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What's Up Magazine

The Live Wire: Jimi Davies

Jul 30, 2012 10:15PM ● By Anonymous
Alarmed by the crowd’s raucous dancing, police order Davies to stop playing or be arrested. Davies insists that doing so will result in pandemonium. Reluctantly, the cops retreat, and Davies rips into the evening’s final number. There is no riot.

Fifteen years have passed since Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope made the post-grunge, Annapolis-based Shack an MTV regular. These days, Davies, now 44 and a dad, isn’t testing the man before thousands of twenty-something moshers, but his life is no less colorful.

When he’s not spending time with his daughter, Ila, he tours regionally with JCS and performs in multiple music projects, including the local favorite, Jarflys. He also DJs at several area bars and events. Music, however, is now his second chair behind painting.

Davies is a full-time “artner-in-crime” of JaH-HaHa Collaborative Art, a partnership with local artist and owner of JAHRU studios, Jeff Alan Huntington. Together, the two are fine art makers or “fartists,” creating art and mistakes via oil and acrylic paintings and silk screened prints.

What’s Up? Annapolis recently met with Davies at JAHRU to discuss his art and other endeavors since Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope.

How did the success of that album change things for you?

It was about time. When we signed our record deal, I’d been working at it for 10 years. I’d lived in my car, and on food stamps. We eventually shot a video for “High,” which was the first-ever digital video on MTV, who started playing it a lot. The crowds were getting much bigger everywhere we played. It was cool when it all happened, but we were so busy touring that I didn’t see our video for months.

How does the Annapolis music scene and industry in general compare—then and now?

I’m not really in the scene now, so it’s hard to say. I see a lot of bands working together, which is what we did in the ’90s. In 1993, I started Fowl Records and worked with bands to help get the area noticed. Back then, national tours would often bypass the Baltimore area. We wanted to make a statement about Annapolis. When we were coming up, I sold cassettes out of a backpack. We’d do every gig we could, including going to RFK Stadium with a flatbed truck during Grateful Dead concerts and play for free. Now it’s about Internet presence. We didn’t have websites or social media. If I started a band now, I’ve have to get some Internet savvy kid to manage things. People don’t make CDs or buy records anymore. They buy singles on iTunes.

What are the crowds like at Jimmie’s Chicken Shack shows these days?

Many of our longtime fans are parents now and even bring their kids to shows. The crowd isn’t insane like it was in the ’90s when people were launching off stage and I was launching with them. People mostly just stand and listen.

How was JaH-HaHa Collaborative Art started?

Last October, I did an acoustic show at Red Red Wine Bar and Jeff was there. He was a fan of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack and mentioned that he painted, so I checked out his work and was amazed. I met with him at JAHRU and he suggested that we do some silk screen posters. Basically, I started going there every day, trying to turn it into a pseudo job. He shared his knowledge and I shared my quirky ideas, so we started collaborating and have since done about 20 pieces. His medium is oil, mine is acrylic. This has become my main gig.

Did JaH-HaHa recently do a show in New York City?

We did a group show at Porter Contemporary for the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones. We submitted two themed pieces to owner, Jessica Porter, and she loved them so much that she sent us a contract to represent us in New York exclusively. This was almost like signing a record deal for me. To do this within five months of working with Jeff was pretty cool.

How does fatherhood help you as an artist?

It motivates me to be productive. These days, writing songs is a bad investment of time. I could spend a year writing a record and then it’s worth nothing. You’re told to give it away online. I need to make money, and you can’t steal my painting online. I love watching my daughter paint. That trumps playing in front of 60,000 people. I’d prefer that she didn’t become a musician or artist, however. I’d like to her to be an investment banker.

What do you think when you hear songs like “High” today?

I get embarrassed. I’m weird about it and always have been. I don’t look in the mirror much either. I think some of my songs are still relevant and some sound dated. “High” definitely sounds like a mid-’90s, post-grunge rager.

Looking back 15 years, did you picture yourself here and what’s driving you now?

No. I thought I’d play music and tour until I died. I used to write songs because of a sense of dissatisfaction. I don’t have anything to prove to myself or to anyone anymore. Maybe I write fewer songs now because I’m so happy. Maybe when my daughter’s older she’ll look back and think that dad did some cool stuff. Maybe people will remember something I had to say. When my father died, I was 24 he and he was 47, and I realized at that point that I’m going to do what I want. For me, it’s about experiencing life and sharing it. There’s some vanity to it, but I’m still not going to have a tombstone, which is the vainest thing ever.

How did you get involved in DJing?

I’m a Me-J, not a DJ. I play what I want. I don’t mix or spin records.  The sad reality is that I can walk a couple blocks from my house and make just as much money as if I loaded up the van and drove 8 hours to a gig.

What are you listing to these days?

El Ten Eleven. It’s cool instrumental stuff, and good to work to. My daughter loves it, too, and always wants me to play it.

If you weren’t a musician or artist, what would you be?

I might be in jail. I think music and art kept me on the straight and narrow. I’m a little scatter brained. I had so many jobs by the time I was 25. My goal was not to have a “normal” job.

You can see Davies perform with Jimmie's Chicken Shack at the Silopanna Music Festival on August 11th at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds.