs, or maybe it seems more that way to me than other people. Then there are narrative story songs and I’ve made an effort to write more of those as well. Part 1 here is more personal, but people don’t really think that. They listen to Part 2 and think that is just as autobiographical, but really it’s not. The first song, ‘All Because She Once was Mine,’ is pure fiction. ‘By The Time’ is nothing but talking about traveling across the country, experiencing the loneliness of the landscape. ‘In The End’ is about a fellow I knew throughout school, starting in elementary school, who later went to Thailand and disappeared. He never came back, a fellow from Edmonton. The fourth one, ‘In On Me,’ is pontification on mental illness really. It’s not about me, it’s about people I know. ‘Floating Away’ is a Grant Hart song, from a Hüsker Dü record.

How did you come across that song, and what suggested itself as a Mark Davis song?
I loved that song the moment I heard it maybe 20 years ago. I’ve been working at a day program for developmentally disabled adults for seven years, but prior to that for seven years I owned a record store on Whyte Avenue. Prior to that I worked on another record store on Whyte Avenue for five years. At that point it was all still vinyl. A used record store, and all vinyl, wall to wall. Pretty funny to think back to that time when people would come into the store, dumping boxes of vinyl. To the point where they’d go, whatever. Just keep them. We were getting hundreds a day. A pretty amazing time, to virtually have your pick of all this vinyl. People basically throwing them in the dumpster and moving to CD. I had all the Hüsker Dü records, still have them all on vinyl. I was always partial to Grant Hart over Bob Mould as a songwriter, I don’t know why. That song always stood out for me, and I guess it had an added poignancy after Kathy died, somehow. The song took on those connotations.

You should find a way to get a record to Grant Hart.
Well the label has a peripheral relationship with him, or did briefly. Saved By Radio put out a seven-inch with I believe the Makings on one side, Lorrie Matheson on the other. Two Alberta bands, and they were both covering Grant Hart. They decided to do a mini-Western tour in support of the single and they got Grant Hart up to headline this tour, and they went along and supported him.

In turn, if could you choose a favourite singer to do one of your songs, who would it be?
That’s funny, because Michael Barclay in his [Eye] review, mentioned Johnny Cash. I went ‘I dunno, man, that’s a stretch.’ Obviously that’s not possible at this point. Just the notion. I’ve never actually given that any thought. I really don’t know if I could answer that question. I don’t really know how to place someone in that position, even though I’m in the position of someone wanting to do a Grant Hart song.

I don’t think your songs are so idiosyncratic that no one else could do them though.
We’ll see if it ever happens.

In terms of your own writing, ever tried co-writing, or strictly a personal intimate process?
No I’ve never tried collaborating. I’ve spoken with a couple of people about it over the years, and certainly I’ve expressed the desire to do so with Shuyler in Old reliable, and we actually spoke about doing so yesterday. So that may happen, but ultimately for me that part is a solo job. With all the years in Old Reliable, both Shuyler and I would bring in our own songs, with the lyrics fully written. His were always more fleshed out, with the music and the arrangements, being a more experienced musician than myself. I’m not against the idea though.

With these two discs plus Old Reliable’s records, that’s a significant body of work. Take pride in that?
Yes, certainly. It is hard not to become more critical, just as I did with Part 1. Sometimes it is easy to listen to, sometimes not. I used to listen to our records fairly often, but I haven’t listened to an Old Reliable record for ages. I am really proud of the whole catalogue we have built and will continue to build. And I have the two solo records now and am pretty much ready to record another one. And Shuyler has a record out, and he has another two coming out within the next six months I think. One just about to come out on Black Hen, and another one next spring I believe. And we’ve got Shawn Jonasson in the band, or Swifty as we call him, from the band the Swiftys. They have a record out and are finishing another. So between us all that’s a fair bit of work and we’re all pretty proud of it.

