Interviews

Elise Davis Expresses Her Liberation on Stunning and Fearless New Album ‘Cactus’

Alysse Gafkjen

Elise Davis has never shied away from exploring what it means to be alone. Her debut album The Token is an introspective look at the types of relationships and heartbreaks you experience in your early 20s. On her stellar sophomore album Cactus (out on Sept. 7), Davis writes with the wisdom that comes with time and more life experiences.

Recorded at producer Jordan Lehning’s (Andrew Combs, Caitlin Rose) home studio, the album is a lush and sonically-spacious collection of striking and confessional alt-country songs.

“For my last record I went out to a cabin in the woods in Maine and we were all locked in there with no cell phone reception for 10 days and made the whole album. I loved that experience, but I decided that for this record I wanted to kind of take a completely different approach. I decided to make it in Nashville so that I could more easily spend a long time on it and go in and out of the studio,” Davis tells Wide Open Country. “We spent about six months. We would go and record some things and we’d try different things and I’d take the little demos home with me for a week and sit with it and go back in the studio and change things around.”

Cactus is a fearless statement on desire, independence and the societal expectations placed upon women.

Davis says the album is a direct reflection of her own life at the time, an era of reflection, self-sufficiency and searching.

“Every time I’m about to go in to make an album I kind of look back at the collection of songs I’ve written over the past year or two and pieced together the ones that mean the most to me and that I feel are the best ones,” Davis says. “As I looked back at the songs, they just happened to have this thread and it’s probably because they way I write mirrors my real life most of the time. All the songs on the album are very true to the way I was living.”

The western-tinged title track, the dreamy ode to casual romance “Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and the stripped-down confessional “Lone Wolf” all explore independence in different forms.

“I think I’m starting to know who I am and it scares me,” Davis sings on “Lone Wolf.” “I look around and see, maybe I’m bound to be a lone wolf.”

In a genre where women are too often shut out entirely or expected to sing about needing a man to complete them, Davis’ declaration of independence is important and freeing.

“A lot of it is more sexual liberation and feeling O.K. speaking out about (wanting) to have casual relationships. And thats OK. A woman can be that way and be sexual and be open about it and it does not make you a slut,” Davis says. “For me, it’s fun and important to feel free to sing about sex and lifestyle in exactly the way that I want to and not feel like I have to censor anything in case someone else doesn’t agree with it.”

“33” explores something many women who grew up in small southern towns can relate to — the repercussions of being single at a certain age.

“Now the whispers sound like screams,” Davis sings. “Around here, you’re not supposed to be unmarried and 33.”

“I’m almost 30 and when I go back home a lot of my girlfriends who are single or unmarried, it has become the only thing they can talk about. It becomes the thing they’ve come to weigh their self worth on and they’re sad about it,” Davis says. “And I understand wanting to be in a relationship, but (it’s) to the extent that it seems to be the only thing you feel like you can focus on almost and you’re freaked out about always being alone because you’re not getting married on this societal timeline that we were all taught we were supposed to follow.”

Standout track Married Young”  feels like the flip-side to “33.” The song, which Davis co-wrote with Erin Enderlin and Alex Kline, is a tender rumination on what we learn from past loves.

“I don’t even know if I’d recognize us, you were loving every word coming off of my tongue. I was hanging down from the stars you hung,” Davis sings. “The things you learn about the one you love, when you married young.”

Davis writes with sincerity, creating snapshots of her own life. But her assertions are so relatable, you feel like she could be writing about you. If The Token was an album for your early 20s, Cactus is an anthem for the latter part of the decade.

“It’s funny — as you look back at certain albums it’s like there are these experiences and the way that you felt or looked at life at these certain ages,” Davis says. “The Token I made at 25 and 26 and this album was songs (written) from 27 and 28 and I made it when I was 28 and 29. I think that’s kind of a cool thing. My brain’s already wrapping around my early 30s record.”

Boldly honest and liberating, Cactus marks Davis’ arrival as one of the most important voices in Americana today.

Davis will perform during Nashville’s AmericanaFest, which runs from Sept. 11 through Sept. 16. On Sept. 16, she’ll perform at Woofstock 2018, along with Emmylou Harris, Margo Price, John Hiatt and more.

For a full list of upcoming tour dates, visit here.

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Elise Davis Expresses Her Liberation on Stunning and Fearless New Album ‘Cactus’