By Kelly Dearmore
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John Dufilho = The Deathray Davies. Until The Deathray Davies recorded their third and latest album, the just-released The Day of the Ray, that statement was more or less fact, unless you felt like showing your work, in which case it would look more like: The Deathray Davies - live shows = John Dufilho. Either way.
Three years ago, give or take, The Deathray Davies was a band name more than it was an actual band. And until the group started recording what would turn out to be The Day of the Ray at Aaron Kelley's Edge of the World Studios (later adjourning to Valve Studios and The Echo Lab under the guidance of Matt Pence), it still sort of was. On record, anyway.
Dufilho began The Deathray Davies as a side project of sorts in 1998, when he had more songs than the band he was in at the time, Bedwetter, knew what to do with. Or, actually, the songs he had didn't seem to fit in with that group. After moving from San Antonio to Dallas and befriending Centro-matic's Will Johnson (who proved, on 1997's Redo the Stacks, you didn't need a band to be in one), Dufilho began recording those songs, playing all the instruments himself. By early 1999, he had a finished album, Drink With the Grown-Ups and Listen to the Jazz, and a ticket to the South by Southwest Music Festival, which accepted the "band" based on a three-song tape of unmixed songs.
By the time he played SXSW, Dufilho also had a band, including Bedwetter bandmate Jason Garner on bass and shakers shaker Kevin Ingle, as well as Chomsky drummer Matt Kellum, Legendary Crystal Chandelier front man Peter Schmidt on guitar and Transona Five's Rachel Smith on keyboards. Though that lineup remained fairly solid (Smith moved to Boston and was replaced by Chomsky's Sean Halleck), when it came time to record a follow-up to Drink With the Grown-Ups, Dufilho again went into the studio by himself. The Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist, released in 2000, featured Garner on a handful of tracks and the full band on one, but for the most part, the team rode the bench while Dufilho gobbled up the minutes. While Bedwetter had long since broken up, The Deathray Davies still seemed to be something of a solo project.
So it wouldn't have been terribly surprising if, when The Deathray Davies began recording The Day of the Ray (released on Idol Records), the only member to show up for the sessions was Dufilho. But Dufilho wanted it to be different this time around--wanted it to be different when he recorded Drunk Ventriloquist, now that you mention it--letting the band do some of the heavy lifting instead of throwing out his back doing it all himself. The only thing: He had become a recording-studio version of an alcoholic, not used to asking for help or accepting it.
"I didn't realize how used to doing everything I was, and just having 100 percent control of everything," Dufilho says. "So this time, yeah, I just kind of had to let a lot of things go, you know, a lot of my ideas in the sense of realizing that, hopefully, in the bigger picture, everybody's ideas thrown in is going to be greater than...I don't know. I don't know exactly how to put it. Certainly made my job easier, in that everybody else came up with their own parts and that kind of thing, but I had to let go a bit, as far as just learning how to not be a control freak or whatever. I've definitely got a focus, a direction I want everything to go in, and this was more like, well, let's just record a bunch of songs and see what happens. Whereas the first two records were very specific, 'This is exactly what I want, and I'll record until I get it.' This one was more just free, whatever we end up with. I think it's a lot closer to what we do live."
It is, if only because the musicians who do it onstage did it in the studio this time. Garner and Ingle (both of whom have been in the band since the beginning) are joined by drummer Bill Shupp and guitarist Mike Middleton. (Middleton joined the band while The Day of the Ray was already in progress, playing on five songs.) Even new hire Greg Price, the latest in a long line of keyboard players and only in the band for a few months, appears on the disc, recorded on a boom box in the band's rehearsal space and wedged onto the album at the last minute. (As for how long the line of keyboard players is exactly, Ingle jokes that "half the people in Dallas know our keyboard parts.")
Why the rest of the band shows up (or, at least, shows up more often) on The Day of the Ray than Drunk Ventriloquist may be because for the first time the entire lineup is committed to The Deathray Davies. Previously, the band was cobbled together from members of various other groups: Chomsky, [DARYL], Legendary Crystal Chandelier, Pennywhistle Park. When Middleton and Price came along to round out the sextet, Dufilho finally had a band he could call his own. No more problems scheduling tours or gigs or studio time. The Deathray Davies may be a couple of years and a trio of albums into their career, but in a way, it's just getting started.