Moot Davis returns rowdy and boiling with twang to suss out a mythical honky tonk fortune on Seven Cities Of Gold, a beautiful clash of jangle and serpentine bravado that expands the experimental palette of 2017’s Hierarchy of Crows. With the sun at his back, Davis swaggers through classic country canyons, navigates seas of reverb, and conjures hellacious hurricanes of cowpunk glory for a raucous tour that vents and sprays in all directions. It’s a fresh adventure for the New Jersey-born Davis, who embarked on his particular brand of stylish country music in the early 21st Century with Pete Anderson’s Little Dog Records. Seven Cities Of Gold draws from those formative years while also living up to Moot’s experience and that of the cadre of friends and players who join him for the album’s eclectic sonic journey.
AI- There are people who love the studio, some who see it as work and a necessary inconvenience. You’ve called Seven Cities Of Gold the most fun you’ve ever had in the studio. What made those sessions so good? Tell me about it!
You reached a certain point in your career where you’re just comfortable. Everything’s not new and you know your way around what you’re doin’– or at least not to take it too seriously and drive yourself crazy! And then I was workin’ with all my closest friends, you know? We all loved the songs and we all felt strongly about the songs and that’s a huge part too. But again, it was just workin’ with my buddies and feelin’ like you’ve come to a place in your artistic powers where you’re comfortable and there’s not a lot of hang-ups. For me, it really was the most fun I’ve had makin’ an album and I really do think it comes across!
Did I see that it was spring of 2019 that you guys had either gotten started or were wrappin’ it up?
Right before things got crazy with the lockdowns and all that nonsense, we’d just wrapped up recording in Los Angeles. We were then at the mixing stage, but we worked on it for a good year and a half just goin’ out to L.A. whenever I had the time and everybody else had the time and settin’ up the sessions. It was a bit of a long process, but thankfully, by the time things got crazy, we were done with all the stuff that had to do with actual recording. Everything else was mixing, which was a whole ‘nother battle! But at least we didn’t have to fly back and forth for that!
You talk about making an album with all your buddies. I know Bill Corvino’s on there playin’ guitar, Blake Oswald playin’ drums, the great Gary Morse on pedal steel. Who else is on the record with you?
Our buddy, Jody Sappington, he was an engineer at Little Dog Records for Pete Anderson. That’s how I originally met him, and then he eventually became a road manager for us back in the Pete days, so he did US tours and European tours with us. He engineered it and he also played bass on it. Skip Edwards from Dwight’s [Yoakam] famous band, he plays some B3 on it. You mentioned Bill Corvino. He was definitely on there playin’ guitar. And Gary! Al Backstrom, who is a musician and a singer-songwriter in his own right. He mixed the album and he played some rhythm guitar, did some harmony singing on it. I was surrounded by people I just really like! To record the Bill Corvino stuff, we did that in New Jersey and my brother engineered that. My brother has more of a video background, but he was able to engineer the guitar parts. It was even cool to hang out and work with my brother on this. So it really was sort of a family and friends affair!
You brought up Little Dog and Pete Anderson. The opening track, “Hey, Hey”– that one goes back 20 years to your time out there in L.A. with Pete. That one’s been rollin’ around in your pocket gettin’ smooth. Tell me about resurrecting it for this record.
I think I wrote that in Nashville in maybe 200. I pitched it during the Pete days and it sorta got sidelined– but I didn’t have the riff, you know? I didn’t have the skillset to come up with that at that time. It had been rollin’ around and I hadn’t thought about that song in 10 years, maybe! And then messin’ around, you find the riff and it opens the door to that song bein’ a possibility again. The chorus had always bugged me. There was just one line that was out of place. I was hangin’ around the house one day and just playin’ it over and over. It was drivin’ my girlfriend crazy, and she came up with a line that worked better! So we just threw it in there and it was ready to go!
You do a very different version of “Crazy” on the album. You’re not really known as bein’ a big covers guy, so what put that on your path?
We got invited to do a Willie Nelson tribute night where everybody does like two or three Willie songs. And you’re right, I’m not a big covers guy. I think when I started out, I started so late in the game that the original songs that I had, I could perform them better than other cover music just musicianship-wise. I could never get ’em to sound right, so just abandoned all hope on tryin’ to get those covers right and focused more on songwriting. When we got invited to do this Willie thing, you’re tryin’ to jockey for the song that you feel like you could do the most justice to, and nobody wanted “Crazy” just because you really can’t compete with the versions that are already out there! But somehow I drew the short straw and got “Crazy!”
My musicianship is still not anything to write home about, so I immediately had to take out all those jazz chords and make it a 3-chord song just for my own sanity! Once we got doin’ that, it changed it just enough that I was like, “Man, this actually sounds like our take of it!” So I liked it, and I liked it well enough and thought that, “Well, I’d like to explore it more and see what we can do with it.” I had that 12-string guitar idea on it, and I thought it would be interesting to throw it on the album and see how it does. It was avoidance and then I sort of accepted it and tried to mutate it!
