Two friends reunite and make a great album
It takes a few pints of IPA before Kris Anaya starts talking about An Angle, his old band on Drive-Thru Records, who broke up last year after some five years and three albums.
The bandmates were going through a rough patch. Members were in flux. Joe Davancens, from Placerville by way of the Manhattan School of Music, had recently joined to play bass; amid these hard times, he and Anaya started writing their own songs outside the group.
“Me and Joe just had a vision together. He challenged me as a songwriter, to be like, ‘You’re a good songwriter, but you’re doing something that’s easy, and I know that you can do something better,’” Anaya remembers.
Anaya kept writing fresh songs and sent them to Davancens, who gave honest, even blunt feedback. And the fruits of this collaboration were well received, both by An Angle and friends.
But An Angle eventually broke up. And Anaya and Davancens stopped collaborating and didn’t speak for months.
Anaya, leaning back in a patio chair at a Midtown brewery and adjusting his glasses, says he was even a bit jealous when Davancens started playing pedal steel with former An Angle members James Neil and Nick Swimley, as the Golden Cadillacs, soon after the breakup.
“It was so emotional for us … that it just broke us apart,” Anaya says.
It took more than half a year for the duo to reunite, but when they did, the routine was familiar: Anaya sent Davancens more new songs, who listened to them and began composing arrangements. Soon they began playing together again.
Those songs Anaya had sent included “Naked” and “Receive,” both of which appear on the duo’s new album, self-titled after their new band, Doom Bird.
“I have very strong opinions about what I think the music I’m working on should be, and sometimes that clashes with people,” Davancens said of album’s genesis, via telephone from Arizona where he’s on tour with the Golden Cadillacs. He explained that Anaya was resilient and kept working on the songs; his job, as arranger, was to “sort of, like, mess them up.”
“Receive,” one of the original tracks and the sixth song on Doom Bird, which was produced by Robert “Floss” Cheek at The Hangar, reveals the spirit of their collaboration.
Anaya would start with a simple ballad on guitar—an evolving melody and a dry, lackadaisical electric-guitar rhythm, singing “We can grow if we receive” on the chorus—and Davancens injected what he calls “color,” “texture” and “rhythmic embellishments,” including harpsichord, a drum line, bass clarinet and a 12-piece chamber orchestra.
Davancens then led the orchestra during a recording session, which was his first time conducting. “I actually bought a baton for the occasion,” he says. “And I had a beer on the conductor’s podium, and I think some people took objection to that.”
Anaya has nothing but praise for Davancens’ arrangement. “In the second verse [of “Receive”], there’s this really good, amazing piece that Joe wrote with the clarinets,” Anaya says, intoning the harmony. “When that happens, it’s beautiful. And I want people to realize that [songs like this] can happen again.
“[Musicians aren’t] doing it anymore. They’re just writing the hook.”
The outro on “Receive,” a simple but bold interplay between Anaya’s crunchy electric and Davancens’ cracking drum-line composition, is catchy as all hell without succumbing to what Anaya refers to as the “crutch of the hook.”
“I think this is just a good story about two people who wanted to write music together, it didn’t happen,” Anaya says, finishing up his last glass of IPA, “and then it happened.
“So if nothing ever happens with the record, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s a good record. I think we did a good job.”