Lunch with Marjorie: Music that soothes the soul for Joel—part two

Joel Davis has been playing in bands since fifth grade. Now, he’s 22. He and most of his band live in Chicago, recording and preparing to hit the club scene with their music, a mix of blues, jazz, rock and experimental sounds.

This is part two of my lunch discussion with Joel Davis at Bunpuppies in Roscoe.

Joel Davis and I were eating at Bunpuppies. Kids gathered around the movie memorabilia, such as a Star Wars R2D2 that Bill Coleman uses for decor. It’s like Roscoe’s version of Planet Hollywood, but with an emphasis on Chicago hot dogs.

After Joel and his friends left Kinnikinnick Middle School for Hononegah High School, their band took on bigger challenges. At 15, Joel applied to play at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival with his friends in Davenport, Iowa. He credits his parents with great encouragement.

“We’ve always had so much support from our families, our friends and our teachers,” Joel said. “Our parents went out there to see us. We got to this tent, set up our gear, and there were just friends and our parents watching us. By the end of our set, there were 200 or 300 people gathered inside and outside.”

I remember Joel leaving Hononegah after that semester.

“I dropped out of school…went to an alternative school…with classes at night,” he said. “I was undergoing some really bad health problems related to chronic fatigue and some immune deficiency. High school, outside of music, was rough…extremely limiting. My health couldn’t keep up with it.”

“You were in the band, playing gigs outside of school, practicing, composing, performing, and trying to keep up with homework and early classes?” I asked.

“I tried everything,” Joel said. “Having to keep those hours, I wasn’t staying healthy. I got so run down.”

Doing evening school, he was working, but getting more sleep.

“I had a lot more time to be creative; I was feeling great about that,” he said.

He describes his senior year back at Hononegah as treacherous.

“It was pretty bad, physically,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole week that I went to school every day. I wasn’t skipping school. Those days that I stayed home, I was sleeping all day. I’d have dinner with my parents, go back to bed and hope I would wake up to go to school the next day. It was horrible.”

“You were still in a band,” I said.

“Always,” Joel said. “But I just did jazz (at school). I was only interested in learning improvisation…(not) just reading notes on a page. That wasn’t challenging anymore. The jazz program inspired me to start experimenting…which led to my serious phase of composition.”

“What genre do you write?” I asked.

“I can’t describe it within a genre—extremely melodic, extremely rhythmic,” he said. “I play chords on bass and use all my fingers. I don’t use a pick. I try to make sounds that no one’s ever heard on a guitar. I get really experimental. Ninety percent of our performance is improvised. The audience picks up on that…can hear that we’re creating it. It’s fresh, original. We try to get everyone up on their feet, dancing.”

“Are you doing gigs in Chicago?” I asked.

“We did one fund-raiser…made some good contacts,” he said.

But mostly, they’re getting a Web site developed, getting promotional materials, demos, renting rehearsal space to record in and recording.

“It’s so much harder in Chicago to pass the manager of a bar a CD, and to get him to listen, and hope he’ll call,” Joel said. “If you give him a nice press kit with a short biography, a picture of your group…reviews…that’s what we’re going through right now.”

They hope to start playing in Chicago soon.

“We’re so versatile,” he said. “We can play blues and jazz gigs, and shows with our original music, so that we can quit our part-time Starbucks jobs and just support ourselves playing out.”

They have contacts in Germany, England and China.

“We have people who are going to help us out,” Joel said. “The whole problem is being able to finance this.”

Self-publishing is one answer.

“We’re perfectly capable of doing this,” he said. “We listen to bands, and go see bands that are already successful at this. They’re willing to talk to us and help. It takes a lot of dedication.”

“Will you have a normal life—wife, children?” I asked.

“Oh, there is that whole thing,” Joel said.

“Dangerous territory?”

“It is dangerous, because it’s probably the biggest threat to ruining all of my dreams…music and going on tour,” Joel said. “All I really want is to focus on the music. I would love to meet a companion and have a family. But it’s just something that I can’t put any energy into at this point in my life. I need to try this first.”

“Music feeds your soul,” I said.

“Exactly what I mean,” Joel said. “Some people seek that in a relationship with a man or a woman, or in religion, or even in a job. For me, it’s music. I’m constantly listening to music. I hear it all the time in my head. I relate to people through music. It’s everything, my main source of motivation.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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