Interview with David Davison from Maps And Atlases: Threading Melodies

It’s rare to come across a band like Maps And Atlases; their sharp rhythms combined with David Davison’s unique voice makes them more than your run of the mill math rock or indie band.

Each song has an infectious melody that beckons the audience to sing along (even when they know but half the words) and to clap along when encouraged by the band (even when the crowd is off the beat). Though some audiences may lack rhythm, bassist Shiraz Dada steps in as crowd conductor, guiding the audience through the intricate patterns to keep the claps as uniform a possible (we’d be lost without you, Dada).

Something deep lingers beneath the surface of each song; masked by a beard of indie rock, you can still hear traces of folk, jazz, soul and blues. Maps is a flagship for bands looking to be something greater than just danceable due to an understated sophistication in sound and presentation. Summer 2010 bought us Perch Patchwork on Barsuk Records; a clever collection of songs that show off the best of the band’s abilities. Each song sounds different from the next but they all retain the same Maps quality that keeps us listening.

I caught up with singer David Davison for a Q&A before he and band mates Shiraz Dada, Erin Elders and Chris Hainey head out on a summer tour with Fang Island, Cults and Globes. Starting in their hometown of Chicago, then ending in Newport, KY, Maps has a until late August to make us all believers.

Dig on Maps And Atlases.

We were talking about your past tours with So Many Dynamos and Pattern Is Movement. You’re going out this time with Fang Island, Cults and Globe; how do you figure out which bands work best for a tour package?

Yeah, they were bands that came around and we really liked them. We usually go out with a band because we like them; usually we just go out with our friends’ bands (laughs). Yeah, either of those things: they’re our friends or we like them. It’s always great going out with friends. The fans are already there so you have a chance to play and make people realize, “Whoa! We like this!”

Do you prefer to be the headliner or the supporting band?

Both are fun in their own way. On one hand, it’s always fun to play your own show but on the other hand, it’s always fun to play for an audience that doesn’t even know you. I don’t know, in a way I always imagine it was the same feeling you get when you’re attending. It’s always a great feeling whether you’re playing or you’re attending. It’s really cool. But it’s also really cool to go play for a new audience and see that really instant reaction. It’s always a challenge but there’s always an immediate turn around. It’s kind of exciting and fun to always be thrust into that situation and it’s obviously fun to play for different people. It’s fun to be put into the immediate situation of not knowing whether people like you (laughs).

Is your music easily received? You have a pretty unique sound, so do people have to stand there and watch a couple songs to get it?

I think it’s really dependent on the crowd. Compared to some bands I’ve seen, I think we have a tendency to be more polarizing. There is an intensity in a hardcore kind of way. I think you get into it or not sometimes. I wouldn’t say we’re always winning crowds over but it’s definitely rewarding when we do. We don’t always but that’s okay; it takes all kinds, I guess (laughs).

What genre would you say fits your band, if you absolutely had to give it a label?

That’s a really tough question. We’re put in that position quite a bit. Usually we try to just go for having a good reference point. So I guess in a general point we’re something like ‘technical pop’ or ‘technical indie rock’ or something like that. That’s just what we say. I think that it’s our approach to making music.

You told me the band started in college. What were you doing musically before then?

I wasn’t playing in anything serious. I was mostly in those bands that were constantly forming and disbanding. I did some serious songs and some covers. It was always the same people disbanding then forming different groups.

Were the sounds similar to Maps And Atlases?

They were definitely completely different. In a lot of bands I just played guitar and stuff; mostly in cover bands and stuff. It was totally a different kind of vibe. I guess when I was a junior or senior in high school, I started to write a little more experimental stuff. I didn’t really understand why I was doing it; I was just into playing guitar. I mean, I liked good music but it was kind of hard for me to put it all together.

Are you a formally trained musician?

I took a couple lessons. I took lessons with a couple different, really cool guitar players when I was much younger, and that went on for a couple years and I was in the school band. I think the vast majority of me learning how to do stuff was me totally mimicking singing and playing guitar. I did tons and tons of covers; trying to recreate guitar solos and my singing totally came from necessity (laughs). Coming from a cover band, I never really wanted to sing. But like we were talking about before, there are definitely aspects of knowing. At a certain point you know what you naturally do that’s a little different. The things that I have a tendency to do aren’t technically better in a classical sense; maybe my voice leans in one way or another. I sort of just accepting that and let it do what it does. You try to develop and make patterns and repetition and allow you to do what you do naturally. A lot of that came from exploring and trying different styles. I don’t know. I accidentally picked up a lot of little things here and there.

You cited Sam Cooke as an influence, who else?

Definitely mimicked people like Sam Cooke and Van Morrison and David Bowie, Otis Redding and the Temptations. I wasn’t like, “Oh I really want to sing like this.” There was something that was really appealing about their music to me and trying to sing like them was really fun for me. I still can’t really sing like Sam Cook or anything even though I absolutely love his voice and love to sing those songs… but those really soulful singers and Van Morrison. I also love David Bowie.

Yeah (laughs), I can definitely hear that when you‘re on stage.

Can you really? That’s awesome.

So what song are you excited to play over and over on tour?

I would say it would have to be “Pigeon” because it’s one of the more danceable songs that has this immediacy to it. It has a balance. Rhythmically it’s one of those songs that is more understandable to people than one of the other songs. On a personal level, it’s a scarier song to play because so much of it depends on me not messing up at all (laughs). There’s such a huge portion of the song that if my finger slips, then it’s totally noticeable to everybody. I don’t know, maybe people won’t notice. There’s enough stuff going on but people will definitely notice that. It’s scary enough that it’s fun and challenging. It’s something that we do together well. It seems like people get into that song when they don’t get other songs. It’s fun, especially when you’re a supporting band and playing for another band’s audience.

What is the meaning behind the phrase ‘perch patchwork?’

There are two purposes I guess: one for the song and one for the title of the album. But the meaning is just a specific combination of words that was just appealing. It was this elaborate design that is made up of a lot of different colors, like a fish scale or a simultaneously really elaborate design or a really natural environment. It fits together really well; it’s seamless. I think as far as the album is concerned, there was a lot diversity but then there is an aspect of it that all fit together partially because of the vibe and the environment that it was recorded in.

Maps And Atlases will be playing with RX Bandits at Irving Plaza on July 12 and 13. Their first full-length release, Perch Patchwork, is out now on Barsuk Records. More info at