Jon Davidson - Traveler and Indie Musician
Q&A – Jon Davidson, Portland, Oregon Traveler and Indie Musician
Indie Musician and international traveler, Jon Davidson, has released 6 albums and played in 45 States. In his spare time, he mountaineers. I met up with him in his Portland, Oregon home.
[Ingrid McQuivey] How did you begin hiking and climbing?
[Jon Davidson] "Ever since I have been a little kid climbing has been my passion. I owe a lot of that to my Dad. He -- against my mom's will -- would take us every summer to Colorado. At the age of four or five, when most kids are being carried on their parent's backs, I would be climbing and carrying my own backpack. "I have a goal to climb each high point in all fifty states." I have accomplished about twenty five."
When and why did you start playing music?
“Growing up, my whole family was musical. My mom has a music degree, my sister is a concert pianist and my dad -- he doesn’t play anything well -- plays like twenty different instruments. We had musical instruments lying around the house: trombones, guitars, trumpets, pianos…all kinds of stuff.
It was in college when I had six majors that I realized I was only passionate about music.”
Where have you traveled for recreation?
“Over the past two years I’ve traveled to Tanzania. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It took me eight days. Six days up, two days down. I’ve been to Amsterdam, China, Guatemala and Peru. I’m going to Greece and Turkey in a few months.
I am trying to decorate my house with my own photography from places I’ve been.”
Do you work outside of being a musician?
“I bartend and consult social media clients for a few companies. I am also a landlord and have some real estate.
I was a full-time musician for a few years and had to play a lot of shows I did not want to play. The shows that pay well are the not the ones you want to play. A couple of years ago, I remember playing this corporate gig that was paying two grand. We (the band) were at this 8:00 a.m. breakfast playing in the background and nobody cared. Or we played a few shows at Mt. Hood Meadows and they kept asking us to turn it down because we were in the bar, yet we got 1500 bucks. The shows that pay really well, at least the level we were at, were the shows that sucked. Whereas, we could go play a sold out show at The Aladdin, opening up for Brendan James or Andrew Belle, whoever, and have a great show. However, after, we would be paid 100 bucks and Andrew Belle may be paid 5 grand. I realized I would rather bartend and make a few hundred bucks than play a show every single night. It wears on your body.”
Which of your songs has the most meaning to you and why?
“Right now it is Hollow Man. It has the most meaning to me because it is the most vulnerable I have ever been. The lyrics are:
‘Loved and lonely; strong and frail.
Whole and hopeless; filled and failed.’
The whole song is about this dichotomy about how I portray myself to be at my weakest and darkest times, and how through all of that, we are just looking for love.”
What are the challenges of touring?
“Honestly, my last tour was in 2013. Everyone romanticizes going on tour. A lot of Indie musicians never get the chance, or don’t work hard enough to make it happen, but like, it’s really grueling.
You get up on no sleep, drive for five to ten hours, and then set your own stuff up. Towards the end, the band was doing well enough to pay a tour manager, but you’re still loading your own gear and driving. You set up, play, and hang out with your fans that night. You get maybe four hours of sleep and do it all over again the next day, and somehow try to maintain sanity for a month straight.
It’s awesome. It’s a great experience and I think every musician should have a chance to do it, but after like ten tours it wears on you. Once you get to the level of U2, or whatever, and you have everything done for you -- where you just roll up and play and then fly to your next gig -- that’s a little bit different. There are national acts we played with that still roll up in a van and a trailer. That was cool for us to see.”
What’s in a musician’s suitcase?
“The nice part of being on tour is you can wear the same jacket every single night as long as you take it off before you go on stage. People are taking pictures of you and you don’t want the same shirt every night.
There were times on tour when we didn’t have time to do laundry. We were a hygienic band so we did a lot of Urban Outfitters shopping along the way. We were like, ‘it’s been a week, we’re out of clothes. It’s time to go to Urban Outfitters.’ So we would go and buy new shirts.
