erasing clouds

Heartbreak and Songcraft: The Music of Dear Nora

by dave heaton

Dear Nora play sweet pop songs that (as great pop songs always do) quietly tap into genuine feelings, moments and stories that everyone can relate to. With pretty vocals from lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Katy Davidson and a bright, melodic sound created by Davidson with Marianna Ritchey and Ryan Wise (both also in Wolf Colonel), Dear Nora's music is imminently pleasurable and catchy. The songs also have a refreshing emotional honesty to them. All of those elements probably contribute to the way their music seems to win over listeners' hearts. Doing some Internet research on their background, I was struck by how nearly every single review I read went basically like this: This is the most amazing band I've heard in years, I love everything about them. And indeed, I feel the same. Since this past year, when I came across their music, none of their three releases has gone far out of reach. The group's first release was a 4-song self-titled 7" from 1999. That was followed in 2000 with Dreaming Out Loud EP, with 8 acoustic songs on a 7", and in 2001 with their fantastic full-length We'll Have a Time. All are on Magic Marker Records, based in Portland Oregon, where the group was formed (though Davidson now lives in San Francisco). Katy Davidson recently was kind enough to answer some questions about the band over e-mail, giving more background on her creative process, the band's history and what they're up to now.

How long have you been writing songs? Singing? Playing guitar? What first inspired you to make music?

I started playing guitar in high school (secretly playing grunge covers in my bedroom), and writing my own songs and singing in 1996. My amazingly talented college friends first inspired me to make music. Heartbreak also inspired me.

How did you meet the other two members of the band--Marianna Ritchey and Ryan Wise?

I met Ritchey (that's what everyone calls her) and Ryan at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. Ritchey was my freshman year roommate, Ryan was just a really awesome, weird dude with big red hair.

Is it at all tricky having a band where the other members also play in another band?

It's not too tricky really because I live in San Francisco now and they still live in Portland. I play a lot of solo shows. We don't play as a band too often, but we're going to Japan together in April--that should be fun.

What is Dear Nora up to these days? Do you have any upcoming recordings planned?

I'm almost finished recording a new full-length. I've been doing it on an 8-track cassette recorder in my living room. It sounds wintery. We now have songs out on compilations from the following labels: This Heart Loves Records, Little Pad, and Red Square.

A quick discographical question: besides the two 7"s and one LP on Magic Marker, do you have any other releases that I don't know about? The sleeve for the first 7" mentions a self-released cassette; what's the story with that? Did you release many cassettes or other recordings on your own?

I did a few self-released cassettes (mostly made just enough copies for my friends) before the first 7" came out. They're currently sitting in a box in a closet in my house, gathering dust.

How did you end up on Magic Marker? It's a great label, I think.

I met Andrew Kaffer from Kissing Book to do an interview for the now-defunct Northwest music magazine, The Rocket. At the time, he lived in the "Magic Marker House" with Curt (one of the guys that runs the label). They were looking for a roommate and I was looking for a place to live...the rest is history. Have you heard the Galactic Heroes record? It's tops, I think.

Do you tour much? To what extent do you enjoy playing live vs. making records? How does your live show differ as far as the approach you take to the songs?

I LOVE touring. I'd venture to say I like performing more than recording, but it's a toss-up. The live shows are quite raucous, the recordings are more mellow. Well, sometimes the live shows are mellow, too.

What is your songwriting process like? For example, which generally comes first, the lyrics or the melodies? Do you have particular places, times of day or situations that are especially conducive for writing songs?

The music and the words always come at the same time. I tend to write songs when something's really bothering me.

Some of your songs, especially on "We'll Have a Time," remind me in a good way of some of the pop vocal groups of the 60s (like the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, that sort of thing), and I've noticed other people making that comparison too. Is that a style of pop music that you are particularly fond of? If so, why?

It's funny, I really like '60s "girl groups," but it'd be a stretch to say I'm totally influenced by them. I'm frankly surprised by all the comparisons. I would think more people would compare us to Weezer or something. Hmmm.

Most of your songs are pretty short, as is your album--is that a conscious thing? What about shorter songs/albums do you like?

I like short songs. I like the way albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes (by Guided by Voices) flow. But I'm also starting to really love long songs, fleshier songs. I currently can't stop listening to Neil Young.

Your lyrics seem to have a really personal perspective, as if they come directly out of your own experiences in life. That's one of the things I especially like about them, that by being that way they tap into the universal feelings and events that everyone goes through. I was wondering: do your songs generally come from your own personal experiences, or is it sometimes a case of putting yourself in the shoes of other people, real or imagined?

All that stuff's about me. It's cool that people relate to it, but I'm starting to find other things to write about. For example, I've started to write songs about the desert (where I grew up, in Arizona), gardening (my current job), etc.

Do many people come up to you thinking your name is Nora? Where did the band's name come from (if you don't mind revealing)?

It's funny, a lot of people just call me Nora without asking. The real Nora is an amazing woman who teaches music at Lewis & Clark College. A true inspiration.

I've never been to Portland. What's it like? If I ever visit, what's the one place I should be sure to go to?

Portland is tops. It's sleepy, beautiful, friendly, artsy. Every time I go back for a visit, I eat at Nicholas's. Amazing Mediterranean food.

Here's one last question, one I always ask in some form: If there's an album, movie or live performance that has blown you away recently, please tell me about it.

As I said earlier, if you don't own Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, please go get it. Neil is a deep, deep guy with a beautiful soul. Also, if you don't know the music of Jody Bleyle, check out the first song on the Team Dresch record "Captain my Captain." Amazing shit.

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