The life of a DIY touring artist is a hard yet rewarding one. Ohio’s Ben Davis, Jr. would be first to admit to it. Back home, Davis fronts the band The Dirt Poor Troubadours, which he hopes to bring with him on the road next year. Until then, he is out on the road performing solo with his twanged-out alternative country sound that mingles rock ’n’ roll soul with honky-tonk. He is also introducing the nation to his band’s self-titled album. Davis gave Lagniappe a little insight into his world while on the road.
SC: When did you pick up the guitar?
BD: When I was 14 years old, I had been begging for one forever. My dad finally got me one for Christmas. I strummed around on his a little bit, and he never really learned how to play either. I have been working on it for about 10 years now, and it’s been pretty challenging too.
SC: When did you start writing your own songs?
BD: I actually started in a pop punk band with my buddies in high school. We were called In the Red, and I did that from freshman year all the way until I was 19. We wrote all kinds of different songs. It was sometime in 2008 when I finally decided to write solo, more serious stuff. It wasn’t all about getting girls as much as it was me saying what I was trying to say.
SC: You’re not the first musician that I’ve come across that’s made the shift from punk to alt. country. What was it about alt. country that appealed to you more than punk?
BD: Honestly, it’s more open and truthful and honest. I can feel it a lot more. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of honesty in punk, but it just feels better to me. There’s a lot of good music out there in alt. country like Drive-By Truckers and a band called Waylon Speed that was a big influence on me. My biggest influence was David Childers out of Charlotte, S.C.
SC: What made you want to commit to music as a career?
BD: My biggest hero is Todd Snider. He’s a great songwriter. I’ve seen him three or four times, and that last time, I was leaving and wanted to hang around. I wanted to get on the road and stay on the road. I was so wrapped up in the storytelling and how honest and emotional those songs are. I wanted to be able to create that kind of music. I remember I was in line for a promotion at a furniture rental company. I had gotten an award, which was a leather jacket, for being the best salesperson in the company that year. It just didn’t matter to me. I had worked really hard and thought that it was as good as life could be. The page turned, and a new chapter started, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a musician. It still took two years before I finally quit my job and focused fulltime on music. Before I quit, I was playing five nights and 40 hours a week. It was killing me, but I loved it so much that I couldn’t stop. Now, I’m just playing music, and it’s wonderful.
SC: All songwriters have their method, and it’s something that’s always interested me. Where do your songs come from?
BD: My method always starts first with the lyrics. Sometimes, I have to have a guitar to write them. Most of the time, the lyrics will come to me, and I’ll jot them down real quick. I’ll already have the idea, the melody and what chord progression that I’ll use in my head. “The Day Before Payday,” which is the title track to my record, is a perfect example of that. I was writing when I was driving home from work. My fuel gauge was on E, and I was just thinking, “I don’t get paid till tomorrow. I’m broke.” Then, I realized that I don’t have any food at home. All I got is PBR. Then, I thought, “I probably drank all the PBR too,” but there was a little bit left in the bottle. I thought that I would get home and drink that, and it will get me through until tomorrow. Wednesday was payday. I wrote the whole song on my phone on the way home. I got home and immediately picked up the guitar, and I already had the chord progression. It was just perfect. That’s how one out of 10 songs comes. The rest of them, I either have to write them all and fool with the guitar. Sometimes, I have to come back to it a few months later with the lyrics and finish it.
SC: What was it like bringing your twang sound to the Ohio scene?
BD: Well, Ohio has got a lot of punk and a lot of hard rock bands. It’s very prominent there. We don’t have a lot of alt. country or anything like it. There was this guy Chris Keesey, he and I were trying to develop a twang scene. He plays more old school country stuff. We’re working really hard to make our footprint in the scene. There have been a lot of people in pop punk who have gone on to do great things. I just want to be a pioneer and work hard to bring the twang scene to the front.
SC: Once you’re through with the tour, what are your plans?
BD: We’re actually working on the next record. We’ll hopefully release it in May of next year. I’ll do another solo tour in March and have a release party. Then, I’m going to bring the band on the road, and we’re going to head out there, do our best and spread the word.
Ben Davis Jr.
Date: Friday, Aug. 22, 6:30 p.m.
Venue: Moe’s Original BBQ, 701 Spring Hill Ave., www.moesoriginalbbq.com