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My Two Lives in Jazz and Heavy Metal – David Davidson (Revocation)

Invisible Oranges readers are probably most familiar with guitarist/lyricist/songwriter David Davidson from his work in Revocation. Less known, perhaps, is the fact that Davidson studied jazz guitar at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and many Berklee graduates go on to lucretive and awards-laden careers as sidemen, studio musicians, and even Grammy-winning recording artists. Davidson decided to pursue a career in metal, and expalined his choice, as well as his love of jazz, in this special guest feature. – Ed.

I was first introduced to jazz in my freshman year of high school. By that point I was already a full blown metalhead but I was willing to learn more about an unfamiliar genre of music because I thought it would make me a better player.

During this time I was delving deeper and deeper into the metal genre so while I was learning about Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery I was also discovering bands like Absu and Martyr along the way. I was at a musical crossroads of sorts but there was something about the metal genre that drew me down that darker path as a teenager. The artwork, the music and even the look of the bands themselves really connected with me and made me want to be a part of that sub culture. I also had much more fun playing metal shows than doing jazz gigs at that age since all of my jazz performances were either recitals for parents or corporate gigs where the band was just meant to be background music while hors d’oeuvres we’re being served.

Metal shows were where I would meet up with my friends and get drunk in parking lots and backyards at basement shows, it was a rebellious time and I loved every minute of it. Even though the jazz gigs that I was playing weren’t the most thrilling experiences, I was completely enthralled by the live jazz shows that I attended as a teen. Watching legends like Gary Burton and Dave Holland perform definitely inspired me to continue to learn about jazz because it showed me that there was much more to the genre and that it wasn’t just meant for background music at dinner parties.

When I got into Berklee I consciously decided to study with more jazz professors than metal or rock teachers to continue to push myself. I remember getting dirty looks from one of my private lesson teachers when I would show up to class with a black B.C. Rich Warlock with an Exhorder sticker on the front, but once he got to know me and realized I was serious we got along great. Studying jazz at a college really made me understand the dedication that is required to succeed as a jazz musician.

In many ways I couldn’t fully dedicate myself to the genre because I was so committed to Revocation. I was working on writing for our debut, booking tours, handling band business and trying to get signed to a label while I was still in college, so I was much more entrenched in that scene and didn’t really have time to network and gig out with other musicians outside of the metal realm.

At this point in my life after years of touring with metal bands and being fully immersed in that scene I find myself returning to jazz records and transcriptions when I’m home. I enjoy breaking out my Real Book and learning chord melodies now more than I ever have, even if I know I won’t have anyone else to play with. I try to seek out musicians on tour to jam standards with if they’re familiar with jazz or even if they only know a simple blues form.

Ultimately I realize that I’m basically caught between two worlds that are very demanding in totally different ways and that there are only so many hours in the day to work on different projects. In the end metal is where I feel most at home though… now if anyone needs me I’ll be alone in my U-Haul trailer jamming “Solar” on a Jackson Warrior.

—David Davidson

Revocation’s latest album, Deathless is out now on Metal Blade, buy it here.

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