And then one time in Atlanta we were staying at a fan’s house and her cat peed all over my suitcase. We didn’t have time to do laundry, I didn’t find out until morning, and so I had to borrow a pair of our guitarist’s jeans who was smaller than me. I was a stuffed sausage in those jeans. I had to wear the ultimate faux pas for a band -- I had to wear one of our own shirts. The band made me throw my entire suitcase in a garbage bag in the trailer.”
What is your fondest musical memory?
“Going way back, I remember as a family, we used to gather around the piano and either my mom or dad would play and we would sing for maybe a half hour.
Another good memory is I used to work at this summer camp in Lake Tahoe. I did it for three summers. Every summer we would go out to the boardwalk, under the stars, and I would play my guitar. I was 16 to 18. One night there was a meteor shower with two hundred shooting stars.
There is another time when I was flying to North Carolina just for one show. I carried my guitar on the plane to avoid damage.
The flight attendants were like, ‘You can’t bring this on unless you play us a song.’
So I’m like, ‘Are you sure? This is kind of weird.’
And they were like, ‘Yeah, Yeah, we are still boarding.’
So I get it out and play a song and everyone on the plane was gathering around, cheering.
There’s a part of me when I talk to people and they say, ‘So you play around town. Do you have any demos.’ I just want to say, ‘Actually, I’ve played 45 states and put out 6 albums.’
That’s the selfish part of me that wants people to recognize my accomplishments. If they chose to find out about my career on their own they can. I’m not going to be the guy who is two-dimensional.”
What legacy do you want to leave with your music?
“I think that’s the most important question and it’s one where my answer has changed dramatically over the years. When I was 25, I had the world ahead of me and I thought I wanted to leave a legacy of selling millions of records and being famous. But I’ve realized that while that would be nice -- and anyone who says that it would not be nice is lying to themselves -- I think of that Jim Carrey quote:
‘I wish that everyone could get rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams so they could realize that it’s not the answer.’
That quote has stuck with me over the years, because I think what really matters is: Did I love people authentically? Did I make them think about what matters? Did I inspire them to live their life in a way that they prioritize what matters most, whether it is with their time or money?
Regardless, if you are doing that for a million people or five people, that’s the legacy I want to leave. The few times someone has tangibly come up to me and said this song has changed my life; It’s happened maybe four times in my career. Like this chick in Spokane, who came up to me after a show and said, ‘You don’t know me, but I found you on Pandora a while ago. Your song, Perfect Cliche, made me reconcile with my father who I had not talked to in five years.’ Those times mean more than anything to me.”
A Portland-based Indie musician and traveler, Jon Davidson, played a special farewell show at City Sanctuary on Saturday, December 5th. Two herniated discs in his neck -- causing a persistent weakness in his hands and constant chocking sensation -- are forcing him to say goodbye to the stage. I had the privilege of meeting up with Jon in his modest Portland apartment a few weeks before his last show. His apartment showcased photography from world travels and a bookcase containing pages of hiking and theology. His greatest challenge in life has been his health.
“Because I am an adrenaline junkie, I’ve had a series of health issues happen to me. I’ve bit off my tongue and severed and detached half my nostril. They repaired it and I had to go to speech therapy for six months. We had to cancel the whole tour with the band. I had to take time off from bartending. A year and a half later I tore my Achilles, which meant four months on crutches. After, It took me four months of rehab. Weird stuff always seems to happen to me.”
His difficult health issues have been eased through music. When on crutches from tearing his Achilles, he was able to record half of his upcoming album, Hymn. A particular hymn, It Is Well with My Soul, brought hope during constant pain, frustration and immobility. The original artist – who lost his entire family in a shipwreck -- still found the strength to say It is well with my soul, and that influenced Davidson greatly.
To Jon, “music is more than a collection of words and melodies. It speaks to him on a different level than anything else. Music is heart and soul.”