Did it give you a taste to maybe try your hand at some other tunes?
Oh yeah! We do covers in the live show, and we’re always messin’ with ’em to make ’em as far away from the original version as possible. I’m not real huge on tryin’ to do cover songs and make ’em like exactly like the recording. That’s not really interesting for me. I try to make ’em as much like somethin’ I would normally do as possible. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing, but that’s the path I follow on it!
I love “Turn In The Wind And Burn”, a fantastic track! I love that line, “Them that say there’s no glory, never had to fight.”
For years, I’ve struggled with the fact that other people and their careers have advanced faster and further than I seem to do, so I think that was me workin’ out some frustration about that issue. And, God, I don’t even know what year I wrote the main body of the song! I had a good chunk of it in I wanna say 2013 maybe. I wrote the initial part and then had a chunk of it, and again, it was just tryin’ to deal with accepting my fate (laughs) as far as an artist to always be the outsider. We’re not super buddy-buddy and in any kinda clique, we’re just on the outskirts doin’ our thing.
For the most part, if I have some sort of issue or something like that, if I can exorcise it in a song, then it’s dealt with as far as I’m concerned and I can move on. So I think that’s what it was all about. Any kind of ship reference, I worked on a cruise ship for about two years. A lot of time at sea! Anything that references that comes from those days at sea. I like that song a lot, and Gary Morse obviously really brings it to life with the parts that he plays on there. I’m real proud of it!
That frustration that you’re talking about, did that have anything to do with how you’ve really, especially with this album and then the prior record, Hierarchy of Crows, embraced an edgier, harder sound. You kinda flirted with it with Goin’ In Hot, but you really ramped it up with Hierarchy of Crows.
It almost feels like, “What’ve I got to lose?” You know what I mean? I really enjoy– and grew up on– classic rock and edgier stuff, but I still love all the roots music. They all seem to go hand in hand to me, but I’m outside the loop (laughs) just operating our own instincts as wise or unwise as that may be!
“Anunnaki War Bride”, which closes out the record, has kind of a psychedelic feel to it, but Moot, that’s a punk song if I ever heard one, for sure!
Yeah (laughs)! Well, on the cruise ship, I was listening quite a bit of like early Guns N’ Roses, and I think “Anunnaki War Bride”, once I had that initial riff down, I had a lot of free time to listen to podcasts and radio shows about aliens and UFOs and Bigfoot and whatever else is out there, so it’s just me playin’ around with those kinds of ideas. I was really interested in the format or how they constructed those Guns N’ Roses songs. They seem to have so much more moving parts than the simpler songs that I was writing and have written in the past.
Sometimes we get some songs on albums, like on Hierarchy Of Crows, that “Nighttime in Big Whiskey” song, it was experimental. I call ’em experimental songs where like, “Well, I don’t know if this is gonna work, but if it doesn’t make us too sick to our stomach when it’s all done then we’ll put it on the album!” And that one turned out to be a really big song for us! They played it all over the radio in Texas for some reason! So you never know what’s goin’ on! The people I work with and my close friends and guys like Blake– ’cause he’s just as much on the outside as I am– nobody really has any idea what the hell is goin’ on and that gives you all the room you need or could want to experiment and explore. If we hate it once it’s done then we don’t put it on there, but if it made it on there, then we’re like, “Okay, this is a solid stab at tryin’ to do somethin’!”
Did I see that you’re already planning and ready to go or have started the next project?
The whole next album’s written, and we started doin’ basic tracking in Los Angeles. It’s getting easier and easier to do that nowadays, you know? It’s just easier to keep movin’ forward. And I don’t know what else I would do (laughs)! Whenever we have the opportunity, I wanna try and get stuff down if we have it ’cause you never know what’s gonna happen.
Do you see yourself becoming more experimental?
I don’t know? I think the stuff that we’re currently working on, that we just started basically tracking is territory that falls right between this album and Hierarchy of Crows, somewhere in there. It’s still honky tonk and it’s still a little Stones-y. Does it go punk in any area? I don’t think so. I think it definitely bridges old school country and some classic rock kinda stuff but doesn’t go as far out as “War Bride” or “Seven Cities Of Gold”.
Let’s talk about the title track, the mythology behind it. It’s got that great, filthy boogie woogie goin’ on, kinda like a Marc Bolan thing. Is that your seven cities of gold? Like what we were just talkin’ about– the frustration, the experimentation, and being on the outside? Is that where that song comes from? Your search?
Yeah, I think so. I think all those ideas of searching for something, the quest, it might be a more violent view of the frustration, but also I kept havin’ that term pop into my head. It popped in my head for like two years and I didn’t know how I was gonna make anything out of it. And then I had that riff for a while, that intro riff, and it slowly came together. I think I watched that Apocalypto movie one too many times! It all goes in the blender and it’s bits and pieces of different things, but yeah, I kept seein’ the imagery of it. It’s experimental fantasy. Nobody’s sayin’, “You shouldn’t do that!” Nobody’s sayin’ anything really, so you’re free to try whatever you want!