When contestants on The Voice
, the American Idol
-like reality show that pits unknown singers up against one another, participate in a “blind” audition, they sing in front of judges who have their backs to them so they can’t see the person singing. If they like what they hear, they “claim” the singer. When singer-songwriter Joshua Davis participated in his blind audition, both Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, two of the four judges, immediately claimed him and then debated who would get to coach the talented singer.
A veteran singer-songwriter who has been performing for about 15 years, Davis possesses a husky, soulful voice. For the aforementioned blind audition, he sang “I Shall Be Released,” a gospel standard. And he nailed it, no easy task for a pasty white guy out of Michigan. When asked about what his experience on The Voice
was like, Davis admits he had some reservations about participating on the program.
“I had never seen the show before I was on it,” says Davis via phone from his Michigan home, where he was on the way to his aunt’s house to pick up his dog. “Reality shows aren’t in my daily diet. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to do it after checking out the show because it’s a lot more positive than other reality shows. There’s not that element of embarrassing people or laughing at people. That’s not what the show is about. I liked that about it.”
He says he was one of the latest adds to the show and walked into an environment in which the contestants and producers already know one another. But he didn’t feel like an outsider.
“Everyone that works on the show and all the other contestants are is like part of a family,” he says. “That was surprising to me. One of the strangest things for me was that I’m used to gigging and playing a few sets a night. It was like preparing for a month to do one 90-second spot. I like things that are raw and unrehearsed and have that kind of energy. But to focus on one part of a song for a month and nail it showed me that there is something to be said for raw power and that real organic sound but it doesn’t mean you have to forsake rehearsing. It was a wild scene, especially after being a grassroots guy for so long. It was a learning curve. Everyone was supportive and it was a great environment.”
Davis became one of the final three contestants. Along the way, he became the first artist in eight seasons of The Voice to perform an original song. He also sang duets with Maroon 5 vocalist Adam Levine and nine-time Grammy award winner Sheryl Crow. The decision to sing an original song didn’t go over especially well with the show’s producers.
“The show focuses on who you are as a person as well as how well you can sing,” says Davis. “Who I am as a person comes from my songs. I approached them and said that I am a songwriter. I sat down with [judge] Adam Levine. He liked the songs. I had to fight the network in a big way. I’m a pretty nice guy but I got pretty mean with them. I told them I wasn’t going to sing and they could find someone else to do. They finally agreed and they caved. It was one of the more successful songs I did on the show. That, to me, was my big win. Hopefully, that moment changed their perception of the contest. It’s a controlled environment. It has to be. I understand. But hopefully it shows that they can have more faith in their artists and in their audience.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Davis initially gravitated to country blues and Delta blues. When he was in college, he formed Steppin’ In It, an American roots ensemble that “stole things from traditional American forms and synthesized everything into a different sound.”
“I did a lot of writing for genre,” says Davis. “We did country blues and New Orleans street music and old country stuff. We did 200 plus shows with that band. We played lots of festivals. We toured all over the country and then into Canada. The scene in Michigan and the Midwest is very collaborative and other scenes are more cutthroat. But that’s not the way it is for us. There’s reciprocal enthusiasm and firing up of one other instead of just getting ahead yourself. It’s community-based music for community gatherings.”
Now, he manages Earthworks, a musical cooperative/record label, and plays shows both as a trio and a quintet. He brings the latter to the Kent Stage on Sept. 25.
“When I came home after The Voice
, I wanted to spend the summer in Michigan,” he says. “I played some incredible shows around Michigan. I did a lot of songwriting. I have a slew of new tunes. The plan for the fall is to play more out of state shows and start recording. I’ve lined p a few different producers. I’m really excited. There’s great opportunities on the horizon.”
He says he plans to release a 7-inch single soon and then issue a full-length shortly after the single comes out.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” he says. “I found my voice as a songwriter and as a producer and arranger. I’ll also add in what I learned from the show. I want to look at my voice as an instrument. Now, I warm up and work on my voice. I feel like it’s more expansive of an instrument. That work ethic I learned from the show. I think it will make the new recordings different. I’m kind of a control freak too. It’s always going to sound like me. I feel like I’ve been at it long enough that I have my voice and I have my sound.”
Joshua Davis, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, The Kent Stage, 175 East Main St., Kent, 330-677-5005. Tickets: $16-$25, thekentstage.com.