Renshaw Davies' genre-bending beauty

The imaginative New Orleans upstart comes to Savannah, brings a unique sound

NEW ORLEANS duo Renshaw Davies is on the way up - they’re recording and touring relentlessly, and building a unique sound that blends folk and synth pop in a way that truly makes them a standout in modern music. The group, named after members Emily Davies and John Renshaw, began at a local open mic and quickly discovered a musical chemistry.

Taking cues from artists like Beach House, Fleetwood Mac, Beck, and Father John Misty, Renshaw Davies effortlessly combines a beautiful vocal blend with an acoustic foundation and synth textures. They’ve made a name for themselves since their inception, touring throughout the U.S. and Canada and playing a number of notable venues in their hometown.

Ahead of their show at El Rocko Lounge, we talked to the band about their beginnings, their unique sound, and what makes a duo dynamic work creatively.

How did you land on the mix of genres you play?

ED: We met an open mic at this coffeehouse, and we were each kind of playing our own thing. And then we decided to play music together. I was kind of doing an a capella thing, and was wanting to do more instrumental stuff. Teaming up with John was really helpful, and we were doing a folk thing for a while.

JR: It was definitely the most relevant music to me at the time, and Emily had just been getting into it. So we were kind of exploring new territories even then. But we kind of felt limited instrumentation-wise, and we didn’t want to expand and have a band. We tried to do it and it didn’t work. The two of us have a dynamic that we really like.

We decided to incorporate the synth-pop elements because we were recording our music and it just didn’t work out with the folk stuff.

ED: We just kept hitting a wall - it just wasn’t as full as we wanted.

JR: I was trying to record a part and just couldn’t get it down, so our producer put in cheesy drum beats - really cheesy ones. It worked, and we started to play all the synth stuff. Honestly, we kind of just grew together with our producer. We’re kind of growing into a more futuristic mold [laughs].

It seems like there’s this common thread of spontaneity with the band - meeting at an open mic, finding your sound sort of organically in the studio. Is that a fair assessment to say it’s been a spontaneous ride so far?

JR: Oh yeah. Spontaneous, and it's never ending!

ED: We were told early on that we should serve the song, and kind of follow what it needs. And we’ve stuck with that idea. As a result we’ve kind of had a varied mix of songs, and sometimes struggle to put a theme together.

JR: I think we’re starting to find our real voice though, now. We’ve had about a year with our new arrangement, and we’re going on tour for the first time with our solidified setup.

After you guys met, did you just start by sitting down and writing songs together? What’s your process like?

JR: That's been completely evolutionary. When we first started playing, we didn't know how serious we were going to be. We saw each other and it just clicked. We played whatever we could. Now, especially with all these new soundscapes, we just go into a room and hammer it out together. Everything is pretty much done together.

ED: Largely live.

JR: Yeah, everything we do is live. Hopefully we’ll figure out how to produce our own stuff, because then the writing will really take off.

When did you realize that this was something you wanted to pursue seriously? Was there a gig or a moment that you came to that realization?

JR: I think there was a series of gigs. I remember, one of our old projects had a show - it was a trio but we had about 10 people playing with us that night in a 45-minute set. It was kind of a mess [laughs]. The purveyor of that gig said we sounded really good together and said we should stick it out.

It was very difficult in those early days to get past our egos, I guess. The tours over the years and the recording sessions that we’ve had have been long and arduous. I think we’re finding the reasons right now why we stuck it out, because it’s starting to come to fruition.

Speaking of egos and getting over that obstacle — what’s the secret, if there is one, to making that work?

JR: The secret is not taking the moment too hard. If it's good, that's where it works. If it's bad, then it'll end. We have a very unique relationship in that I don't think either of us have ever played seriously with anyone else. We've pretty much grown up in music together. And I don't know how to work with others, for the most part [laughs]. We have our own language.

ED: It’s a constant balance of figuring out what works. We’ll certainly clash sometimes, but it’s important to be able to step back and take some time away from things. Then you can come back with some perspective.

Sometimes space is helpful.

JR: Yeah. Sometimes you have to get the mediocre out.

ED: It’s about knowing when to take a step back and when to push through it.

JR: Yesterday we rehearsed for about seven hours, and I’d say the first three hours weren’t very good. And then it wasn’t until 10 that night where I felt like we were starting to get it. Our relationship is really unique in that we’re 100 percent, totally committed to each other. So if there’s a mistake or something that you’re harboring, it’s going to come to the surface and ultimately be a bond. A friend or whatever would have more incentive to leave. We’re joined together - we have to make it work.

CS: In some ways, it’s like a marriage.

JR: Exactly.

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