I text Katy Davidson that I’d like to meet her “in her element.” She texts back: “Picnic blanket at Irving Park with clandestine bottle of rare Oaxacan Mezcal?” But we get rained out, and meet upstairs at Northeast’s Beech Street Parlour instead. Davidson is still in her element in a ball cap and loose button-up shirt, sipping a lesser mezcal.
There may be only a clubhouse worth of fans who know it, but Davidson is one of the finest songwriters of her generation. Her lyrics feel like postcards from an old friend, her voice stark and sincere enough to silence a busy room.
She began performing and recording with friends in Portland as Dear Nora in the late ’90s, and by the time Mountain Rock—her third album (and, she says, her personal favorite)—came out in 2004, she was something of an underground institution. But Davidson was restless in her 20s. She didn’t know what to make of the crowds that came to see her band perform, and she was irked by press that called her music twee. “It sounds so stupid now, but it felt like a hole I couldn’t dig out of,” she says.
After a prolonged period of sporadic activity and a two-year stint in Los Angeles, she officially retired the name Dear Nora in 2008. Since then she has served as a touring musician with YACHT and Gossip, often performing for huge festival crowds. “It’s interesting,” she says of playing those shows, “but you don’t really feel like you’re making a connection with people.”
Now Dear Nora is slowly being rediscovered: name-dropped by much younger bands like Girlpool and Joyce Manor, and played over the closing credits of Lance Bangs’s documentary on Todd Barry. Mountain Rock will be reissued this winter, and in January, Davidson—who now works a day job overseeing and producing commercial music with Marmoset—is embarking on a two-week West Coast tour with a new band to celebrate. That band will be called Dear Nora, but it won’t try to reproduce the old sound.
“You can’t write songs when you’re 23 and then play them just like that 15 years later,” Davidson says. “You just can’t. But I want to honor the songs. I don’t want to be an asshole. This used to be 100 percent about me and 0 percent about the audience. And I know I’m not the first person to say it, but you truly have to lose something to understand its value.”