If an album title is any indication, John Davis had a fairly smooth transition from Georgie James to his new solo project, Title Tracks. It Was Easy, Davis’ anticipated first full-length, was released just a year and a half after the demise of Georgie James, which was together for only three years after Davis’ previous band, Q And Not U, broke up. In just 11 tracks, Davis takes the sun-kissed power-pop he cultivated with Laura Burhenn in Georgie James into a more cohesive sonic territory that gives nods to Elvis Costello and A.C. Newman. In advance of the band's Feb. 24 show at the Mohawk, The A.V. Club spoke with Davis about the new record, the lack of activism in his hometown music scene, and being alone with Ian Svenonius.
The A.V. Club: What was the gestation period for It Was Easy? Your press release says something about “out of the still-smoldering ashes.”
John Davis: It really started because I think I knew Georgie James wasn’t going to be around much longer. We had just finished some touring after our album had come out. I started writing songs, and I thought, this can either be a solo album, or maybe things will get better with Georgie James and we’ll just use these songs. Either way, it was a really nice outlet for me at the time because I was pretty unhappy with the way things were going with the band. By the time we announced that Georgie James had broken up, I pretty much had the album already finished in terms of the songwriting. In fact, Title Tracks played our first show a couple of weeks after Georgie James broke up. It was something I was more excited about and happier with. I didn’t really have to make any compromises, and I just got going on it.
AVC: Is compromise one of the reasons that Georgie James broke up?
JD: We didn’t really know each other when we started that group, so it was taking a chance starting a group with someone I didn’t really know. It was really, really fun in the beginning, and I had a really great time the first year or two. By the end of the second year, I was seeing that we weren’t really a good match personality-wise. We just had really different priorities, and really different things we were interested in musically, and just generally as people. We were too different to make it last. It soured pretty quickly. The last year we were in the band, it was pretty unpleasant for everybody.
AVC: Does the solo work change how you approach writing music?
JD: Not really. A lot of the songs on the Georgie James record I wrote this way. I was writing a lot of the parts: the drums, the bass and the guitar. That was really the time when I really got used to be being able to do something like what I did with this Title Tracks record, where I just wound up writing everything. So when it came time to do the Title Tracks thing, it was a little challenging in that I wasn’t sure if I could do a full album by myself without collaboration with anyone else. My whole life, I’ve just been collaborating with other people, and I’m sure I’ll go back to collaborating with other people in the future, but I guess that this is really the first time I’ve had to do the whole thing by myself. If anything I’m relieved that I didn’t have to change something I wanted to keep or didn’t have to worry about incorporating an instrument in. If I didn’t want to have keyboards or piano, I didn’t have to. It was just more of a free experience for me; I think that’s why I had a lot more fun with it.
AVC: How has making music changed in Washington, D.C. since you started?
JD: Things have changed very dramatically since I started being in bands in junior high in the '90s. We wrote songs the same way for a long time. You were in the basement, and you had a little tape player—not even a four-track, literally, just a little tape player—and you would just record your part and keep it in mind and hash it out at practice. It’s a lot easier to write songs now with computers, in terms of the mechanics of it. That was something I only became familiar with in Georgie James. In Q And Not U, everything was written with these handheld tape recorders. We never even got as advanced as a four-track or an eight-track. It was just cobbled together using these tapes.
Holistically, in terms of the scene and the way music is in D.C., a vast majority of the people that were involved in the scene have moved or have stopped making music and going to shows. There aren’t that many people left. Ian Svenonius and I were at a show last night and ran into each other and were just talking for a minute, and we were both sort of like, “This is crazy. This show is packed. and we don’t know anyone here.” But it’s really exciting to see that there’s this whole new huge batch of people who really care a lot about music. It’s really encouraging.
AVC: Is there anything about the current scene that you find discouraging?
JD: I feel that there’s not quite as much of a sense of activism and community in indie music anymore‚or at least, it’s just really diminished. It’s fairly possible that I’m just out of touch; maybe it’s just different from how I knew it. I’m referring to Positive Force shows. When I was growing up in D.C., seven or eight out of every 10 shows that I was going to were some sort of benefit show, or just something different than going to a club to see a band play. We have some of the best venues in the world, literally, but it’s also really important to me to have alternative spaces—like a community center, or basement of a church, or wherever. For most of us, I think that’s how we came up going to shows. That’s just sort of missing now. It’s unfortunate, because I think it is important to the health of the scene to have all those different venues of expression. I know I need to work a little harder to keep that around, and hopefully other people are into that, too. Actually, The A.V. Club published an article a few weeks ago—three points on how D.C. can be a national thing again.
AVC: Did you think that it was pretty accurate?
JD: I thought that article was pretty much on point. I agree that I wish more bands from here toured. I think that’s how you create a sound—and also having a really active local record label. Obviously, for a decade Dischord was super active, putting out a lot of new bands, and helping to promote that idea of a D.C. sound. They’ve kind of mellowed in the last couple of years. I think they’re totally willing to put out new bands, there just hasn’t been anyone that’s sort of set with what they’re excited about. The D.C. sound—even back when it was still going—I always felt that it wasn’t that accurate of a term. When people were talking about a D.C. sound, they were referring to Fugazi, Jawbox, Nation Of Ulysses. A late-'80s-and-first-half-of-the-'90s aesthetic that obviously, for a lot of us who were into indie rock, it was the foundation of what got us into indie rock. Even at that time, bands like Tsunami, Unrest, and even Velocity Girl veered quite wildly from that sort of sonic aesthetic, but still really upheld the ethics. So the fact that there isn’t a sound here, per se, I think that has more to do with the fact that the national presence of D.C. bands right now—there is only a small handful that consistently tour. I totally agree with that article, that I would like to see more D.C. bands touring beyond New York and Philly, or doing the long weekend. Although I do disagree with the choice of Q And Not U albums in The A.V. Club's top ten D.C. albums of the decade. [Laughs.]
AVC: Which one would you have picked?
JD: I would’ve done the second one, Different Damage. It’s my favorite Q And Not U record.