Getting started more than 10 years ago by simply posting acoustic Bad Religion covers to Youtube, Emily Davis has gone on to release several solo records and tour extensively with both Bad Religion and Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin. Recently, as part of the band Emily Davis and the Murder Police, they have released the groups’ sophomore record, Never A Moment Alone. Read on for our interview with Emily Davis, where we take a look at her unique musical journey, and talk songwriting and the new record.
Going through your Youtube channel, it’s pretty clear that you’ve had the music bug for a while—what initially drew you to music and to songwriting?
Emily Davis: It’s gonna sound really funny, but I was raised in a very religious household—I’m no longer religious—but my background was very much born and raised and an avid participant of the church. Something I was always drawn to was the Worship Team. I had always had a penchant for singing and performing. My first exposure to that really was through church. That was something I was drawn to. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to do that. By the time I was in high school, I was playing guitar, I was singing, I was doing all that. So I guess that’s one of the things, amongst my various family members being musically inclined.
You got started by posting Bad Religion covers on Youtube, and around the same time you put out your first record—can you walk me through your journey from those early days of Youtube to where you are now?
Emily Davis: Well, Bad Religion’s my favorite band. And a very different time back then on Youtube. People weren’t trying to make Youtube channels to amass a following. There wasn’t a whole lot on Youtube in the way of covers. I think there was one day where I was trying to find a Bad Religion song on Youtube and I saw a guy cover “You” by Bad Religion and it made me want to cover that song, because it’s one of my favorite songs by them. So I did it, and I posted it and I posted it to a Bad Religion fanpage. People liked it, so I just kept doing it.
I’ve been writing my own music forever. As long as I’ve been around. I would play shows and perform original music in high school. At some point, I got it into my head that I wasn’t good at it, so I stopped. But when I saw people reacting positively to covers of songs that I’d done, it encouraged me to get back into my own music. Shortly thereafter is when I released my first album, and been doing it ever since.
Never A Moment Alone marks your fifth full-length record. How was the making of this album, with so many other records under belt, different from the making of your first one?
Emily Davis: I don’t know, I think people always say that it gets easier, but I think it gets harder, at least for me. When you’re younger and you’re not used to the whole process, I think it’s easier to not get overwhelmed about things. You just write songs. Once you get more familiar with all that’s involved and more preoccupied with trying to make a better product, it becomes more challenging. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. If it was easy, it probably wouldn’t be very good. I think every album that I’ve been involved in, I feel fairly confident in thinking that there is an arc of improvement. There is an arc of effort that’s invested, too. There’s more investment every time, but I think the payoff’s bigger every time.
Your Youtube and solo music is more along the stylings of acoustic music, while the Murder Police style is definitely more so along the lines of rock ‘n’ roll. Is that a conscious shift for you, and does it change the way you look at putting a song together?
Emily Davis: I think I’ve always wanted to be rock ‘n’ roll. It’s hard to be rock ‘n’ roll when it’s just you and an acoustic guitar. Having me and an acoustic guitar, I’ve always been loud and brash. I’ve always dreamed about being involved in music that was not punk rock per se, but beared that influence. Punk Rock has played a big role in my musical influences. To have a project where I’m able to tap into that influence is something that I found appealing. It’s given me an opportunity to do that. That’s probably why you’ve seen a shift in that direction from my solo albums into albums with our band. I’ve actually been able to do it, collaborating with them.
Where does the name ‘The Murder Police’ come from?
Emily Davis: It’s a reference from a John Mulaney bit. We have this dumb habit of when we’re going on tour, whatever videos we’re watching that make us laugh, we tend to quote it over and over again. One of the tours we were on, this might have been 2016 or ‘17, we had been watching a bunch of John Mulaney and he has a bit about Law and Order and various stereotypical characters. The inflection in which he delivered it made us laugh, and we were quoting it a lot. And one of us was like ‘hey, that’d be a cool band name, Emily Davis and the Murder Police.’ Everyone was like ‘yeah, that’s cool.’ It’s always hard to find a band name. What do you call it? Nothing really landed—that was the first and only thing where everyone was like ‘yeah, that totally works.’
