This is a big moment for Ben Davis. His band Bad Veins is about to follow up 2009’s much-buzzed-about self-titled debut with The Mess We’ve Made. This isn’t his first rodeo; by his reckoning, he’s made seven or eight full-length recordings since he started writing songs as a high school freshman. Now, the Cincinnati duo—Davis and drummer Sebastien Schults—has got a slice of the spotlight, yet their steady climb is no guarantee there’s not a huge drop off ahead. (Clap Your Hands And Say “Hello!”)
Davis cops Alfred E. Neuman’s stance. “I think if I can successfully write albums with pop songs that people like and we just keep at it album after album after album, I don’t know how you can fade into irrelevance,” he says. “It all comes down to pop melodies, pop hooks, the accessibility factor, the sing-along factor. People have to respond. I think that we are so poppy we can pull people in.”
He might have an argument there. Where their debut featured wall-to-wall chamber pop whose swelling orchestral pitch wavered between stun and kill, the new album’s more measured in its use of instruments and their placement. The space affords the arrangements room to breathe and let the melodies’ beatific glow (and entire divisions of orchestral samples) draw you in and wash over you like breakers on the shore’s edge.
“I feel like I had a formula on that first record. I was going to do a string thing and I was going to break it down,” Davis says. “I was going to play the orchestral arrangement of the song and then I was going to come back and I was going to rock it out. There aren’t a lot of bridges or codas on the first record. There are on this one.
“I was more interested in details this time,” he says. “I explore the themes a bit more and there are a lot of pop idiosyncrasies that aren’t on the first record. There are layers and layers and layers of melodies, but we made a conscious decision to strip it down and let each sound and instrument have its own moment ... It would take someone 100 listens to have it all soak in.”
One reason Davis sounds so confident is because he figures he’ll be making music the rest of his life—one way or another. He chuckles thinking about an interviewer early in the day who asked him why he made music. “There was no decision. It’s like ‘Why are you gay?’ No one decides.”
Of course, there were the many years of piano lessons, which he saw more as a chore than the ticket to his future. “My parents forced me to take piano. Me and my brother. But he didn’t have the aptitude, so they let him stop,” Davis says. “Obviously it’s all second nature to me now, but God how I hated that.”
All that time and all those songs learned out of the Beatles songbook as a kid laid a firm foundation for what he’s hoping will be a long career. (Not to mention Pavement and the Flaming Lips, whose influences Davis also credits.)
“It’s scary in that it’s completely unknowable,” Davis says. “So I’m going to just keep making records and I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a point where I’m going to have to decide if I’m going to keep doing this because I don’t know what else I would do.”
Bad Veins perform Fri., April 13, 9:30pm. $8-$10. With the Fleeting Ends + Cold Fronts. MilkBoy Coffee, 1100 Chestnut St. milkboyphilly.com