‘The meeting of the artists’: Aaron Davis on bringing Wyoming musicians together

The multi-instrumentalist discusses how large festivals inspire creativity, the importance of community and his new WyoFolk project.
Aaron Davis & The Mystery Machine bring their unique sound to the stage at Pengilly's Saloon during this year's Treefort Music Festival in Boise, Idaho. (Jack Catlin/KHOL)

An essential force in the Americana roots music scene in Wyoming, Aaron Davis is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and owner-engineer-producer-session player at Three Hearted Recording Studio in Hoback, Wyoming. 

Davis’s band, The Mystery Machine, features drummer-percussionist Liam “Mountain” O’Neill, bassist David Bundy and piano-organ-synth player Mike Patton. Together, they have a dynamic stage show that relies on improvisation, intricate arrangements and a whole lot of different instruments.

The band’s mountain-inspired alt-country, gypsy grass and funky roots rock was on full “rock-the-house” display in Boise during the Treefort Music Festival last month. We caught up with Davis backstage at Pengilly’s Saloon after their show.

The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Friday, March 24.

JACK CATLIN/KHOL: How does it feel to be back in Boise?

AARON DAVIS: It’s really awesome to be here. I think for us coming from where we live and a lot of people coming from small towns, it’s a pretty incredible thing to have this many artists in one spot doing so many different things, not just musicians, but comedy and drag and film and everything. I look forward to it because it’s one of the only times I get outside of our area. For me, it’s special because it’s like the meeting of the artists. And I think you always kind of need that gathering of the vibes a bit to continue doing what you’re doing and kind of keep the force of just being creative.

KHOL: The Wyoming Arts Council has done a great job with the Wyoming Showcase, exposing Wyoming bands to a larger audience in a bigger market like Boise. How important is it for you to have that community of like-minded musicians, artists and creatives coming together from a state maybe not necessarily known for its music and supporting each other?

DAVIS: Oh, it’s huge. Some people might be familiar with the WYOmericana Caravan that my wife, Seadar Rose, and I started in 2013. And the impetus was exactly this, to be able to pull musicians together and trade gigs as we’re moving across the state or moving across the region. The markets are few and far between in our part of the country and so being able to team up in a small state where we get less recognition anyway. You know, we act to make a bigger splash as a community. And I think that there are certain entities in our state that are really making a huge splash like WesternAF and some other places that are really putting Wyoming on the map. And we’re in that age where you can all of a sudden make a big impact in the least populated state.

KHOL: So speaking of Wyoming Arts Council, they had a significant hand in your new WyoFolk project featuring 14 previously unreleased works by 14 of Wyoming’s celebrated songwriters. You spent the last year recording, producing and engineering the record. Can you tell us about that and how the whole process worked?

DAVIS: First of all, I just feel completely fortunate that the Wyoming Arts Council was able to earmark this money which was ultimately approved by the Wyoming legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts. This is really a kind of a dream project that came out of the WYOmericana Caravan tour, which is like pulling different artists together to go on the road. And I wanted this to be something that lasted longer and recorded for them. So there’s certainly a lot of artists that I was able to tour with and work with through that tour, but also wanted to bring in other artists that I hadn’t worked with in that capacity.

Honestly, I hope that it’s a volume one because I came up with a list of 70 songwriters across the state. And this by no means is what I consider the best or the top-notch. I’m really proud of the record. I think it’s been incredible. And for me, it’s great to be able to say it’s a stellar record. It’s not my record. You know, I have one song on it, but people brought their A-game and it was just an honor to be able to capture the music and have people come to me and be able to offer artists a stipend to come to me and to record. Usually, it’s the other way around, so I was able to offer artists to come to me, record a song, and then mix it and collaborate with them through the whole process. I mean, there was everything from live recordings on the spot to multitrack textured sessions and overdubs. So it spanned a lot, and I think people are really going to enjoy it.

KHOL: It must have been very enriching and satisfying as a creative to collaborate with so many different artists throughout Wyoming from all different areas and backgrounds of Wyoming. Can you touch on a couple of the highlights of the album?

DAVIS: One that sticks out is Alysia Kraft. She’s a Wyoming native from Encampment, Wyoming, and she came in with a drummer friend who’s played on some of her records before, and she had sent me some pre-production stuff. But one thing that we did during her session, which was about a 12-hour session in one day, we did a lot of experimenting and a lot of pulling out of sounds and really manipulating sounds to figure out the vision she had in her head. We tried so many different things that I’d say like 30% we kept in the end, and we were able to pretty much mix it on the spot, too, which I didn’t do really with much of the other songs because we didn’t have time.

Everybody brings a different vision. And so somebody else asked me like, ‘Was it hard, personality-wise to work with all these people?’ And I can honestly say, everybody was so open and easy to work with that it made the creative process just so smooth and so much fun because there wasn’t any tension with any of the artists or anything. [It was about] getting off on a good footing, hitting the ground running, and having a good time.

KHOL: I think that speaks to just being an artist from Wyoming and immediately feeling that connection with your fellow artist and being like, ‘Let’s collaborate and make something magical.’

DAVIS: And I think a lot of it has to do with the genre, you know? I mean, we’re not trying to produce numbers in terms of revenue. All these songwriters are not trying to produce a product that is going to be commercially viable. They’re trying to produce something that they can be proud of. And so that’s the bottom line for this project is that it’s just coming from the heart. And there are no alternative motives beyond that.

Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Aaron Davis.

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About Jack Catlin

Jack is KHOL's music director. He says all music is in some way connected no matter the style and his mission is to provide listeners with a unique and memorable experience each time they tune in to KHOL or see him DJ live.

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