Committed to staying in Edmonton or thought about moving to an industry centre?
Even if I was closer to an industry centre, I couldn’t be in one. Having been to them, I don’t want to live in one. Obviously Vancouver is closest to here, and I have a bit more of a relationship with Vancouver. A nice place to visit, but I’ve never wanted to live there. Certainly a bit out of my league when it comes to the cost of living. I couldn’t own a property there. Toronto, I have less of a relationship, though obviously been there dozens of times. It’s just too overwhelming, too huge. I kind of like Ottawa, and have considered moving there. I like a lot of people, a lot of musicians from Ottawa, Jim Bryson, the Fiftymen. I have a brother there who works for the Canada Council, so it’d be nicer to be closer to his family, and my young nephew. But I’m going to ride out the first term of my mortgage in Edmonton. It’s a ridiculous thing going on in Alberta [re the housing market]. I just squeezed in at the last minute, not even knowing what’d happen over the last two years. Bought a place for $97,000 and the average house price in Edmonton now is 425,000. Maybe in next two or three years I’ll relocate. One scene I really like is Winnipeg’s, I love visiting there. A great supportive music scene and a lot of talented musicians. Of course that’s not an industry centre and doesn’t bring me any closer in my career to where I want to be.

Any touring plans set?
I’m approaching touring as more of a regional thing currently. I find if you go on the extensive one fell swoop coast to coast thing, an independent artist with little or no tour support can come back just destroyed, physically, mentally, financially. From here, it makes sense to do Calgary, Red deer, Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Edmonton, then recoup and recover for a couple of weeks, then perhaps do Vancouver and Victoria and come back. Then I think the idea is that this fall I’ll make it out to Ontario for a couple of weeks.

Look forward to catching you then, Mark. Thanks for the chat.
Thank you. vMark Davis interview By Kerry Doole Additional interview footage with Old Reliable’s Mark Davis, who just released two solo albums, Don’t You Think We Should Be Closer? and Mistakes I Meant to Make.

Thanks for taking time out, Mark. I gather you’ve just got back to Edmonton from some gigs. How did that go?
I just got back from Winnipeg last night. The trip defies description. Hard to sum up in a few words, but we had a few obstacles. I got sick the night before we left, we had a little vehicle difficulty, some less than satisfactory motels here and there, and then we got a speeding ticket. $402! I’d never heard of anything like that, nor had anyone in Winnipeg. Then Michael my drummer got sick as well, so all pretty bleak.

On to brighter topics. Congratulations on your two new albums. Seems to be unanimous critical rave reviews. You’ve been aware of that?
Yes, I’m really pleased with the reaction. It’s a strange thing. The one record there went to No. 1 on the Roots chart nationally, and has basically been in the Top Five for a month, but I still can’t get a show in Saskatoon. Six people paid to see me in Winnipeg, after all those obstacles we overcame on the way there and back. So it is kind of baffling. Certainly the reaction to the records has been above average, I’d say. Can’t say I’m overwhelmed by it. The same thing with Old Reliable. We’ve had the band 13 years, and generally speaking we’ve received near-unanimous positive reviews, but it’s the same story. Critics like it but the public don’t really know what to do with it.

Any apprehension over releasing two CDs simultaneously? Seems a pretty gutsy thing to do, with the risk of being attacked for it.
I wasn’t in the least bit apprehensive about that, in any way whatsoever. As far as the way critics would view such a thing, I didn’t even consider it. Not until our publicist Ken [Beattie] may have mentioned it, or Dawn who runs Saved By Radio. Ken sort of said right off the bat, "two records at once? I don’t know, that’s a bit odd. Why not condense it into one,” he may have suggested. But it didn’t cross my mind for an instant. I didn’t pay any mind to any suggestion to do so. Not out of any disrespect to Ken, cos he’s been doing an absolutely fantastic job of publicizing the records. That piece of the machinery is there. The label’s there to support me, the publicist is there, but that is sort of where it stops. I don’t have sufficient infrastructure at this point. I don’t have the manager or the booking agent working 45 hours a week and I do have my day job. You know what it’s like with booking. That’s like a fulltime job. You have to get through to people, not just by email but by phone. They seem to always want follow-up phone calls. So, anyways, back to the records. I felt I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I was driven to it by having to endure the process of making Part 1 [Closer] over a two-year span, due to lack of finances to keep things going at a reasonable rate at the time. It sort of dragged on. There are several guests on the record so there is obviously the time that goes into co-ordinating those people’s appearances. But generally that record dragged on. I shouldn’t say dragged on because it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. It was a great experience as it was my first solo recording. I felt compelled to make Part 2 [Mistakes] after sitting with the songs on Part 1 for nearly two years , and it not yet being presented to the public. I couldn’t do anything but sit around and listen to it, over and over again. Becoming more and more critical about it. Over-analyzing it. The opportunity came up to make a very spontaneous record and I chose to do that. I also felt like with Part 1, the material was very old to me. With the process taking two years, the songs by the time they are released six months to a year later, they are already four or five years old. They may be songs you’d written two years prior to going into the studio.

