After recording at Montrose Studios on and off for the past decade, Twain was a breath of fresh air on the local singer/songwriter scene when he relocated from Brooklyn to Richmond six months ago.
With a little help from longtime friends Alex Spalding and Adrian Olsen (Avers, Montrose Studios), M.T. Davidson (Twain) has quickly ingratiated himself to local audiences with his sparse, melodramatic folk songs. While Twain exists in trio and solo forms, both highlight Davidson’s soaring vocals and lush melodies.
Before leaving to tour with Big Thief in June and July, Twain visits Gallery5 on Tuesday, May 30th, alongside Skyway Man (formerly James Wallace and the Naked Light) and Big Kitty.
Dust Up’s Sarah Schuster caught up with Davidson to talk about why he left Brooklyn, what he’s been up to since he got to Richmond and what to look forward to at the show later this week.
Dust Up: How did you choose the name Twain? What does it mean to you?
Twain: That name has come to mean a lot of things over the years. My friend Sam Doores (of the Deslondes) gave it to me in high school. I’m always looking for new ways to like it, which is a challenge with any sort of name. These days it feels like it means that distinctions like ‘two-ness’ or ‘one-ness’ are fictional. It does not have anything to do with Sam Clemens, though I think he is funny.
When did you meet Alex Spalding and Adrian Olsen? What about them and their studio, Montrose, led you to record multiple records here over the years?
Alex and I played in a band called Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers. (I’m writing these responses at Annie’s home in western Mass. , as it happens). This was in Boston. Before too long, Adrian started hanging out and we became friends. At the time I was very insecure about the music I was writing, and mostly was focused on being an instrumentalist. I’m not certain how Adrian first heard the Twain stuff I was making then (mostly bedroom/m-box type records), but he was really supportive and insistent that we record together. He really helped me get over a lot of musical inhibitions.
When did you move to Richmond? Did meeting Alex and Adrian/recording at Montrose factor into your decision to leave Brooklyn? What stands out about Richmond that isn’t present in Brooklyn or elsewhere?
I moved to Richmond only six months ago, but I’ve been hanging out and recording here for nearly a decade. Ya, having friends from way back gave me a real sense of belonging. Also I was born in VA, spent my childhood here and I discovered that that isn’t insignificant, in terms of feeling connection to a place.
I guess it takes a lot longer than a lifetime to be able to say anything intelligent about a place that is also true for everyone else, which i think is why some people can be simultaneously prideful and insecure about their home-town/habitat. I lived in Brooklyn for eight years and I can’t say anything true about it. I go play in Davenport and people who have never left Iowa seem to know more about Williamsburg than I do. It’s turned into a brand-name, and I don’t like that at all. I’ve only been in Richmond long enough to know that people here are, on the whole, extremely kind, creative and as real as you please.
Your music places an emphasis on both lyrics and melodic atmosphere. Does your songwriting begin with a line or stanza lyrically? Do you start with an melody or a mood?
Well, they just sort of come to me in varying states of readiness. The best ones just pop out of the ground like a potato and the rest need a little cajoling.
The chapbook is a way of providing a container for the digital album. They’re fun to make and pretty inexpensive to manufacture, and best of all they allow a way to incorporate writings that aren’t set to music but are in some way related to the songs on the album. Plus a few recipes. I wish I was a real writer. I have so much creative karma to work off first. I’m really sensitive to english usage and grammar (i don’t care about spelling very much), yet my personal use of language is atrocious, which makes me like one of those guys who collects fancy guitars and doesn’t play them.
Are you working on new music? Did you revisit Montrose since you’ve moved here?
Yes to both. We finished a new record almost a year ago and are getting pretty close to releasing that. Some of it was tracked at Montrose. I’ve been over for the odd session, or to help out around the place and play bocce ball.
Are there any Richmond bands you’ve been eager to see since you moved here? Any recent stand out shows?
Mikrowaves at Cary St. They floored me. I just recently saw Rumput play again, and they’re also out of control, making this really transcendental Indonesian string music. And if you’re around June 1st, go check out Golden Ours at Flora. Nobody plays music like her.
You played a lovely set at Gallery 5 earlier this year with Lina Tullgren and Will Wickham. What are you looking forward to most about returning there for your upcoming show with Sky Way Man and Big Kitty?
Thank you! Mostly I’m excited for the people of Richmond to hear Big Kitty (aka Clark Williams). James of Skyway Man produced his latest record, and it’s a brilliant addition to his catalogue. Clark’s music has meant so much to me over the years. Also just pumped to play at Gallery5 again.
Twain plays at Gallery5 on Tuesday, May 30th, with Skyway Man and Big Kitty.
Tickets are available at the door for $7.