What does your songwriting or creative process look like? How do you find an idea and nurture that into a song?
Emily Davis: It’s weird. The longer you’re at it, the harder it is. I kind of have a backlog of ideas, whether it’s a title for a song or a lyric or somebody said something that I thought was interesting; I have text messages I’ve sent myself over the course of many years that are in my phone. I have dozens of notebooks where if I’ve not written an idea for a song, I’ve written something that maybe later will inspire an idea for a song. I think it’s important to keep a collection going. Sometimes you want to write a song but you don’t know where to start. But five months ago, maybe you had an idea. I really do have a backlog of things I can pick from.
Sometimes, you have an overwhelming need, where you know ‘I’m gonna do this now, I have to go sit down and do it.’ That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I think it’s really important to capitalize on.
When you settle on an idea, how do you coax that into a song? Do you sit with your guitar and figure something out?
Emily Davis: Yeah. I also have many little recordings in my phone of a chord progression I might like or a picking pattern. Once I have an idea from a notebook, then you can kind of go through the recordings you have and ‘does one of these fit the vibe?’ Maybe it’s something I really wanted to work on for a while. It’s about putting those pieces together in a way that works. Sometimes, you have all of it come at once and that’s always nice when that happens, but not the norm.
When you sit down to write an album, what does that process look like? Do you just start writing songs, or do you begin with a framework, a concept?
Emily Davis: I wish I could do that. I’ve been meaning to. I think I did that once, maybe. My second album was called Dark Matter. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to a premeditated album. More often than not, naming the album is the last thing I or we end up doing. But I’ve always fancied the idea of starting time down—‘this is my concept for the album; these are the themes; this is the title; and off we go.’ The way it’s worked is over the course of one to three years, I’ll have a collection of songs and you record them all and see what the common thread is, and base the title off that common thread. I think doing something with more purpose and intention would present a really interesting challenge. And I’m at the point right now where, having just released this new album we’re at ground zero again. We’re at the starting point again. That’s something that might be worth exploring. What do we want to say and how do we want to say it?
What is the overwhelming theme that connects and ties this latest record together?
Emily Davis: It’s again one of those things where I started working on it in late 2018, so I think it’s just a sampling from different things in my life that were going on. I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2017, and while mental health was touched on a little bit in our first album, I definitely think it’s more touched on in this album. It’s something I was really starting to have to deal with. There are songs on the album that deal specifically with Bipolar disorder. That wasn’t by design. I want to write an album that isn’t just representative of my life. I want it to be something the band as a whole can stand behind. To get overly specific in that area, I don’t know how useful it is. It’s also important to me that it’s relatable.
Climate Change has become a really big focus of mine. I think it should be a focus of everyone. It blows my mind how little we do. There are a number of songs on the album that are an expression of that frustration.
“Eternal Babylon,” to me, felt a little bit different sonically, musically and vocally. Could you break down the track a bit; the inspiration for it, what it was like putting it together?
Emily Davis: That;s probably my favorite on the album. That track I actually started working on a decade ago. It was intended to be on my second album Dark Matter. I originally called it “Dark Matter.” It never made it to the album. I wasn’t really satisfied with it. Sometime last year, I was digging through my files and I came across it. It was cool listening to it with new ears, a decade later. I showed it to my guitarist and he really liked the fingerpicking I do on acoustic guitar. He suggested I try to revive it somehow. I went through some notebooks and I found what I think are the lyrics to the first or second verse that I liked, and I figured I could try to make them work. The song was a matter of me taking lyrics from five years ago and a song structure from 10 years ago and putting them together. After writing and finalizing what I thought was going to be the song, I brought it to our band practice and our drummer was like ‘what if I start playing this drumbeat and there’s a lift of energy and intensity so it almost sounds like two different songs?’ We tried it and I think it’s the coolest part of the album. I’m so glad I get to collaborate with these guys. It was an okay song before; it made it an awesome song. That’s totally his doing. The song has a very interesting trajectory, just how it all unfolded was really, really magical. It’s one of the more magical songs I’ve ever been involved in, either in a band or on my own.
You can listen to the new record here.