So you no longer have that close rapport with them?
Exactly. So there were many reasons for making a second part. After two years I also felt is this really all I have to show? I felt I had more in me so I wanted to put out two actual pieces of merchandise.

The phrase in the bio is that they should be viewed as fraternal but not identical twins.
They look like they belong together in many ways, which was what I intended. Certainly with the backs of each records and there’s an overall aesthetic of sparseness to it. So they are very similar, companion packages but I also feel they stand alone, that was the idea of making two. The aesthetics of the covers are clearly similar, but they’re pretty different overall. I believe they stand alone. No one has to feel obligated to buy them both, that’s for sure.

Are you intrigued to see which album certain of your friends or fans gravitate towards? Can you almost predict that?
Well, I think it has been fairly unanimous, that the majority has gravitated towards Part 2. I can’t really explain that. They are totally different sonically.

I see they’re recorded at different studios, with different engineers. I guess that would guarantee some sonic differences.
The first was recorded in Edmonton at Riverdale Recorders with Scott Franchuk, who I’ve recorded with many times. A great friend too, we play baseball every week. It is a pretty dense, lush album, with each tune having many tracks, and several guests on there. There’s a lot more going on somehow. It is more autobiographical, I should add. More personal. Part 2 is sparse, spooky. Took two days to make rather than two years. It is a different sonic aesthetic. It was recorded in Calgary with Dave [Alcock] at Sundae Sound. I’d worked with him on the Old Reliable record, along with Scott Franchuk.
I tried new things my voice on it, treating it more like an instrument, much like one would treat a guitar. You hopefully won’t play the guitar the same way all your life. Hopefully you grow and start experimenting. From sitting with Part 1 so long, I started singing along to myself a lot as I listened to it. As a result I started finding what I thought were really good harmonies for some of the songs and I started thinking about that — so with the opportunity to make Part 2, I thought about reversing the harmonies and the lead. So there are a lot of lead vocals in the higher register, with the harmonies down low.
I decided to make my voice be the No 1 sonic standout quality of Part 2 rather than complicating it with organs and other instruments. On Part 1 I probably played 15 to 20 different instruments. Obviously I had the time to do so, the studio is just down the road. With Part 2 I had to knock it all off in 2 days. It’s a lot less self-referential too, thematically. There’s a move to greater level of fiction in my writing, for sure. So there are drastic differences between the two.

In terms of this being your first solo project, was that stimulating in a writing and recording sense? You didn’t have the template of Old Reliable, so it was perhaps like a blank canvas?
Absolutely yes. That may have something to do with why I got so carried away in making the first record. I do feel it is my responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Again, not to deride the first record in any way. Scott was making all sorts of suggestions during it, like "we don’t need all that,” he kept saying, and I kept going back, adding another wee little instrument. So that was my responsibility that that one got a little cluttered. It was really liberating being away from the band and I do love the band. I just saw Schuyler [Janssen?] yesterday and seems we may be recording in the fall, potentially. We’ve had a few discussions about it and we’ll see what happens.

Naturally I was going to ask whether Old Reliable is still a going concern, or whether the fans are getting anxious about all these solo projects?
Fans of the band (laughs). I guess there might be a few people out there who might still care. Hopefully they are enjoying the solo stuff too. We played once in the last year and a half, and that was just Schuyler, myself and my drummer, together in my living room. But we definitely did discuss trying to make another record in the fall.

With these two records, any talk of releasing them outside of Canada? To me, they’re not just Canadiana records, but should be heard further afield.
Well, that is sort of in the hands of the label I guess. Well, not necessarily. I could pursue a relationship with a European label. It’d be nice if saved By Radio could establish a relationship with Europe somehow. It is not entirely their responsibility to do so. But no, they’re not currently available through any label or distributor in Europe. That is certainly a priority. I place a greater importance on establishing relationships with Europe than with America.

