David Shaw, Musician on a Mission
written by Sara Jane Overby :: above photo by Sam Allouche
My phone rang and on the other end I could hear the zipping-up of equipment, a man on the move. But his voice came through patient and courteous, and he politely gave me the heads up, “I have about 15 minutes before I get on the bus and it’s really loud.”
It took me a minute to get my bearings, because I had just taken a call from one of my favorite musicians. I was talking to The Revivalists’ front man, David Shaw. The Revivalists just performed at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival where the Rocky Mountains served as the backdrop with Anders Osborne, Greg Allman, ZZ Top and a long list of others. They were now settling back into their home on wheels. Their next stop was Dallas. Then on to Austin. And on and on again, in relentless and tireless support of their latest album, Men Amongst Mountains (2015, Wind-Up Records). But somewhere in the mix of all the hustle and the bustle, David settles in. Chatting with him is like hanging out with an old friend and he made it easy to get all I needed to lead you precious peoples into this story that is David Shaw…Musician on a Mission.
David grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and was initially exposed to music through his sisters. They watched MTV alot and fielded music back and forth. Outside the neon graphics of MTV, they gravitated more towards the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic and all genres in-between. David mentioned that he was enamored with music at an early age and his mission became evident at age 12 when he developed his first band, Slaves to Society (pretty progressive name for a group of young kids). They used to play gigs at the Hamilton Theatre. I couldn’t help but laugh with him as he reflected on a particular show where he roped in a bigger, more developed act to share the stage with them to play a new release.
So my buddy who played with me at the time, we thought we were so cool. We had this bigger name band performing a show with us. US of all bands! And actually, we offered to take donations up at the door and give them ALL of it! It was such a cool experience!
Flipping through David’s Instagram I noticed there is a picture of him performing at a show where he was sitting on a speaker, singing through the microphone. His dad is in the background, front-row and center, drinking a coke. His caption is “Father and Son.” So I asked, “just going back to a time when you kind of were bouncing around with different genres of music and toying with the idea of being a musician, what was the relationship with your dad like and how supportive was he early on?
He was definitely like, ‘alright! Let’s do this!’ My dad was one of those who always worked for himself as well. He understood the want and the need to do that as a human. If you have that in you and I think that is kind of like the dream, to work for yourself, do your own thing, be the master of your own domain and he was always extremely supportive. He bought me a Marshall stack. My bedroom, it was like my bed and my Marshall stack. It was like the dresser. And it wasn’t like we had a lot of money either. Those things are expensive, ya know? I just think he was always really [supportive] and my mom too. There was definitely times where I would get calls like… ‘What the Hell are you doing with your life?’ But that was back in the day when I also questioned, ‘what the hell are you doing with your life David?’
Well, David Shaw isn’t questioning what he’s doing with his life now. He’s a Musician on a Mission. And things seem to be moving and shaking right along.
David Shaw eventually settled in New Orleans where he used to spend time writing music on his front porch. Shaw was on his porch singing a song called “Purple Heart” when guitarist Zach Feinburg just happened to be riding by. Zach struck up a conversation with David and they decided they would get together later that day to jam along with drummer Andrew Campanelli. Zach and Andrew used to participate in the Sunday Music Workshops at the famed Tipitina’s, where “The Revivalists” would play their first show in 2007.
I read in another interview where he keeps the more personal songs close to the band. I was curious if that approach had changed at all.
Well it’s definitely changed in the aspect of when you are not super happy with where you are at in your life. I think it is much easier to write in general. So like, it’s much easier to write a sad song that is great than a happy song that is great. We as humans are wired a lot of time to kind of concentrate on the negative first and that is where my mind would go back in the day. But not now, I’ve changed for sure and I’m pretty happy with where I am at. I am not super sad. It’s different, I am pulling a lot from my vices and I am also projecting some of my past experiences, some of my friends past experiences, my family’s past experiences. I’ve gotten into something that I think is really giving a lot of life to my songwriting. That is, sometimes I have to put myself in someone else’s shoes and write from their perspective. It’s kind of a new thing that I have been doing as of the past couple of years when I started writing some things for other people. It’s helped my writing because I felt like I was [often] writing the same song, just a different melody. So I felt like I had to switch it up. I had the same emotions coming out, it’s just a different melody.
Knowing that his songwriting has progressed and that some of his more personal stuff is kept close to the band, I wanted to talk about this amazing new album, Men Amongst Mountains. I have listened to “Monster” several times over and I feel like there is significant meaning behind the lyrics. So I just had to ask, “tell me where did ‘Monster’ come from?” There was definitely a bit of a pause and then he began to explain.
Okay, I wrote that song about two and half, three years ago, and that was at a time when our band was really picking up steam. And I was single, I was having a lot of, I guess you could say…so, I had a girlfriend at the time but it was kind of off-and-on due to the fact that I was wanting to explore other avenues. And I just felt like I was not being a good person in terms of that, I was like, stringing someone along not really being a good guy and I realized that. And that’s what that song is about. I realized I was turning into a monster and I didn’t want to be that. Everyone has a tendency to be that way and some go down that road and some don’t.
Now that I was able to pry a bit, I felt like I had to ask about “Dolla Diva,” a song that David co-wrote with Maggie Koerner for Galactic. It has a lot of life and movement in it, a lot of sexual energy. Just as you begin to bounce to the beat and feel the music, I think it’s the 3rd verse that slides in and surprises you with,“That girl’s bad for my health. She bangs like shotgun shells. We fight like tooth and nail, make love so well like cats in hell.” That line is pretty damn great, right? Is it intended to invoke a certain imagery?
That’s exactly what it is supposed to do! There are these people [who] you have such a crazy sexual energy with and that phrase kind of epitomizes what those experiences are like. So, also, I think that other than humans, dolphins are one of the only other species that have that kind of experience.
He asked me not to directly quote him on that because he was not positive about dolphins, so you might need to do your own research (or just click here).
Circling back to what keeps David grounded amongst all the pressures that come with being this Musician on a Mission, I asked him what he was most excited to get back home to when he breaks from touring.
Obviously, see my girlfriend. Just get back to being kind of a normal person. I look forward to just going and grabbing some pizza for dinner. When I’m not on tour, I am pretty chill. I don’t
drink so it’s not like I’m ready to freaking party it down in New Orleans. It’s one of those things, I get exposed to all of that stuff on the road. So, when I go back home, it’s just time to take a breather and get some of these wholesome things that everybody needs in their life. A little bit of that wholesome-ness in my life, you know?
On the road, far from home, it would seem that David Shaw holds on closely to his familial past-times. He seems eager to reciprocate the love and support from his family to play out his dreams. Whether it’s to live a lifetime of experiences on the road or walk around in someone else’s shoes, I can only speculate what David Shaw’s mission is. He seems to want to simply stay grounded and get back home to a “little bit of that wholesomeness.” I never asked the question directly. As I listen back to his response on my recorder about going back home, seeing his girl, feeling that wholesomeness, there’s a palpable emotion in his voice. It almost sounds like he’s inspired to sing a song. -Sara Jane