Naming two Hank Williams Snr. songs among his all time favourites sets the tone for the music that Moot Davis makes. He makes it to suit nobody’s taste but his own. Moot released a gig sale CD that was recorded in Nashville and was part of the scene that included Chris Scruggs playing in the bars of Lower Broadway in Nashville. He subsaquently moved to Los Angeles and signed with Pete Anderson’s Little Dog Records where he released two albums (his self-titled debut and Already Moved On). Former Dwight Yoakam producer Anderson helmed both albums and also played in Moot’s then live band in the US and in Europe. His new album was recorded in Nashville with renowned guitarist Kenny Vaughan as producer. The results are perhaps the best album that Moot Davis has released and follow a brief period of dissillusionment with the music industry. During that time Davis honed his acting skills on a visit to New Zealand. He is now back living in his native New Jersey. Man About Town is to be released on Highway Kind a label Davis founded with Paul W. Reed. Lonesome Highway spoke to both Davis and Vaughan to find out more about the album and its origins.
I asked Kenny when he had first been aware of Moot. “I met Moot 11 years ago on Broadway in Nashville. I liked his style and dug his songs. I played guitar for him down there for a little while. He was cool.” He decided that time was right to work together after they were in touch again. “He contacted me about a year ago about producing a project. We met in NYC and discussed the details. I chose the studio (George Bradfute’s Tone Chaparral Studio), and the players (pedal and lap steel player Chris Scruggs, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin as well as fiddler Hank Singer). I listened to the demos he had made with his band, which were quite good, and made notes about individual songs. A lot of the arrangements came about on the floor as we were recording. There was some overdubbing, but a lot of the stuff is live. I take these kind of projects on a song by song approach, as things can change when the players get involved. It’s good to let everyone do their thing and play off of each other. Some songs changed when we experimented with the feel. A lot of quick decisions were made on the spur of the moment. We were on a tight budget and had very little time. There are always things that I’d like to do over, but, to quote the great RS Field,“I’ve never finished a record, I just ran out of time and money” . Overall, I’m very happy with my choices, and I know that I used all of the right people. As an aside I asked Kenny about the current state of country music given his love and involvement with playing and producing the real thing. “Country music has always been plagued by horrible “artists” and unfortunate recordings and material, but it remains my favorite music. Ernest Tubb, Hank, Red Foley, Acuff, Honky Tonk, Bakersfield , Hag and Buck, everything Jones did till about 1970, Tammy , Porter & Dolly, Loretta, Dwight, Warner Mack, Paycheck, Waylon and Willie all can’t be beat. Fantastic. I’m sure that a lot of Pop Country artists and Americana artists are very talented and good at what they do, but I’d rather listen to Howlin’ Wolf, thank you. Should I have try to like something? I like Jerry Lee! I like Dr Feelgood. I like The Animals. I like The Velvet Underground. I like Muddy Waters. I like The Sonics. Life is too short to listen to stuff that I have to try to like. When I play or produce anything, I’m trying to make something that I can listen to. Sometimes I succeed” .
Where did your love of classic country music come from?
Well, both sides of my family are from West Virginia, so I guess it was always there playing low in the background. As I got older, I watched as my father and his brothers would write and play their own songs in the basement. The songs were not country but they were originals and really catchy. So somewhere along the way those two things came came together and then I found Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash, then it was off to the races.
Like a lot of people where you further influenced when some real country emerged in the shape of Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle or even Rank and File - that this was something hip?
Early on I was very aware of Dwight, not so much Steve Earle or Rank & File. I loved the totally different sound Dwight had and it did seem way cooler then anything else on the country stations. So it gave me hope that not all modern country music had to be lame, you know with no teeth.
You're back now in New Jersey do you feel more at home there?
Well all my family is here in New Jersey and I can live anywhere and do what I do. I don't think this will forever, it's just for now.
How does it compare to Nashville and other music centers you've lived in?
It's very different and for the most part, there is no music scene here for music like mine. Again, I leave town to go to work. Same thing when I lived in Los Angeles.
Your last album Already Moved On was released in 2007, has it been difficult getting a new album recorded and released in the current uncertain climate?
I was still under contract to Pete Anderson's label, Little Dog Records until just a few months ago. Once I was free, the album and the new record label, Highway Kind Records came about very quickly. But there was a few years where I was just in limbo. I also think the climate is always uncertain.
Will you get the opportunity to tour behind this album?
Yes, we are setting US and European tours right now. All date will be updated regularly on www.mootdavis.com.
Do you have a live band that you're currently working with or is it more economic to tour solo?
Yes we have a four piece that I travel with but I also do solo acoustic shows. Well, you have to watch your pennies but we try to do as many shows with the full band as possible. Although, I really enjoy the solo acoustic shows and I am used to traveling alone.
Are encouraged or disheartened by reach that many of the current crop of Music Row/Country Radio pop orientated acts seem to be achieving?
A lot of people love the current Music Row/Country pop music and I don't turn my nose up to it at all. Musically, it does not do very much for me but again, people love it. What I do is a little different, that's all. Where songwriters get "country stars" to cut their songs in Nashville, I get song placements in films and television shows. The music is different and so is the business.
You have worked with guitarist/producers like Pete Anderson and now Kenny Vaughan is that a co-incidence or do you find that that combination of talents draws them into your work?
I am really into the guitar sounds both Pete and Kenny make. I'm also terribly lucky to have worked with either of them. I think my songs are my passport to working with the guitar gods. If the content was not there, then I doubt very heavily that Kenny or Pete would have been there. It's a good fit, my songs and a guitar wizard.
The first album I have is entitled The Essential Moot Davis on Ditch Digger from 2002, which features Chris Scruggs as does your new album. Was that your first album or had you recorded before that?
Wow, I had forgotten about Ditch Digger Records. Yes, that was my first collection of songs that I recorded in Nashville.
It was that demo that got me the deal with Pete. Chris Scruggs has always been great. I met him in 2001. Just killer player and a sweetheart of a person.
Are you fired up by your latest album release or are you more cautious regarding its potential to break through?
This is my favorite album that I've made. I'm very amped up about it and if ever there was an album of mine that could break through, this is it!
You have been playing country music now for over ten years do you see yourself playing anything different in the future?
I'm not sure, one thing at a time. We will see what happens.
What do you hope for you and your music now?
I am trying like hell to make up any ground that was lost during the past few years. I am also, at the same time, trying to break new ground and crash through any road blocks. I hope we are very healthy, busy, respected and liked.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Moot Davis?
My family, my friends, traveling and the very personal/private songwriting process.
Interview by Stephen Rapid. Picture by David McClister.