Posted October 6, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Davina and The Vagabonds Love to Entertain

Davina and The Vagabonds
Davina and The Vagabonds

Drawing from New Orleans jazz, Memphis soul and musical theatre, Davina and The Vagabonds defies categorization. Singer/pianist Davina Sowers has rightly drawn comparisons to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop. In 2011, the band issued its first full-length, all original album Black Cloud, following it up with 2014’s Sunshine. Currently at work on a live album, the band finishes the year with a few tour dates, including one that takes them to a Swiss festival.

I find it funny that your backing band is called The Vagabonds. How did you decide that it would be a good name for the group?
We were some crap bar band when we first started. I was doing B-side covers. I don’t do A-side covers. I had traveled so much. I was myself pretty much a vagabond. I hitchhiked and traveled the U.S. I had lived in Key West and California. I was pretty much a vagabond. I have been called that by my family. Little did I know that it would have ended up manifesting itself in the fact that we travel as much as we do. I didn’t know it would take off as much as it did, not that I have this massive career. It was more of a personal thing than anything. I’m probably the most vagabond-like of all five of us.

You grew up in Pennsylvania. What was your upbringing like and how did you get introduced to music?
I grew up in an economically depressed town, Altoona, in central Pennsylvania. It’s a heavy railroad city. My mom Delores will remind you that her name means “pain.” She went through so much. She was married a ton. I was adopted with her fourth husband. He was born in 1902. He retired at 65. I grew up listening to his older music. My mom was a folk singer before she started having kids. She had a short-lived career in a Podunk town in Pennsylvania. I grew up with her vinyl. I listened to Crosby, Stills and Nash, Seals and Croft, Melanie, Joan Baez and Judy Collins. I listened to all of her pop folk music. The Mamas and the Papas really taught me how to harmonize. That’s how I grew up. My father listened to Fats Waller and eerie turn-of-the-century music. The pre-war jazz and even the early country that was kind of eerie. That was my upbringing. My mom pushed me to do every talent show. She put me in beauty pageants. I would never win the gown portion. We didn’t have a lot of money and she would make my gowns. But I always won the talent. I call her a helicopter mom. She was always hovering and she pushed me to do music and creative stuff. She lived vicariously through me. I stole her vinyl and when I was grounded, she took the records away from me.

Now, I’m this huge melting point of weird music.

How did you end up gravitating to jazz and specifically New Orleans music?
I think it was Dixieland more than anything. I had a love for that. I had hired these horn players early in my career. They were brass band players. They helped me understand that type of music. I fell in love with it because it reminded me so much of the stuff my father liked. If you listen to our music, it’s really my love for that early Dixieland minus the clarinet. I always throw the clarinet in my recordings. From that point on, I never hired a reed player. I always had brass players and it was a trombone and trumpet. I loved what they could do as two horns together in those traditional songs.

Talk about the band’s first album, Black Cloud. I think that really established your sound. Were you happy with the way it turned out?
I was, but mostly because I feel like I settled as a writer. They’re all originals. It shows that I’m starting to hone my songwriting skills and shows what I’m going through with music. It’s part of my heart. It’s the first album where I had the chance to express myself one hundred percent. With the first two, you can smell the naiveté of it and you can just smell the insecurity of writing. You can just smell it. I don’t’ run into many people who have those albums. They’re horrible. I feel like Black Cloud is more me. It shows the growth I had.

And then what was your approach on last year’s Sunshine?
Black Cloud was done in a basement. I went to a church to track the piano. It was a beautiful room with an amazing piano. The sound of the piano was really great. But it wasn’t done as professionally as it should have been. It’s really rudimentary. Sunshine is still rustic. I did it analog on all vintage stuff. There is a little more production on it and it’s in the studio. The writing itself is still me. I can’t say that’s different. I wasn’t attempting to change myself. It’s definitely recorded differently. The clarity is much different in the recording. It’s better. I had to keep telling my engineer to not put so much reverb on it. He was really into the Beach Boys and that natural reverb. He’s a great guy and I really like the studio.

I think you sound a bit more confident as a singer on the album.
People always have an opinion. I was always trying to make everybody else happy . . . even a little bit with Black Cloud. I think people were telling me who I should be [and what I should do] with my voice. I’m going to sing the way I want to. I just want to express myself. If people hate it, screw them. At least I’m being honest. I just want to be a well-rounded vocalist. I don’t want to be that girl where you listen to ten songs and they all sound the same. I want to entertain with my voice. I want it to be an instrument. If you’re an artist, you should do that.

If you want to be a machine and do stuff people want to hear over and over, go for it. I want to show my creativity and voice and be an artist as much as a musician.

It seems like the music is a ton of fun to play live. Is that at the case?
It’s the reason I do what I do. I can see that happen to the audience. I want people’s faces to hurt from smiling when we’re done playing. I want to take away any crap that they’re going through. I’m a ham and I love to entertain people. To me, that’s what singing live is. I want to express myself. Hopefully, they can associate with what I’m singing. We’re a family and when we’re on stage, you can see that. If we make mistakes, we laugh. It’s not a structured thing. Every night is going to be different. There’s still the rudimentary part of the song. That’s why people call us a jazz band even though we’re not. We let loose and we’re who we are on stage. I guess everybody does that as a musician.

You’re also working on a live album?
Yeah, and I ‘m trying to write as much as I can for a new studio album. I try to fit the writing in when I can.

Upcoming 2015 Shows




















Minneapolis, MN – Grinkie Prom @ Fine Line Music Cafe

Langenthal, Switzerland – Jazz – Tage Langenthal

Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon

St. Louis, MO – The Old Rock House

Monmouth, IL – Deep Blue Innovators Festival / Rivloli

Minneapolis, MN – The Dakota Jazz Club

Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall

Green Bay, WI – Riverside Ballroom

Buffalo, NY – Buffalo Iron Works

New York, NY – Lucille’s

Cape May, NJ – Exit 0 International Jazz Festival

Cape May, NJ – Exit 0 International jazz Festival

Pawling, NY – Daryl’s House

Sellersville, PA – Sellersville Theater

Cambridge, MA – Regatta Bar

Hamden, CT – The Outer Space

Tuckerton, NJ – The Lizzie Rose Music Room

New Hope, PA – Triumph Brewing Company

Cleveland, OH – Music Box Supper Club


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.