Gargoyl Takes Flight: Revocation Frontman Dave Davidson Talks Grungy New Side-Project
It's not just Dave Davidson's mind-melting guitar chops, penchant for catchy yet complicated songwriting, or badass alliterative name that make his new project Gargoyl so special: it's his fluency in a gamut of heavy musical styles plus his ability to collaborate remarkably well with diverse talents. For one, Gargoyl sounds absolutely nothing like what rings mentally when hearing "Dave Davidson side-project" (immediately, ripping guitar solos and thrashy/growly death metal come to mind, à la Revocation of course), and that's a beautiful thing indeed. It means Davidson is not a unitask guitarist; he doesn't have just one exceptionally sharp blade, but many. And from its eerie, disjointed harmonies to its groovy gothiness, Gargoyl's guitarwork coalesces sublimely with the clean-sung vocal performance from compatriot Luke Roberts (also guitar) and the understatedly intricate drumming of Josh Park.
The band has released two tracks already; with several more being performed live for the first time this weekend in Boston, Philly, and NYC (venue details below). Fans of the band Virus (as Davidson discusses in our interview below) will definitely dig what Davidson and his crew are putting down, but more broadly, fans of everything from prog to post-metal to jazz should be able to find refuge under Gargoyl's crooked wings. A dark atmosphere permeates the Asomatous EP, but by no measure occludes the lucidity of these musicians' output. It was our pleasure to talk at length with Davidson about Gargoyl and how the new project is taking Davidson in all-new directions.
The Dave Davidson name and Revocation tie-in is a big draw for Gargoyl, but there's very little crossover between [those two bands], at least that I could hear. Is Gargoyl a different output for you in terms of your technical skills or musical ability, or are you just looking to create something new?
I think it's both -- Gargoyl sort of touches on a lot of elements of musical styles that I'm a huge fan of and I grew up listening to, like I grew up worshiping bands like Alice in Chains and stuff like that. Being able to scratch that itch -- and really fully with Gargoyl -- is an awesome musical experience. Luke [Roberts] is so great to work with in that he's able to take ideas that I give him and put these really awesome vocal melodies on top of [them], and he's also a great guitar player and writer as well. So, all the stuff he hits me back with is really remarkable. It's just been a great collaboration, and we're both fully rooted in a lot of extreme metal genres as far as our tastes go, but we also have a lot of crossover when it comes to other bands, like weirder and more underground bands like Virus.
Certainly, I think with Revocation, we kind of try to bring in other elements at times -- I've had melodic vocals and clean singing on different Revocation songs which add texture and atmosphere and ambiance -- but obviously the core vocal style is that of death metal. So [with Gargoyl], it's cool to really double-down on the melodic aspect: when we were writing, going into it, we didn't want to have any screaming in this band, I didn't want to do any blast beats, I wanted it to be its own thing. And it's kind of taking a risk, I feel like, because people might expect this to be a Revocation spin-off. But certainly it's very different and it's own thing.
You mentioned sort-of putting guide posts around the Gargoyl sound -- clean singing, no blast beats -- were there any other rubrics you placed around these two songs, or was it more free-form?
The two-song EP is really just a taste of what's to come -- we have a full-length written right now. It was actually hard to pick the two songs to put on the EP because the record is pretty diverse. We didn't really want to set too many limitations, just the overall vibe we were going for, and then being just the musicians that we are, it started to evolve and new ideas were brought to the table. Luke would send me songs that would really catch me off guard in a cool way, like, "oh, this totally can be a part of our sound." He sent me over just a four-part choral arrangement of just him singing (not part of the EP, but will go on the record) -- once people hear the record in full, they're really going to get an aspect of how diverse the band is.
While there might be a couple guideposts here and there, it's certainly not formulaic by any means -- we are playing with dynamics, dissonance, and proggy elements that we both enjoy. At the end of the day, the thing that grabs me the most about this music is the emotion behind it: the human voice when you're singing melodically is so powerful. It just hits me in a different way than a death metal vocal style (I love death metal vocals obviously), but when there's a melodic line coupled between the voice and the heart, I feel like it's a magical thing. Luke's got a great way with words and an ear for melody and harmony with the vocals, really great layers there.
Earlier you mentioned the band Virus, which I thought was cool -- their music is super-interesting, and I like that you called that out as maybe an influence into the Gargoyl noise. I can hear a bit of that cross-over.
Yeah, they were a big influence on us. On some of the other songs, you'll be able to hear that influence more -- like I said, there's a wide range of influences in this band. In the preliminary stages of writing, the very first song we wrote (which will end up on the record) is total Virus worship: it's got those weird, jangly, dissonant chords. One of the cool things about Virus, for me, is that they have this weird dancy kind-of drum beats, almost like disco beats from another dimension or something. We tried to incorporate some of that stuff into our music, too, and Luke in general just has a great ear for rhythm: he hears cool polyrhythms and time signatures, he's a very rhythmic thinker. So, when I would send him ideas, he'd hit me back with a drum beat so I could hear it in context with what he was thinking. It was always surprising, and it always had this danceability to it. You could move to the music -- the fact that it's dissonant and has haunting melodies over it, it makes the whole experience very odd in the best way possible, for me anyways. Something truly unique.
As far as guitar goes, would you consider yourself more of a melodic player, and Luke is maybe more beat-driven?
