It’s always dangerous to read too much autobiography into an artist’s songs. Nevertheless, the temptation is just too much to resist with Elise Davis’ debut album “The Token” (Make The Kill Records/Thirty Tigers), given how true-to-life these 14 songs feel.
That feeling isn’t just artistic verisimilitude, either, because it turns out Davis draws her songs of romantic misadventure pretty much straight from real life. All it takes is a glance at the album’s song titles to get a pretty good sense of the story: “Benefits,” “Motel Room,” “I Just Want Your Love,” “I Go to Bars and Get Drunk,” “Right Way to Ask Me.”
“I don’t know what it means, but it’s just easier for me to write about things that have really happened than to talk about them,” says the 27-year-old Davis. “It’s always been that way, ever since I was a kid. And I’ve definitely hurt some feelings with songs, but it’s usually after the fact when I’m no longer involved with that person. Guys who know me know what I’ve gone through in life. So they can usually piece it together pretty easily.”
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Davis moved to Nashville in search of her musical fortune in 2012. She won a songwriting contest the following year and it came with a publishing deal, which landed her in various co-writing situations – not all of them a good fit. But Davis eventually found her way to Clint Wells, who became her primary songwriting partner.
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Wells co-wrote most of the material on “The Token,” which is actually kind of remarkable. Given how intimate Davis’ songs are, they seem almost too personal for input from more than one person.
“It really depends on the person I’m writing with,” Davis says of co-writing. “I never really was a co-writer for most of my life until I was sort of forced to do it, and I actually hated it for about a year. But then I met some people I really jibed with, like Clint, and that opened up a whole new world to me. Clint’s like me, a super-open book. It’s all about who I’m writing with, if I feel like they understand what I want to write about.”
Two other co-conspirators loom large on “The Token,” guitarist Josh Kaufman and producer Sam Kassirer. Kaufman contributes on-point guitar solos to each song, perfectly evoking various aspects of falling apart. And Kassirer, whose main occupation is keyboardist in singer/songwriter Josh Ritter’s band, gives each song just the right amount of breathing room, supported by a rhythm section of Triangle locals Matt McCaughan on drums and Hiss Golden Messenger’s Brad Cook on bass.
“Before, I’d always recorded in the cheapest way possible, scrambling with whoever was nearby in Arkansas or Nashville,” Davis says. “So my earlier recordings had more of a Nashville country sound than the songs actually lent themselves to, but I did not know how to fix that. My manager connected me with Sam, who had this whole vision. He got this group of really cool non-Nashville guys together and gathered together a sound I’ve wanted for years but never had the right environment to get.”
What: Elise Davis opening for Black Lillies
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Info: 919-821-4111 or lincolntheatre.com