It’s been a long road for Dear Nora. Portland’s folk-bent indie rock band won hearts with Mountain Rock, an expansive record that captured what it meant to be an unsure kid in the Northwest, back in 2004. The band released another album after that and then seemingly vanished in 2008, with only a collection of rarities left to its name. It turns out Dear Nora wasn’t stuck wandering down a road. The band just decided to pause to soak up the view.
Dear Nora returned late last year for a few live shows. Now, the band has something to show for it. Songwriter Katy Davidson rallied musicians together to record a new record, the wistful Skulls Example, comprised of songs Davidson wrote between 2009 to 2017. With lyrical inspiration from visit to Oaxaca and Mexico City, and musical inspiration from artists like Frank Ocean and Leonard Cohen, Davidson—and, in turn, Dear Nora—managed to make a record that feels very of this moment while still holding true to the band’s original sound.
“Maybe this is overly universal, but I didn’t want to make something that sucked,” says Davidson. “After all this time, you can’t bring a band back and make something that’s bad. I knew it had to be good, and I knew it would be good. I brought my best energy to it. I wasn’t fearful of the process, but in the back of my mind I told myself that I had to make it count. A song like ‘Black Truck’ felt risky because I didn’t know how it would translate from my head to the tape. My bandmates had never heard the song before, so I told my drummer to play a beat, and I sort of played him the riff, and then the bass player made up his part. There was no context for that song, but it came together in an experimental sort of way.”
To better understand the modern mind of Dear Nora, we interviewed Katy Davidson for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Skulls Example as the prompt, they gave answers that highlight why Dear Nora is such a special band in the indie rock world—an aura you can bask in when the band headlines the Lilypad this Friday.
1) “White Fur”
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, which animal has the most beautiful fur?
DAVIDSON: Oh my gosh. I’m going to have to say wolf. I’ve always had a thing for wolves.
2) “Morning Glories”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you gardened or purchased a plant?
DAVIDSON: Maybe the most interesting answer would be that I don’t think a lot of people know that I was a professional gardener for six years of my life. I did it when I lived in San Francisco in the early 2000s. Since then, I haven’t done a lot of gardening. I bought some tomato plants and herbs for my partner about a month ago. Other than that, I haven’t done much recently.
3) “New to Me”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name a band or artist who has been around for a while but you only just recently learned about?
DAVIDSON: We’ve been covering this song called “Ever New” by this artist named Beverly Glenn Copeland. Beverly recorded a beautiful album, I believe it’s called Keyboard Fantasties. It’s a late ’70s or ’80s record. It got reissued lately. It’s on one of those labels that digs up incredible records from the past, and that happened with this album. Everyone in the band really loves it.
Also, it’s very beautiful to me that we’re doing our Dear Nora touring at the same time that Liz Phair is. I pretty much write songs because of Liz Phair. We keep skirting around one another, but I’m going to see if something could happen with one of these tour dates.
4) “Simulation Feels”
DIGBOSTON: What experience, action, or event do you think everyone should experience at some point to better strengthen their empathy?
DAVIDSON: I’ve had periods of my life where I didn’t have much money. My family didn’t have much money growing up, and I’ve spent periods of adulthood being quite broke. You have to learn how to be resourceful in a very real way. I don’t know if that’s too serious of an answer, but having a lack of resources is very humbling. It’s a built-in limitation that oftentimes can lead to different forms of creativity.
5) “Sunset on Humanity”
DIGBOSTON: If you could pick any colors, what colors would a sunset be comprised of?
DAVIDSON: [laughing] I’m going to answer purple, like a purple spectrum. Like the full gradient of purple. It’s for Prince.
DIGBOSTON: Who was the last person to intentionally interrupt you?
DAVIDSON: [laughing] Well, I’m currently at work and my dear friend Steve interrupted me, which I was grateful for. I’m a commercial music producer. I was listening to a song a composer had sent me so I could write some notes to send back to him, and Steve interrupted me midsong. I didn’t mind.
7) “Skulls Example”
DIGBOSTON: When you think of Boston, what are the first two words that pop into your head?
DAVIDSON: Hmm. Allston, definitely. Gosh, my mind is going completely blank. You know what? Honestly? Dunkin Donuts.
8) “Worship the Cactus”
DIGBOSTON: Where is your favorite stretch of desert or barren nature landscape?
DAVIDSON: Oh, I go to the desert all the time. I currently live in one. Can I name a town? I live in Twentynine Palms, California. I love it there. There’s really no place like it. It’s quite an odd atmosphere. It’s very intense, the light is, and everything looks blown out. Everyone has a yard made of dirt. It’s close to Joshua Tree.
9) “Antidote for Mindlessness”
DIGBOSTON: Do you think mindlessness is a good trait to have or a bad one?
DAVIDSON: I don’t know if I can say it’s good or bad. If you consider the opposite being mindful, then I guess it’s maybe not? I would aim to be more mindful than mindless. The title of that song, I took from a New York Times or New Yorker article. It was an article about the meditation apps that are popping up.
10) “Black Truck”
DIGBOSTON: What does the inside of your car look like?
DAVIDSON: Hah! Well, I have a 2000 RAV4. The inside of my car looks like nothing at the moment. I took the back seats out so my car looks like an empty cube. I took the seats out to transport some equipment. Also because I went to a music festival at Arcosanti in Arizona and I knew I would have to sleep in my car, so I pulled them out to fit. It’s a late ’90s palette with different shades of dark blue. It’s completely empty. No seats. I made it a two-seater.
11) “Creature of Habit”
DIGBOSTON: What’s one of your oldest habits and one of your newest habits?
DAVIDSON: Oh man. I gave up two habits when I graduated from high school: biting my nails and drinking a lot of soda. New habits, I’m trying to have healthy ones. Trying to get a form of exercise every single day. I try to sleep eight hours a night.
12) “Ancient Plain”
DIGBOSTON: When buying bread from a bakery, what type of loaf do you go for?
DAVIDSON: These days, I don’t buy too much bread. I’m not gluten free, but I don’t eat a ton of it. My answer might be gluten-free bread. If I could get some organic, sprouted, seeded bread made with ancient grains, then that would be my one.
13) “Long Distance”
DIGBOSTON: How far away was the farthest vacation you’ve ever been on?
DAVIDSON: Well, I played guitar in the band the Gossip for two years. It wasn’t a vacation, but we went to play a festival in Jakarta. We only had 48 hours there, so it was an insanely long trip for a short amount of time. I’ve been to Australia a few times, but Jakarta seems like the most interesting. We went to an open-air market and got to see crazy fruits, animals, and food carts. It was amazing. It was the night of the supermoon, too, so the water was rising quite a bit near the festival grounds. The only other people playing the festival were Sugar Ray and Sixpence None the Richer. I guess they’re huge over there in Indonesia.
14) “Walking in the Hills”
DIGBOSTON: Which park, mountain, or place in nature is your favorite location to hike?
DAVIDSON: Gosh. I’m going to have to say Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a boring answer, but I live so close nearby. I love hiking there. There are incredibly huge boulders and you get to go bouldering there. It’s where you scramble up some boulders. It’s not technical. You just wear running shoes that have grippy soles and you scramble on up there.
DEAR NORA, NICOLAS KRGOVICH, LISA/LIZA. FRI 6.8. THE LILYPAD, 1353 CAMBRIDGE ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/18+/$12. LILYPADINMAN.COM