In Britain and Europe there seems to be a real affinity with Canadian artists roughly working similar terrain to you.
Yes I think so. A lot of people I know throughout the country have travelled quite significantly through Europe. I hope to get there. And I’m a British citizen. We did have some discussions with Loose Music. They did place one of my Old Reliable songs on their last compilation, called Find Your Own Country or something like that. They were very complimentary about the song on the liner notes, so that was nice. But we haven’t really had any further interaction with them.
In terms of your writing, any literary influences or inspirations you could cite?
Dozens.

Maybe Cormac McCarthy?
That’s for sure. If you arrived at that conclusion, to me that’s a great compliment. To me, Cormac McCarthy is the greatest writer I’ve ever read. I just can’t get over it. I re-read six of his books over the course of two or three months this year, and it sort of drove me crazy. The content, the actual things that went down in the books. It is just overwhelmingly bleak. He doesn’t hold back in the least. He has an amazing lyrical way of writing, it’s more like poetry, and such a free way of writing too. Almost as if he’s making up words at times. I’m really into North American over British or European writers generally. I like Thomas King and Richard B. Wright too. I’ve read everything by Richard Brautigan. He’s a big influence on my writing too. He was one of the first I found I could get into. Never really got into the Beat writers, but Brautigan is so profound, so simple, a little bit twisted. Once again this free form prose writing, making up words and not adhering to any one style. read George Orwell a lot when I was younger. Lots of Canadian writers too.

Fair to say that as a lyricist you’ve been more influenced by novelists than say folk-styled singer/songwriters?
Yes, by far. Definitely. Subconsciously and absolutely. Probably on a conscious level too. I love Townes Van Zandt and Dylan as lyricists. Beyond that I admire people as songwriters or players. Richard Thompson and the way he can sing and play guitar at the same time and write a perfect song. Someone like Richard Buckner, a great free style to his lyrics. But yes as far as lyrics go, I’m way more influenced by literature.

Find that the process of writing lyrics an be cathartic or therapeutic, personally.
Yes I certainly think there have been times in my life where I would have just lost my mind if I didn’t have this particular outlet. For example, when my girlfriend Kathy passed away from breast cancer, I had the opportunity with Old Reliable to make a record [The Gradual Moment] in tribute to her with the whole band. Without that opportunity, I really don’t know where I’d be today. Obviously every single song was about her and the experience we’d been through together, with her suffering from breast cancer for three and a half years and ultimately passing away. If I hadn’t had that avenue to express my feelings I don’t even know if I’d be making music today. I don’t know where I’d be honestly.

The fact that you’re so candid about your personal life and your loss, that does show up in a lot of coverage of your work. Are you OK with that ? A lot of artists might keep that side separate.
Yes a lot of people feel more comfortable doing so. And there are a lot of people out there quick to criticize writers who do write that way. That’s fine. It’s just a matter of personal taste. I’m comfortable in putting things about my personal life in my music. That being said, I think I’ve made a significant step aside from that, perhaps starting with Part 2, and certainly with the newer stuff I’ve been working on recently. It is not about me at all. It is influenced by things that have happened to me but is by no means about me.

You like the idea of creating characters and scenarios in a fictional way?
Yes, definitely. Some songs are cryptic, no matter what. Some people may not understand what they are about necessarily or they can make their own conclusions about what they’re about. I write a lot of those songs, or maybe it seems more that way to me than other people. Then there are narrative story songs and I’ve made an effort to write more of those as well. Part 1 here is more personal, but people don’t really think that. They listen to Part 2 and think that is just as autobiographical, but really it’s not. The first song, ‘All Because She Once was Mine,’ is pure fiction. ‘By The Time’ is nothing but talking about traveling across the country, experiencing the loneliness of the landscape. ‘In The End’ is about a fellow I knew throughout school, starting in elementary school, who later went to Thailand and disappeared. He never came back, a fellow from Edmonton. The fourth one, ‘In On Me,’ is pontification on mental illness really. It’s not about me, it’s about people I know. ‘Floating Away’ is a Grant Hart song, from a Hüsker Dü record.

How did you come across that song, and what suggested itself as a Mark Davis song?
I loved that song the moment I heard it maybe 20 years ago. I’ve been working at a day program for developmentally disabled adults for seven years, but prior to that for seven years I owned a record store on Whyte Avenue. Prior to that I worked on another record store on Whyte Avenue for five years. At that point it was all still vinyl. A used record store, and all vinyl, wall to wall. Pretty funny to think back to that time when people would come into the store, dumping boxes of vinyl. To the point where they’d go, whatever. Just keep them. We were getting hundreds a day. A pretty amazing time, to virtually have your pick of all this vinyl. People basically throwing them in the dumpster and moving to CD. I had all the Hüsker Dü records, still have them all on vinyl. I was always partial to Grant Hart over Bob Mould as a songwriter, I don’t know why. That song always stood out for me, and I guess it had an added poignancy after Kathy died, somehow. The song took on those connotations.

