By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Ditch Cat.
Sometimes a year will come along where all of life’s chips seem to fall together. For Chase Davidson, founder of Wasted Life Records and vocalist/guitarist for the band Ditch Cat, that momentum started more than five years ago.
It was 2009, and the songwriter was winding along the back country roads to his hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was a bittersweet journey. He remembered being 18 years old, literally burning to leave and get out once and for all. Yet here he was, back again.
“To be honest it was a place for me to run home to with my tail tucked between my legs,” Davidson tells BTR, his light southern drawl tucking the words into a musical state of reverie.
Davidson left his life in Orlando. With more than a hint of sadness he explains having to leave his daughter there, after things between Davidson and her mother didn’t work out.
“There was a job crisis, and I knew I could at least land an interview back in Arkansas,” he continues. “Besides that, I think coming back here has saved who I am, my life, and the friends that I have.”
He acknowledges that the local music scene might not be the shining diamond that it once was, but that regardless its members are working their asses off to revive it. The collective effort goes without exception for Ditch Cat–the four piece country-rock-punk band that Davidson put together when he moved back home from Orlando.
It started on the back porch of a party. Davidson was sitting next to a figure from his childhood, a bass player by the name of Jassen Evans. Evans used to make sure the rules were upheld at a local venue called the Music Hall (formerly known as Clunk); “busting heads” to do so whenever necessary.
The two musicians began to pass a bottle of Evan Williams back and forth, casually regaling one another with stories and catching up on days past. The night drew on, and before they knew it darkness had completely settled in. Everyone left the party, and the two were hugging and crying on each other.
The friendship has only grown; aside from becoming the permanent bass player, Evan’s face is even tattooed on Davidson’s leg.
For Ditch Cat, the ties go even deeper than ink. Two years after Davidson was born in the Mississippi Delta, his brother Brock came along. Around the ages of 10 and 12, the brothers acquired a Stratocaster and bass guitar–both of which they still have to this day.
The grown Davidson brothers spent a couple of years piled up in a bedroom, constantly attempting to play music together. Brock gave up on trying for a short while.
However, more recently, Brock has been progressing faster as a musician than anyone his older brother has seen.
“It was pretty much me cussing at him in the beginning and telling him, ‘do it this way!’ and ‘do it that way!’” Davidson laughs. “That’s pretty much the way I make music, and the people that I work with eventually learn how to deal with it.”
The brothers needed a roommate, and Brock’s childhood friend Gabriel stepped in to fill the bill. They found out he had a drum set, and they needed a drummer, so Gabriel naturally ended up taking over the band’s rhythm responsibilities.
Still, these musicians’ collaboration happened well before Ditch Cat found their proper incarnation–which was a restless moment in the middle of the night when the idea suddenly appeared before Davidson. First, the brothers and Evans joined a local gang of string dusters called the Wasted Life Family Band. It included a host of talented bluegrass musicians, and although none of the songs were actually recorded, the group enjoyed many a sleepless night of sing-alongs, “murder ballads,” and “pickin’ to death.”
Next they formed a much heavier sounding band. The Davidsons then realized it would be in their best interest to found a record label to help protect their music. For their first record, the group assembled a list of people in the community that they really wanted to “say something to.”
“We made sure there weren’t any doubts left in regards to who each song was about,” says Davidson. “I put myself on the list in an attempt to be fair. There was one guy who took it too hard, but none of it was mean. We were just being honest.”
That was the beginning of Wasted Life Records, a label consisting of mostly heavy bands because “it’s the kind of sound [the Davidsons] attract.” There’s no paper and no percentages–just good music. The label includes a female fronted band called Meridian in Florida (whom Davidson asserts are doing more for feminism than most activists), along with some guns throughout Texas and Louisiana. Wasted Life Records is a musical community spread throughout the South that the brothers hope to grow.
Their own band Ditch Cat is on the label as well. If there’s one thing every group shares in spades, it’s complete honesty. On their Demo 2015 (released earlier this year), you can hear four guys in a room clearly playing their hearts out; not because they have to, but because they’re having fun. Evans’ throbbing bass lines bounce around the crackle and crash of drums, creating a raunchy rhythmic bed for the Davidson brothers to lay down their signature blend of raspy salt and slide guitar.
It’s rock and roll, and country as all hell–but not the mainstream kind you’d hear on popular radio. Ditch Cat’s country style is far more sincere and true to the genre’s roots, something Davidson is quick to point out.
“I’ll stand by my word saying this is a country band,” he explains. “A real one though. If you look at mass-produced country, it’s a sad thing to see an industry that condescends so heavily to its fans. It’s blatantly sexist and material about things, and we don’t want anything to do with that.”
He takes a breath and lets out a chuckle before continuing in his fiery and deliberate ramble.
“I reckon there are a couple of guys in Nashville I’d like to have a word with…”