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It began Sodium Free on the street.
Three years ago, Nicole Lexi Davis and her
little brother, Randall, took a couple of guitars
and headed for The Strand in Hermosa Beach.
They had decided, impromptu, to become a
band. They called themselves Sodium Free
and wore buttons with an emblem - a salt
shaker, crossed out. She had loved to sing,
always, but barely knew how to play. He’d
shown her a few chords. She was 17.
He was 12.
They were an immediate hit.
“He’s grown up a lot taller than me now, but
then he was a tiny guy, and you know, people
just thought we were fun,” Davis said. “ ‘Oh,
little kids….’ We were just kind of quirky.”
Davis has since grown well beyond quirky.
Now 20, Davis has become a full-fledged
songwriter and performer, playing everywhere from Nashville to Hawaii, producing a profusion of music that is nothing short of prolific - she writes up to five songs a month, has released an EP, a live album, will soon release an LP, and has just embarked on a “Song A Day” project on her Facebook page in which she will perform 100 songs in the coming months.
She is living in song.
“I’m not that old - I’m only 20 - but in my adult life I’ve pretty much put my whole heart into it from the beginning,” Davis said. “So even though it hasn’t been that long, I’ve gained a lot of experience in that time.”
Davis grew up in Redondo Beach and is now a senior studying creative writing with a minor in songwriting at USC. She attended both Redondo Union and later Mira Costa, but ended up graduating early to take classes at El Camino. From a very young age, she was drawn to an older, simpler kind of music than her peers. She remembers discovering recordings by the Carter Family from the 1920s and 1930s when she was a teenager and being absolutely enthralled.
It began when she saw the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line when she was 15.
“I had actually been listening to some of the older country music when I was a child, and when I saw that movie it brought that back,” she recalled. “And I just sort of became interested in a lot of that old music, especially the Carter Family. I found I loved their style, and it was really interesting to me. I didn’t really know anybody else who listened to it, but I still thought it was cool. Even though I was kind of weird, it was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to listen to these really, really old recordings…some were old and scratchy but I was more into the songs than the recording quality - not just the style, but the songs and the subjects they were singing about.”
Appropriately enough for a songwriter at the outset of her career, Davis’s “Song A Day” project pays homage to her influences. The project, launched last week on her Facebook page, began with the Carter Family classic “Wildwood Flower” and continued with Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” and a distinctly dark take “Keep on the Sunny Side” (originally recorded, somewhat more cheerily, by the Carter Family in 1928).
“Those really old recordings have really been influential for me,” she said. “I kind of consider myself a minimalist in style, and sort of like just the simple forms of song. I really find those traditional forms and subjects that people can really relate to really inspiring to me.”
“You know, the way A.P. Carter took a lot of songs from his area, too - he not only wrote songs, but adapted songs and things that live on now, even today, that people don’t really appreciate. But it’s influenced so many people.”
Like her influences, Davis uses what she has at her disposal. One of her very first recordings, “Come My Way,” she recorded only about a week after beginning to play. It’s still up on her MySpace (myspace.com/nadavismusic) and it’s a pretty remarkable document of what a kid with a guitar, a computer, and a song can do. She only knew two chords but layered and sometimes inverted them, and laid down a bass line through a filter to give it a little funk. The whole thing was recorded on a webcam microphone yet somehow manages to recall the swirly bounce and dreaminess of the great vocalist Delores O’Riordan from the Cranberries.
“Yeah, it was just me myself in my room with a webcam mic….I played all that stuff and then layered recordings,” she said. “It’s funny, the webcam mic worked okay for it.”
She isn’t a musical purist and her songs aren’t all about flowers and sweet love. One of her most recent releases, “Damaged Goods,” is a fairly biting song about love gone decidedly bad.
“I had dated a guy for a while and it turned out he was kind of a psycho stalker,” Davis said. “We broke up in like April and I wrote that song sort of based on that relationship, like please stop standing in my yard…It wasn’t completely about him line by line but inspired by what happens in a crappy relationship. I was happy, at least, that I wrote a song from it.”
“People I meet and stuff I do inspire me,” she added. “I write a lot from my real life. Not about my life, necessarily, but I really draw from it a lot.”
Like another of her influences, Ryan Adams, she can switch from acoustic to electric - she plays a Strat - and is very comfortable in a band setting. Her project 42 West is a duo and sometimes three-piece that features the talented guitarist Jay Uth, who plays an old Martin as well as a handmade lap steel. At present, Davis is clearly in the paying-her-dues portion of her career, playing frequently at Harry O’s in El Segundo (including a show this Friday) and Suzy’s in Hermosa Beach (where she’ll headline Sept. 5). She also frequently plays Genghis Cohen’s in Hollywood.
Her assurance grows almost daily. It’s reminiscent of the early recordings of Lucinda Williams, as she was shaking off doubts and getting more solidly into the arc of her artistry. Witnessing Davis is to see and hear a singer in the very process of learning how to more fully take flight in song.
“Because I haven’t been doing this that long, I’ve just been learning every step of the way,” she said. “I never took any vocal lessons or anything like that. Pretty much, I learned how to sing harmonies from listening to Caitlin Cary [of Whiskeytown] and Ryan Adams and the Carter Family. I just try to listen more and more and get more practice, and I find the more I practice the more confident I feel with it - and the better I know I can do, too.”
There is no turning back now. Davis knows it will be a rough road ahead - tours in cramped old vans, barroom gigs where she’ll have to deal with an occasional rowdy patron taking the stage with her, dismal paydays and sometimes seemingly endless waits between shows. But the beauty of it is there are so many more songs to sing, and she has fully signed up for the job.
“It’s completely what I love, and I feel that it is what I am supposed to do,” Davis said. “And I am never going to stop doing it, no matter what.”
Nicole Lexi Davis plays Harry O’s in El Segundo Aug. 27 at 8 p.m. and Suzy’s in Hermosa Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. See myspace.com/nadavismusic for songs, videos, and more info.
Nicole Lexi Davis is an acoustic folk/rock songwriter from Los Angeles, CA. She has toured across the eastern and southern United States from Boston, MA to St. Petersburg, Florida as well as in the southwest and the islands of Hawaii.
Her minimalist yet evocative melodies often capture the feel of 70's songwriter greats like Joni Mitchell and Carol King with subtle alt country undertones. Following in their footsteps, she offers a unique throwback vibe in her acoustic steel string and piano driven songs.
Today, Nicole regularly performs at many of LA's most popular bars and clubs and continues to record and engineer herself and other artists. Her self-produced premier album entitled "Picture Imperfect" was released digitally July 1st, 2012 and is available everywhere MP3's are sold.
Prior to the production of her full-length album, she cut several short EPs, "Terminal Butterfly EP" and "Five Song EP" are still available for download and hard copy purchase. In 2009, she also recorded a live performance album at West Hollywood music venue Genghis Cohen entitled "Live At Genghis."
Three demo EP's available:
Terminal Butterfly - August 2010
Live at Genghis Cohen, November 2009
Nicole Davis - 4 song EP - March 2009
Online article by:
(Mark McDermott, Easy Reader 8/26/10)
Double click to editOriginal music and covers including favorites by Ryan Adams, Postal Service, Bonnie Raitt, Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Joni Mitchell.
Nicole plays full sets ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
She is also available for studio gigs and musical background booking.