Jesse Davis has one of those voices that will make you stop what you're doing and listen. The son of long-time touring musician Jimmy Davis, Jesse began playing music as a child, developing his voice along the way. After cutting his teeth at the Burgundy Ballroom (the old Sheiks headquarters where Time, Moving Finger, and Jack Oblivian frequently played), Davis formed an all-star lineup to back him, featuring members of bands from Aquarian Blood, the Sheiks, and Magic Kids.
While the band has been making waves on the local circuit for a couple years now, the only way to hear Davis' croon over top of soulful garage riffs is through the Chickasaw Mound Bandcamp page. That's about to change. After saving money from local gigs, Davis said the band will be self-releasing their long-overdue debut 45 sometime soon, hopefully this summer. I sat down with Davis to get the backstory of one of Memphis' most promising young bands before their show at Bar DKDC this Saturday. - Chris Shaw
Memphis Flyer: Chickasaw Mound started out as a solo recording project for you. How did it morph into a full band?
Jesse Davis: I got asked to play a Halloween show at the Burgundy Ballroom, and I played solo with a laptop playing backing tracks. An old buddy of mine, Zach Beerman, came up to me with Coletrane Duckworth, and they both told me they wanted to start a band. I think Coletrane was about 16 at the time. We started playing some of my originals, and eventually Keith Cooper (of the Shieks) ended up playing with us before I moved to Texas for awhile.
I recorded the demo album Magic Sounds of Our Sanctuary while I was living in Texas in a small town called Wimberley. When I got back to Memphis, Zach couldn't be in the band anymore, so we asked Ben Bauermeister (Magic Kids) if he would play, and we were excited when he agreed. That's been the lineup ever since. Everyone plays in different bands so it's hard to get shows together, but it's definitely a dream team.
Your dad has been a touring musician for most of your life. How has he influenced your music?
Growing up with him making music in the house definitely influenced me to be creative as well. There were times where I'd be recording in my bedroom while he'd be recording in his office; there was a bunch of creativity flowing around our house. I was born and raised in Memphis, but a few years ago he bought this place out in Texas, just southwest of Austin. He's got about six acres of land filled with trails and tons of cedar trees, so it's easy to go out there and get your brain churning.
So the place in Wimberley is responsible for a lot of the songs on Magic Sounds?
Definitely. Some of those songs had already been written, but most of the songs I wrote for that album were directly inspired by my time out there. I would take my kayak out to this spring that had a waterfall and just write songs all day.
How would you describe the music you make with Chickasaw Mound? I've heard people call it soulful garage, or doo-wop garage.
Anytime I get asked, I just tell people it's Memphis garage rock. I guess I also call it soul rock. I don't really like describing my own music. I have too many influences to call it one thing. I'm super influenced by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but, I think for this project, I'm channeling Little Richard the most.
Even though you've been around for a few years, I feel like Chickasaw Mound is still an extremely underground project. The most high-profile show I've seen you billed on was the River Series show you played with NOTS last month.
Yeah, I think that was one of our biggest shows. I was pretty happy with that set, even with our weird cover of "Purple Rain." I think that show put our music in front of a lot of new people, but in general I think the River Series is really great. I'm really happy that Goner puts it on.
The only way to hear Chickasaw Mound right now is on Bandcamp. Are you guys planning on releasing your music on any kind of physical format?
There's been nothing physical yet. We haven't even burned a CD. But we've got new recordings that we've been sitting on for almost a year. We're going to do a 45 with the stuff that we recorded last July. Some of those songs were on the Magic Sounds of Our Sanctuary album, but we re-recorded them, and they sound a lot better. The 45 will be self-released and hopefully out really soon.
I think your song "Loneliness is Golden" perfectly sums up the Chickasaw Mound sound. What's the story behind that track?
I don't know that I'd say I struggle with it, but I've always had depression, and I guess it's just an intimate song with my depression. The lyrics to the chorus are "loneliness is golden, bitter sweet melancholy to hold me," and I guess what I'm getting at is that yeah, depression sucks, but there are aspects of it that are comforting because it's familiar. That might also be a break-up song. I've always been into Belle and Sebastian, and I was listening to them a lot when I wrote that song. Their lyrics are similar. They are humorous but they still cover dark subject matter.