On sophomore solo record 'Time to Die,' the Way Yes co-founder dances on Halloween, gets vulnerable and goes it alone in a quest for connection
Back in January of 2017, musician and producer Glenn Davis participated in the “Jamuary Challenge,” which takes place mostly on Instagram and involves making a new piece of music every day in the month of January and sharing it online.
And so, for the entire month, Davis retreated to his studio with synthesizers and keyboards and guitars and forced himself to make something. It felt like running a marathon, and he hasn’t done it again since. But without it, Davis may not have made his second solo record, Time to Die. In fact, two songs from the excellent, just-released album, “Wrong Lights” and “Who Does,” still exist in their primitive, Jamuary forms.
Though Davis sometimes invited others to jam with him that month, most of the time he went on these musical explorations by himself in 2017 and onward — a purposeful departure from the way Davis previously emphasized collaboration in his own music and in Way Yes, the indie-pop band he co-founded.
“Working with other people in the past gave me a kind of security,” Davis said. “It's really vulnerable to write a song and then decide to share it with the world, and if I got a bunch of people that I respected to play on the record, then it gave me the confidence to actually release that record.”Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
On soul-bearing 2016 solo album Waves & Webs, for instance, Davis invited Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison — “the most talented musician and one of my best friends” — to sing and play keys on the songs. While Davis couldn’t be happier with Udoh’s performances, he also knew, deep down, that including his friends had become a crutch. So on Time to Die, Davis did all the vocals, guitars, drums, samples and synthesizers himself, as well as the mixing and mastering.
“What is my favorite part about releasing music? It's the opportunity to connect. And how do you connect with people? You have to offer some sort of vulnerability. And for me, this was the most vulnerable way to make a record,” said Davis, who took that vulnerability a step further by putting his face on the front of Time to Die, in contrast to the cover of Waves & Webs, which hid his visage behind a shock of hair. “It's quite scary for me to release a record and put a picture with my face on the cover. … But that's the direction I'm heading in — something that's a little bit more vulnerable in hopes that it'll facilitate connection.”
Often, Davis sings about topics he has a hard time talking about. On the oddly entrancing “Stephen King is Not the Devil,” Davis searches for belonging and a place to call home by nodding to times when the religious communities of his upbringing took confounding stances on seemingly harmless aspects of culture. “I wanna be in a place where Stephen King is not the devil,” Davis sings, later expressing a desire to “dance on Halloween.”
“I definitely don't think that Stephen King is the devil. I think he's just writing captivating stories. I don't think he's putting spells on anyone or putting anybody's soul at risk by writing,” Davis said. “And I remember there being times where it was frowned upon to participate in Halloween. … At this point in my life, it's like, ‘Oh, I love this, and I celebrate this, and I don't feel bad about that.”
Still, there’s a restlessness to the song as Davis sings, “Where should I be?/I just keep searching for a place to be free/Where the laundry detergent/Oh it smells like summer breeze.”
“I'm always searching for some sort of place to feel safe that I can call home. … Hopefully I'll fit in somewhere and it will smell really nice and I'll be relaxed and everything will be good,” Davis said, laughing anew at the playful detergent lyric. “The whole record is serious, but there are times where my sense of humor pops out. There are weird lines that make me laugh.”
While Davis could never have predicted the increasingly strange, polarized world of 2020, certain lyrics also serendipitously speak to the moment. “Can we get along? … What’s making you mad?” he asks on “Stephen King.” Similar questions arise on “Capable of”: “Can you meet me in the middle? Can you meet me halfway?”
“At first I got worried, like, ‘Oh, my God. This wasn't written with 2020 context in mind.’ I got worried about how it would be perceived,” Davis said. “Eventually I had to let that go, and I realized that a lot of it was actually working quite beautifully.”
Writing and recording Time to Die — a long, sometimes-grueling roller coaster ride — also corresponded with Davis' embarking on a full-time music production career in which he spends the bulk of his time recording, mixing and mastering songs for other people. The career change made it tough to focus on his own music, but Davis said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I'm really happy that I got two years of working on other people's stuff, because it really informed what was even possible. If I had rushed to finish this right after that Way Yes record (Tuna Hair) came out, I don't think it would sound nearly as good as it does right now to my ears,” said Davis, who also didn’t rule out another Way Yes record someday. “At this point, my primary focus is on helping other people make music that they're really proud of, and if I can find time outside of that to continue to make and release my own songs, I'm going to do that, as well. … Some of the projects that I've been involved in as a producer recently are just as creatively rewarding to me as actually being in a band ever was. I'm kind of scratching that itch all the time now.”