I think we both give a melodic hair to the rhythmic side of things, sort of equally, but in different ways. It's interesting to take a step back now and just hearing Luke using some weird time subdivisions, and I was using some weird groupings on other songs... I think maybe without even thinking too much, it became the hallmark of our sound. And when you're writing for music for a new project, you're still trying to feel each other out, and you're going back on different ideas, seeing what works and what doesn't work. But it was all natural process, and we just played to our collective strengths while having a clear goal in mind.
Regarding the guitarwork for Gargoyl (obviously there's some complexity to it), are you pushing your limits personally on what you can do? Are you kind of learning yourself into a new level of playing, or are you using what you have in your pocket as far as your skills go?
I want to push myself with everything I do -- I think in the technical death metal realm, there's always that idea that it needs to be faster, harder, longer. It's obviously impressive and it's an onslaught, but technicality comes in a variety of forms. Maybe technicality isn't the best word, but really trying to stretch your ears as far as harmony goes. You can be incredibly technical and run up and down one scale and not move out of a key, but that's more an exercise kind of thing. Or, there could be something where it's more like "watch these chords" but the voice leading is super interesting or really takes the listener on this unexpected journey.
I remember way back in the day watching an interview with the guitar players from Opeth, and they were talking about how they were big fans of Scandinavian folk and the acoustic stuff… they'd throw in these curve-balls, it wasn't this in-your-face technical riffing or anything like that, but the compositions were really surprising. That way, it can be just as powerful, you have to think about everything from a holistic point of view and it's not always this arms-race of who can be faster and play the craziest riff. That all has its time and place, and I love pushing myself in that regard, but with Gargoyl, I'm pushing myself more with a different writing style, playing with more dynamics, playing with softer sections that require a different touch on the guitar.
You'd probably listen to Revocation and say on paper it's a more technical band, but the technicalities with Gargoyl are more subtle. And I don't know, it's like you reach a point… I'm 32 now, and I don't have to prove anything regarding how fast I can be. I just want to make music, and if it needs to be technical for the sake of the art itself, then I'm totally down. But I don't feel the need to always play as fast as possible -- I think it's because of maturing as a musician, being willing to take your time with things and slow down and discover new musical possibilities because you're just pursuing it in different way: that's what it's all about for me, exploration and discovery.
As far as the trio goes live, how would you describe the Gargoyl experience for visual impact or for the performance -- are you guys the type to stand and work on your instruments and deliver a good show that way, or are you guys throwing yourselves around and really try to put it out there?
We'll actually be a quartet -- we have a touring bass player as well -- he's one of Luke's friends, and a great musician. He sent back some videos of him playing the songs and recording the basslines on top of our songs, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table in the live setting. To answer your question, we really don't know, because we haven't played live together ever, or ever rehearsed fully together as a band. Luke's been working with Josh [Park], and the bass player has been rehearsing stuff on his own and is going to link up, so it's going to be an interesting experience! But I have the utmost faith in us as musicians and performers -- this isn't any of our first rodeos, we're all professional musicians in different regards. We're basically going to get together and rehearse before the show, and then let it rip.
I think it'll all come down to the general chemistry when we start rehearsing those few days before, but everyone's really passionate about the music and ready to go in there and put on a show. It'll be cool to see how it develops, I'm actually really excited, and I hope that excitement translates to the people who are curious and come see the shows. It'll be a very unique performance because it'll be the first time it's ever happening, you know?
That's cool -- I went to a show in Chicago recently, and two of the bands, it was their first set. The guys have been in other bands and have been around, but it was the first time their new band had come together to play these songs. It was exciting for both the listener because we knew that fact, but you could tell the band was super-excited too, which was then just a feedback loop with the audience. It was cool to see music played that's never been played live before, kind of a cool thing if you think about it.
For sure, it's that reason I think a lot of people go see jazz shows. Sometimes you get musicians that have played together for a while, or you get these guys that just all got called for the gig as subs -- maybe it's these four dudes getting in a room for the first time ever, and they're making music that's primarily improvised. It's a fleeting moment in time, it's never going to happen exactly the same way again. There's always an excitement and energy around that, and it just feels special, you know, and cool? "I'm in this moment right now, and it's never going to happen again." I'm hoping we can bring some of that to these debut shows.
Also, it'll be the first time people will hear the rest of the songs. With Revocation, we always had full-lengths we were supporting, people were always familiar in some way with the music that were going on tour with. When [Revocation] is working on a record, we're not premiering five of the ten tracks or whatever live. People are going to go in [to the Gargoyl shows] and hear the two songs from the EP, but also six and seven songs they've never heard before.
Any last words for listeners as they dive into your new music? Like I said, when it says "Dave Davidson of Revocation," immediately something pops into your head -- but Gargoyl doesn't sound like that. Any last thoughts on that note?
I would say just throw out your preconceived notions and go into it with a fresh set of ears. Also, know that the EP is just a taste of what's to come, and we've got a full-length that hopefully we'll be recording over the summer. Keep an eye out, and keep an ear out, because the Gargoyl will be taking flight soon.
The Asomatous EP released February 13th. Gargoyl will be performing their first live shows this week, dates below:
April 3rd -- Boston, MA -- Great Scott
April 4th -- Philadelphia, PA -- The Fire
April 5th -- Brooklyn, NY -- The Kingsland
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