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porterdavis

Q&A with Daniel Barrett

Porterdavis likes being dirty, at least that's what guitarist/vocalist Daniel Barrett says. "Sometimes Simon [Wallace] will play his harmonica so nasty that you just want to say, 'Does your momma know you're doing that? Would you do that in front of your momma?' It's just dirty," laughs Barrett, who, along with Wallace and percussionist Mike Meadows, makes up the blues trio.

"It's going to sound so dorky to say it, but there is an inherent sexuality to blues and funk music. My favorite music straddles the line and is an amazing synergy of sexuality and spirituality. Everyone from Otis Redding to Bob Marley to Muddy Waters, there's something transcendent and then there's something very visceral, primal and guttural.

"I won't talk about man at his best, because I'm just a guitar player, but I know music at its best is when it's one part spiritual and one part sexual," he says. "There's a duality to it."

A dirty duality, apparently.

Barrett and Meadows started porterdavis in Boston as a duo while still at Berklee College of Music (the group took its name from the fact that they often played for change in the Porter Square and Davis Square subway stations). After the pair moved to Austin, they continued along as a twosome until Englishman Simon Wallace and his harmonica came along. Adding the harmonica allowed the group to "wail," says Barrett. "Everything became a lot bluesier."

The change suited Barrett and Meadows. "I think songwritingwise I tended to be a little more plaintive, with a Paul Simon or Beatles influence. That shifted. I took [Simon joining us] as a really good opportunity to bring out some of my more funky and upbeat material. I took it as a way to evolve. We're in a sweet spot right now.

"There's a weird grace to it," says Barrett. "Part of it was like stone soup -- you work with the ingredients that you have, and you try to make something as good as you can. So, on the one hand it was the right thing to do, and on the other, it was what we had to work with."

Where some musicians talk about getting a gut feeling when they write, Barrett's body barometers are a little more widespread. "In a rough way, the songs need to be felt first in the lower parts of the body. From the toes up to the gut, that's where it needs to hit first. Our music is so rhythm-heavy, it's got to tap some toes or make some heads nod at the very least," he says.

"If it feels good, we keep tweaking, trying to make it feel better. It's very much a tweaking process."

Because of the members' varied tastes, there's no telling where that tweaking will lead. "All of us have extremely diverse interests and tastes," says Barrett. "Simon and I have done a lot of blues homework; Simon, even more than I have. He's English, and from Clapton on, the English are extremely meticulous about the way that they have researched and checked out American music. Those guys, sometimes they know more about our music than we do.

"Mike has an encyclopedic knowledge of drummers, new and old. He has studied with drummers from around the world, Indian drummers, South American drummers. He can play congas, he can play tabla. He really likes the drummer Jeff Picaro, and so he'll put on Toto and I'll be like, 'What's with the Toto?' And he'll say, 'Listen to that drum groove.' After a while we're both grooving to Toto. I don't know that I should admit that," he laughs.

"And with me, I have done a lot of listening and poring through not just the blues, but the great American songwriters, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young.

"Those are the obvious influences. If you saw us, you could figure that out. But then there's also a lot of Nine Inch Nails, Black Sabbath, Faith No More in our music. And a lot of rap; we're big Eminem fans. Generally, we all appreciate good, groovy kind of music. Our record collections are all over the map," he says.

Barrett may be interested in a variety of music styles, but he has only one reason for performing.

"This is the closest thing I have to a religion," he says. "Probably the biggest blessing in my life is that I know why I do music and for whom. This is how I commune; this is my way of saying, 'Okay, I have this life, and I'm going to try to do something interesting and meaningful with it.' This is my offering, and hopefully people will enjoy it."

porterdavis performs Thursday, March 29, at Cosmos Cafe, 69 Heights Boulevard, 713-802-2144.

 
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