You should find a way to get a record to Grant Hart.
Well the label has a peripheral relationship with him, or did briefly. Saved By Radio put out a seven-inch with I believe the Makings on one side, Lorrie Matheson on the other. Two Alberta bands, and they were both covering Grant Hart. They decided to do a mini-Western tour in support of the single and they got Grant Hart up to headline this tour, and they went along and supported him.

In turn, if could you choose a favourite singer to do one of your songs, who would it be?
That’s funny, because Michael Barclay in his [Eye] review, mentioned Johnny Cash. I went ‘I dunno, man, that’s a stretch.’ Obviously that’s not possible at this point. Just the notion. I’ve never actually given that any thought. I really don’t know if I could answer that question. I don’t really know how to place someone in that position, even though I’m in the position of someone wanting to do a Grant Hart song.

I don’t think your songs are so idiosyncratic that no one else could do them though.
We’ll see if it ever happens.

In terms of your own writing, ever tried co-writing, or strictly a personal intimate process?
No I’ve never tried collaborating. I’ve spoken with a couple of people about it over the years, and certainly I’ve expressed the desire to do so with Shuyler in Old reliable, and we actually spoke about doing so yesterday. So that may happen, but ultimately for me that part is a solo job. With all the years in Old Reliable, both Shuyler and I would bring in our own songs, with the lyrics fully written. His were always more fleshed out, with the music and the arrangements, being a more experienced musician than myself. I’m not against the idea though.

With these two discs plus Old Reliable’s records, that’s a significant body of work. Take pride in that?
Yes, certainly. It is hard not to become more critical, just as I did with Part 1. Sometimes it is easy to listen to, sometimes not. I used to listen to our records fairly often, but I haven’t listened to an Old Reliable record for ages. I am really proud of the whole catalogue we have built and will continue to build. And I have the two solo records now and am pretty much ready to record another one. And Shuyler has a record out, and he has another two coming out within the next six months I think. One just about to come out on Black Hen, and another one next spring I believe. And we’ve got Shawn Jonasson in the band, or Swifty as we call him, from the band the Swiftys. They have a record out and are finishing another. So between us all that’s a fair bit of work and we’re all pretty proud of it.

Committed to staying in Edmonton or thought about moving to an industry centre?
Even if I was closer to an industry centre, I couldn’t be in one. Having been to them, I don’t want to live in one. Obviously Vancouver is closest to here, and I have a bit more of a relationship with Vancouver. A nice place to visit, but I’ve never wanted to live there. Certainly a bit out of my league when it comes to the cost of living. I couldn’t own a property there. Toronto, I have less of a relationship, though obviously been there dozens of times. It’s just too overwhelming, too huge. I kind of like Ottawa, and have considered moving there. I like a lot of people, a lot of musicians from Ottawa, Jim Bryson, the Fiftymen. I have a brother there who works for the Canada Council, so it’d be nicer to be closer to his family, and my young nephew. But I’m going to ride out the first term of my mortgage in Edmonton. It’s a ridiculous thing going on in Alberta [re the housing market]. I just squeezed in at the last minute, not even knowing what’d happen over the last two years. Bought a place for $97,000 and the average house price in Edmonton now is 425,000. Maybe in next two or three years I’ll relocate. One scene I really like is Winnipeg’s, I love visiting there. A great supportive music scene and a lot of talented musicians. Of course that’s not an industry centre and doesn’t bring me any closer in my career to where I want to be.

Any touring plans set?
I’m approaching touring as more of a regional thing currently. I find if you go on the extensive one fell swoop coast to coast thing, an independent artist with little or no tour support can come back just destroyed, physically, mentally, financially. From here, it makes sense to do Calgary, Red deer, Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Edmonton, then recoup and recover for a couple of weeks, then perhaps do Vancouver and Victoria and come back. Then I think the idea is that this fall I’ll make it out to Ontario for a couple of weeks.

Look forward to catching you then, Mark. Thanks for the chat.
Thank you.