KOAN ALONE Bart Davenport

San Fran indie-popster
enjoys the sound of one geek clapping.

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

“The way Pete Townshend got tinnitus was not from his loud
amps at his gigs,” says Bart Davenport. Tinnitus-“this fucking ringing in my
ear that happens to me 24 hours a day,” he said about it-is the last thing the
San Francisco singer-songwriter’s music (at least the solo stuff) will give
you. It’s pretty stuff: lush, ambient, trance-inducing and a bunch of the other
adjectives people toss out to describe mellow music. But mellow, while it can’t
kill a fellow, can make your ears ring. Or click, tick, beep or buzz.

 

 

Townshend, says Davenport,
got tinnitus from the studio. “It was actually from hours and hours of wearing
headphones and cranking up the drums, cymbals and guitars in his headphones.”
And that’s how Davenport
himself became afflicted. Well, maybe live shows (especially the ones with his
early-nineties garage blues band The Loved Ones) had something to do with it.
But mainly, it’s from holing up in the studio and cranking up the drums,
cymbals, guitars-even if the ensuing music ain’t exactly analogous to The Who
guitarist’s mighty din.

 

 

Davenport deals in slick, smooth indie pop and soul; placid,
shimmering, immersive songs with backbeat that evoke images of a summit between
The Sea & Cake, Steely Dan, Mercury Rev, Squeeze and Philly soul. While The
Loved Ones dealt in ragged rock and blues, and his trio Honeycut dwelled in
“future funk,” this has been the sound on every “Bart Davenport” album since
2002’s Bart Davenport. And while
critics have eaten it up, all the East
Bay rock hacks want to help spread the
good word about their latent local legend, and music geeks sing Davenport’s praises, his
star has been slow to rise. He nonetheless does have an ardent, if not immense,
fan base.

 

 

“I have fans that love to write me and ask all sorts of
minute details,” he laughs. “Some guy in Texas
needs to know the third chord of a song.”

 

 

Davenport
is that guy, that artist. The one people discover and hold close to their
chests for as long as possible, choosing only the truly worthy among their
friends to hear these gilded, secret songs. It’s not faint praise, but after a
couple of decades and at least eight albums, one starts to wonder if the applause
will get any louder.

 

 

With his fifth album, Palaces,
Davenport’s
label Antenna Farm has hired big-shot music PR firm Press Here Publicity (Rilo
Kiley, White Stripes, Conor Oberst). “That’s kind of a step up,” he says, “to
be workin’ with them.” Fanfare, though, isn’t something he’s counting on.
Although he’s been making music “professionally or semi-professionally” for
over 20 years, and “I’m definitely not trying not to be heard,” Davenport
doesn’t know if widespread fame and acclaim are all that, or even just the bag
of chips. “The solo records are kind of my heart and soul,” he says. “Whatever reaction
they receive, I welcome.”

 

 

Even if it’s the sound of one geek clapping? 

 

 

“It’s really flattering to feel like there’s these two guys
in Stockholm who
just really love the songs and have been trying to push me on all their friends
and all the customers at their indie record store [and are] so passionate about
pushing my stuff and they don’t even know me. It’s specific individuals that
make a difference in my career and my life and what happens to me. I certainly
wouldn’t have toured Spain
all these times if it weren’t for this one guy who heard my first album and
wanted to license it for his label.”

 

 

So, yeah. More than any buzz in his ear, it’s the lone fan
expressing his admiration that keeps Davenport
donning the headphones and crafting platters. “When people with good musical
taste come along and say, ‘I know you’re not a household name but to me you’re
just tops’? That can be more flattering than mass appeal.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Brook Lane]

 

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