Native Ohioan Ben Davis Jr. is known for his gift of musical storytelling, and bearing his soul through song over the years. And his new single adds to the reasons the Buckeye state is glad he calls it home.
After picking up a guitar at a young age, Davis immersed himself in all things music, playing with various combos and eventually writing for his high school band, In the Red. Since, his songwriting and performance skills have carried him far beyond where he could even imagine, sharing stages with artists like The Avett Brothers and Jason Isbell – both of whom he cites as deeply influential on his own musical prowess.
In 2019, Davis released his second full album, Suthernahia. Accompanied by his renowned supporting band, The Revelry, the project expanded his audience and earned critical acclaim from various outlets. The LP explores influences from psychedelic rock, 60s pop, and R&B in addition to Davis’ folksy country-rock sound, defying genres to create pieces that focus more on the mood and vibe than the category they fit in.
In true Ben Davis Jr. fashion, his new single “Roots,” explores all of these influences, while taking a stripped-back, acoustic approach. Released July 16th, the song is raw and honest in sound, with lyrics providing an introspective and emotional story. Part of an upcoming EP, “Roots” gives us a good idea of what to expect from the upcoming project, which focuses more on Davis’ song craftsmanship and remarkable voice.
We recently got to catch up with Davis about “Roots,” the upcoming EP, and more.
You got into music at a young age; who or what was it that influenced you to pick up the guitar and start playing and writing songs?
I think the first time I had a desire to get a guitar was when I was about 7. There was a band called Hanson that was really popular and I saw them on TV. They were kids like me, and they were making it look easy. My parents bought me a keyboard around that age and I played that thing for years, but I never had any real training on that instrument. When I was about 14, my family and I were going on vacation, and they gave me money to buy any CD I wanted to take with me and listen on my portable CD player; I picked Guns n’ Roses Greatest Hits. I listened to that CD on repeat listening closely to the deep lyrics and the roaring guitar tones. I was hooked. My parents got me a guitar for Christmas that year and I dove in! I joined a band and we began writing songs immediately.
Can you share what your typical songwriting process looks like? Is it more procedural, or more spur of the moment?
Most of the time when I write a song it’s a spur of the moment occasion. I might have a phrase or even a melody in mind and then I either jot down lyrics on my phone and imagine the accompanying guitar part in my head, or if I have a guitar handy, I just pick it up and play it out. It’s not something that I feel I’m very involved in, it’s more like I’m picking up a frequency of some sort and I just have to translate it without getting in the way of it.
So your new single, “Roots,” is such a personal song. What is the inspiration and influence behind it?
“Roots” came to me when I was early into a relationship. It’s about the feeling you get when you take your sweetheart for a ride through your hometown and tell stories about how you got to the moment you’re living in. Each line has a reference to my real-life experience and tells a little bit more about myself.
What caused or influenced the shift from your country-rock sound to this intimate acoustic feel, and how important is it to you to have a more expansive sound?
Since I released my first record back in 2013, fans of my music have on occasion made comments and suggestions. One of the suggestions I’ve heard more than anything is that they want a stripped down sound, some mentioned that they prefer just me with my guitar. When we started this project I told Eddie Ashworth, the producer and also mandolin player on the EP, that I wanted this to be as stripped down of a record as we could make it without doing an injustice to each song. He helped gather the perfect players for the project and we accomplished what I think is the most honest version of each song. You can hear the lyrics and feel them without becoming overwhelmed by the instrumentation. Two guitars, mandolin, upright bass and snare drum, that was the right formula.
Roots, the EP, is slated for release this fall. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the record, and how might it differ from past releases?
This record was recorded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was the most unique recording experience I’ve had. We recorded live all in one room which we also haven’t ever been able to do, but we were masked. We didn’t record any vocal while all together to minimize the risk of spreading droplets around. To achieve this we performed to scratch vocal tracks that I had recorded ahead of time while cutting the record, and after we were finished tracking I recorded the final vocal in another location.
What about being a singer-songwriter is most rewarding or fulfilling for you?
I think what is most rewarding is hearing about how I might have helped someone through a difficult time with my songs, or when they tell me they relate to one of them. My songs are all very personal and show a lot of my vulnerability, so it’s good to hear those kinds of comments.
Do you have any gigs or light touring lined up for the rest of summer and into fall, and if so where?
As of now I am playing at a lot of my favorite spots around Ohio, with some summer festivals and a performance in Nashville late September for a community that formed around Todd Snider that I found on Facebook. Todd is my favorite songwriter and his fans are my favorite people so I would say this is the show I’m most looking forward to supporting the release of Roots!
Photo by Gunner Barnes