I’m sure there are still some Dischord-loving D.C. kids who are bummed that their favorite band, Q and Not U, is no more. It’s hard to stay sad for long, considering that one of their members, John Davis, has teamed up with another multi-talented singer-songwriter, Laura Burhenn, to form the feel-good indie-pop of Georgie James (Saddle Creek).
We shared some small talk about Davis’ former boss, Ian McKaye, who he calls “a good guy with a great sense of humor” and about sharing the same name as the frontman of Korn. Though it’s highly unlikely the two will ever be confused, Davis mentioned how he was coincidentally in a band named Corm just as Korn was getting big in the ’90’s.
Here’s what else we talked about:
Jim Shearer: I was surprised when Saddle Creek gave me your direct number to set up this interview–are you doing your own publicity now too?
John Davis: No, no. We have a publicist that’s very good. [Saddle Creek] said, “We just got this thing last minute, you want to do it?” I said, “Yeah, just call me direct.”
Laura Burhenn: We don’t believe in middlemen–straight to the source.
Jim: Didn’t you used to work for Saddle Creek in some capacity?
John: Kind of, I used to be a publicist for a company called Holiday Matinee and that’s pretty much how I met Saddle Creek. We did press for The Faint, Bright Eyes, and Cursive around 1999-2000, which was kind of when they were just starting to get noticed.
Jim: Did that connection help get Georgie James a record deal?
John: In a sense, because that’s really how I got to know them. When my old band, Q and Not U, would go through Omaha, we would get our shows set up by the Saddle Creek people, because I met them through doing publicity and when I did a fanzine. So–yeah–it connects back to that for sure.
Jim: A mutual friend introduced you two, when did you decide to make music together?
Laura: I don’t know how we started talking about music. I knew at that point, Q and Not U was getting ready to wrap things up. John and I got together at my apartment–I sat down at the keyboard, he sat down with an acoustic guitar, and we just kind of played together and thought, “Well, this seems like it could work.”
Jim: John, how did Q and Not U know it was time to wind down?
John: We were doing the band for like seven years. We were all still friends and stuff, but I think we were kind of tiring of the cycle of write, record, tour and just repeating that. Musically we felt we all changed from what was expected of the band. With each record we were doing something different, and it was just sort of this struggle that we didn’t want to do anymore. We kind of wanted to get away from it, so we just thought that the easiest thing to do would be to totally call it off and we could all just go do what we wanted to do.
Jim: Did you have some sort of calendar that said, “Alright, in three months Q and Not U is done?”
John: Kind of. Laura and I started playing together in the spring of 2005, and at that point I knew Q and Not U’s days were numbered. We officially split in July, but we still played a couple more of our last shows. Once it was over, I just delved into this new band, Georgie James.
Jim: How many people think Georgie James is an actual person?
John: I think that happens pretty frequently.
Laura: Sometimes people come up to John and say, “Oh hi Georgie.” Sometimes they’ll say it to me, which is pretty funny, because the point of the name is that it’s an androgynous name. When our record first came out and they stocked it into stores, it was filed under “J”. A bunch of record stores thought is was an actual person as well.
Jim: Where did you pull the “Georgie” and “James” from? Is that allowed to be told to the public?
Laura: Yes, we can tell the public. I wish we had some illuminating answer, but it was just a long struggle to figure out what we were going to call the band. I wanted it to be meaningful and google-a-ble, but John thinks that band names are usually pointless and you just get used to them. The word we agreed we both liked was “Georgie.” Then we thought, “Let’s make it a person,” that’s sort of an interesting idea, because we’re two songwriters, so why not make it a combined person. John said, “It’s too bad Georgie Fame is already taken.” We said, “Let’s give it another last name.” John suggested “James” and it stuck. It sounds very similar (laughs).
Jim: I wanted to ask you about “Cake Parade”–it’s the happiest sounding sad song, about a soldier going off to war, that I’ve ever heard.
Laura: I wrote the lyrics a long time ago for that song, for a friend of mine from high school who died in the bombing of the USS Cole. I didn’t know what to do with it, but when I started to play music with John, I took it to him. It was really a sad, slow song before, but when John sat down on the drums he changed the rhythm and we rearranged the song together. It became this really amazing thing. In my mind it’s sort of the mirage of the media–what they’re showing you, what you’re allowed to see with the war now, or with anything like that–verses what’s actually happening everywhere.
Jim: I was wondering if you were listening to any particular song or type of music when you wrote “Need Your Needs”?
John: Nothing in particular. A lot of people said that it was more similar to my old band than any other song we had done. It’s a mix of all kind of things. We’ve cited Chic and the guitar playing of Nile Rodgers.
Jim: I don’t know why, but the morning after I heard the song for the first time, I was singing the lyrics of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” over the melody of “Need Your Needs”. I don’t need permission, make my own decision, that’s my prerogative.
John: (laughs) Yep, I hear that.
Jim: But I don’t want Bobby to creep into your subconscious as well.
Laura: (laughs) Don’t tell anyone, that’s been our secret.
John: I like that.
Jim: How many shows are you playing at SXSW this year?
Laura: Seven or eight in three days.
John: They’re not like full hour-long sets, so it’s not as heroic as it sounds. It’ll be a lot of work, but we’re there to play, so if somebody wants us, we’ll do it.
Jim: Are you doing some acoustic sets?
John: All acoustic. Based on the availability of the other guys in the band and just in terms of wanting to do as much as we could when we are down there, we just decided to do it all acoustic.
Jim: Before we end here, John, can I ask your wife a question?
Jim: (turns to John’s wife, Molly) Any time there’s a male and female songwriting duo in indie music, there’s always a question about their relationship–whether it be the White Stripes, The Kills, Mates of State, Matt & Kim, etc. Have John and Laura ever been romantically linked?
Molly Davis: I would imagine they get asked that sometimes.
John: There was an interview at CMJ where I was talking about Molly. I was like, “This song’s about my wife.” Well, the reporter misunderstood and thought that I was referring to Laura. So this whole article went off in all kinds of different ways about [Laura being my wife]. Molly was a good sport about it though.
Molly: (laughs) I’m never in any interviews, and my one shot was misquoted.