james davis might be the new jackson 5
Meet the family band of 20-somethings ready to redefine soul.
Photography Katie McCurdy
Everyone has had Dolores O'Riordan's hauntingly beautiful shrieks stuck 'in their head' at some point. Originally penned as an Irish nationalist protest piece, The Cranberries' Zombie became one of the most powerfully aggressive tracks to ever top the charts. But twenty-odd years later, the blistering anthem has found a new life by LA-based trio of siblings James Davis. Between controlled harmonies and explosive hooks, this is a group that knows exactly what it wants, and not just out of its Cranberries covers. 26-year old vocalist Jess was first signed at 15, but the deal fell through after the label tried to package her in an image that just didn't feel real. But with her twin sister Rey and little brother Auston by her side, she's getting back in the game on her own terms. With a Motown contract freshly inked and a self titled EP due later this spring, get to know the siblings who stay true to themselves, no matter what.
Tell me about your upbringing. Were you guys raised in a musical household?
Jess: Our father was a professional athlete, but he played the drums and the organ. Our mother was a professional background singer, so we definitely grew up in a musical household.
Rey: Our dad in particular has a very eclectic music collection, so we would listen to Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, a little bit of everything. It influences our music now, for sure.
Does being siblings shape your creative process?
Rey: I think being siblings is what makes us unique. Jess and I are twins, so that's on a whole other level. Even though Auston is younger than us, he's very mature for his age, so we've always been together. I think we play on each other's strengths, but there's no particular role in the group. We all write, we all create. Auston does more of the production because he went to school for engineering; he recorded our whole EP in his bedroom! Even though we all live together, that's what made it possible to understand what each other needs to create freely. We allow each other to create with all of our different influences. We all have different styles, but we listen to everything and we create that way. It's very open, there's no secretive way we like to create. Our songs will happen while we're eating or in rehearsal.
Jess, this isn't your first time in the music industry. How have those experiences informed the music now you make and your choices this time around?
Jess: I was signed at 15 and it was so exciting, really my only dream come true. And honestly, it was a blessing and a lesson. I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about the industry at a young age. And while I was learning it, maybe I wasn't that thrilled, but it is the reason why we're doing things the way that we're doing them now. So we've benefitted for sure: making sure that we we write and produce our own music, making sure that we stay true to who we really are, no matter what. It's also the reason why we signed with who we signed with, so we wouldn't lose our identity.
I love your Zombie cover. What motivated you guys to rework that song?
Rey: I must have been 6 or 7 and I was in the car with my babysitter when it first came on the radio. I'd never heard anything like it before, it was so powerful to me. I think to this day, it's been on every mix we've made each other--even since the burned CDs, Limewire era. That song has literally stayed with us for decades. We only do original songs, this is the only cover we've ever done. And it's just been incredible performing it live, we always get an amazing response.
Jess: It's those lyrics "In your head, what's in your head?" I guess everyone feels a little bit of anxiety, but they just resonate with me. When I hear the song and when I sing it myself, it actually helps me get out of my head.
What's the best thing about being young today?
Auston: You have way more opportunities than you did growing up in another time. There are a lot of people in their 20s doing a lot of positive things, in many cases, helped by social media. I think we're all benefiting, as a culture, from the fact that there are more creative ways to make a living.
What excites you guys right now?
Jess: I think we're all excited about every single song we're making, and we're ready for this EP to be released because we're confident in creating and confident in recording. The songs are still our babies…
Rey: But they've gotta grow up now!
Jess: Exactly. We're excited for you guys to hear this EP and we're excited to keep making music. We really want everyone to know that we're not just focused on one genre. Things are changing, people are listening to and creating all different types of music. We just want to be among the artists that show others you can do that and do it well. For us, it's just about the music, that's it, that's all.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Katie McCurdy