The show was billed as “DC3”; however, as David Childers explains, he’s given up on naming every different combinations of music and “We all play the same thing – you saw The Overmountain Men.” I’m talking to him on the shaded porch the day after the show, looking out over the riot of color in his garden.
Childers’ performance the night before was a great illustration, I think, of why Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers coaxed him back into the music scene. Before the show, he was humble celebrity, stopping to talk to everybody he bumped into. During the show, the audience was rapt, engaged, dancing around on the tile floor. I saw people singing along, cheering and leaning in when the band got to their favorite song. Comparisons ran through my mind before I realized that Childers is an original – an impression strengthened talking to him the next day..
Q: What’s the secret to getting an audience up and dancing?
You’ve just got to rock them, man. You go out and play like that — you notice most of it was real upbeat kinda stuff, a couple of slower things. You’ve got to give that to them, they’ve got to rest.
Q: The first time I heard a David Childers song was “Pretty Boy Floyd” on a compilation released in the late 90’s…
Known on the Undergound
That’s it. The story in that song caught me immediately.
Did you like that?
Very much. How important is storytelling to you when you’re writing songs?
Oh, man, that’s all of it. There’s always a story in it — I think that’s important to songs. Even if it’s impressionistic, there’s some kind of dynamic going on in there with two people or a group or a group of people or whatever. I think that’s just a natural thing for me. You listen to somebody like Bob Dylan, even his more surreal stuff, there’s always some story going on. A song like Pancho & Lefty, which I consider a real American classic, that’s four verses and it has a chorus, no bridge, and it’s a hell of a story.
Q: A newer song that really struck me was “Angola“. How did that come about?
Did you find that video? That was Bob Crawford’s fault. Bob Crawford plays bass with The Avett Brothers. He’s a guy who came down here from Jersey, not a damn cent to his name. He wound up in a studio working for Jeff Smith, who is a hell of an artist & filmmaker here in Charlotte. Jeff made a documentary about the prison rodeo at Angola. That’s where a lot of that footage came from.
It’s a fine documentary, something that should be on Showtime or HBO. He had asked Bob to write a song for it and Bob had written that song, Angola, and he wanted me to sing it. So, he sent it to me and I reworked it some, I did some revising and changing. And then Randy [Saxon] and I went to a studio and recorded it — Old House. It’s an excellent studio and it’s a place a lot of people use.
We went over one night — I remember it was during the Democrat convention in ’08 — and we recorded that. Then, Bob was out in LA with The Avett Brothers, they were recording an album with Rick Rubin. Bob got access to some kind of studio through Columbia and they mixed it there.
We’ve done more co-writing like that. Of course, he’s not around, so we do it through the mail or e-mail. Sometimes, I’ll even play it for him over the telephone.
He has really good ideas. That’s not the only song we’ve worked on together. He has ideas that I wouldn’t come up with necessarily. Everybody is idiosyncratic in their writing style unless you’re in Nashville and you write the way they tell you. “You got to have a bridge. Oh, that’s too left wing”. That’s what I’ve heard a lot of times, my music is too left wing. I am a left winger.
Q: There’s a thread of activism that runs through your music. Is that intentional?
I can’t help that. It’s just the way I’m made. And, you know, the people that inspire me — Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan protest songs, Eric Anderson, Phil Oakes, Joan Baez, Peter Paul & Mary singing in the early 60’s about the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement…it has an essential way of grabbing you and making you aware of what’s going on.
That’s not all what it’s about. I’ve actually kinda given up, honestly. I just like the human struggle. Life is struggle — there’s no escaping that so I guess it bleeds into songs.
Q: For a man who reportedly retired from the music business, you’re pretty busy. What happened?
That’s a recent thing. You know I’m an attorney too. I have a very vital, active practice. I was doing both those things, I was going hard, chasing a dream. Trying to make something happen, making albums, going out, playing, trying to make something happen.
It just had me going like hell. I mean, I was playing every weekend. We went overseas a couple of times. And it was just taking a lot — it wore me out, I got physically exhausted, mentally, spirtually, every way. It didn’t seem like anything was happening…it’s not like I said “I’m retiring” and signed a form…I just said I’m not going going out and play again. I’m going to stop. I don’t know when I’ll do it — I may not ever do it. It just felt like this endless treadmill and it was.
You drive to NYC, play for $400. Come back to Gastonia and play for $400. Go to Atlanta and play for fucking twenty-five cents. It just was a real strain. It was putting strain on my marriage, causing problems, so I’m glad I did. It was a perfect time to lay it down and take a rest.
But old Crawford, man, he just wouldn’t let me lie. He said “Let’s write some songs” and I wanted to keep writing. I was going to do that anyway. But, then, my business became extremely demanding, very busy, and it was good to me. It helped me get over some financial hurdles and it just made sense to focus on that.
You know, I’ve always got a creative thing, though. I took up painting when I stopped going out. I could do it at home, sleep in my own bed, spend time with my wife, work around this place — it takes some work around here, it’s a pretty big spread of land.
But, it just seems like things have changed — I’m not out playing a lot. After today, I don’t think I have another gig until August. But, believe me, I’ll be doing stuff, recording. Playing out, I’d like to do more of it if it’s the right place, but just going out, playing so you can play, to try to make a living at it is quixotic to me. It’s like tilting windmills. You’re going to get knocked on your ass.
But it’s a nice supplement. In a few years, I hope to draw my Social Security, play more, and work a little less. So I didn’t retire. I just went into hiding.