“Sometimes the most important notes are the ones you don’t play.”
This is an idiom that’s frequently used amongst musicians, and one that embodies the notion that it’s often better to take a step back, look at where you are, and blend into your surroundings rather than beg for the spotlight and find that you don’t know what to do with it. This isn’t to say that risks are never rewarded, but there’s a stoicism, a calm intensity to seeing a musician play well with others rather than show off unnecessarily. This is a lesson that Steve Davis, one of Lancaster’s finest guitarists, has learned throughout years of practicing his art and honing his craft. “It just comes with maturity, I guess,” says Davis of his ability to play well with others, “to know when to hang back and when to let loose.”
Steve Davis has been working as a musician for years, and has been passionate about music since he was a teenager. “I wasn’t very social when I was in high school,” Davis laughs, “I spent most of my time sitting at home with my guitar.” Being a guitarist of near virtuosic talents, it comes as a very big surprise that Davis is self-taught. “I played the French horn for a little bit when I was a kid. Then my parents made me take piano lessons, and I hated them,” Davis says, laughing again, while explaining the extent to which he has received formal training. Some people are just born to play, and it appears as though Davis is one of them.
The Alley Kat is a local bar in Lancaster that hosts a weekly “open mic” night every Thursday at which Davis acts as somewhat of an emcee. While many open mic nights consist mostly of singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars, Davis’ is a different breed. A full band of some of Lancaster’s hottest musicians, Mike Bitts on bass and Gabe Staznik on drums, backs up anyone who’d like to do a song or two for the crowded bar. “We get a pretty eclectic mix of stuff,” Davis says of the performances. “A lot of people will come up and ask us to play covers, which is a lot of fun, but what’s really cool is playing along with people’s original material.” The band is really put to the test at these rowdy bar shows, and Davis shines on lead guitar with the band. “It takes some time to get into it,” Davis says of playing songs on the fly, “but once it clicks, the songs usually sound really cool.” Davis also remarks at the talent in Lancaster that these Alley Kat shows tend to bring out. “We get a lot of guys from the American Music Theatre’s band, a lot of younger musicians, and those guys are great players.”
When he’s not hosting the Alley Kat open mic, Davis focuses much of his musical energy toward SongSmith, a project that he and his wife, Lynn Royer, developed together. The married couple plays as an acoustic duo, Davis on guitar and Royer on vocals, and performs at everything from private events to wedding receptions. “It’s a fun project, and Lynn is a terrific vocalist,” Davis comments on the duo’s playing experiences. “Of course you have to deal with a Bridezilla or two,” he jokes, “but they’re usually really fun gigs to play.” Though SongSmith generally only does events at which they are hired to play, the duo still finds a way to keep things creative and unique. “We aren’t your typical wedding band and we really put our own personal flavor on all of the songs we do.” Davis will often loop multiple guitar parts with SongSmith, making the performance sound fuller and more layered than what one usually expects from an acoustic duo. “We play a lot of unconventional covers that you wouldn’t usually hear performed acoustically; we play Prince and Beatles tunes, and we’ll even learn some songs for events if they’re requested.”
Though music plays an enormous role in Davis’ life, he also has a passion for graphic design. “It must be some kind of uncontrollable urge to be creative,” Davis says of how each of his occupations, as a musician and as a graphic designer, is artistically based. His design company is called DavisGraphical and he currently caters to nearly a dozen clients. Though his work as a guitarist and his work as a designer are fairly isolated, Davis comments on how the two overlap by pointing out how neatly SongSmith’s press package is laid out. “We always have really well put together demos to show to people who would potentially want to book us,” Davis says, “so the graphic design comes in handy with that aspect of making music.”