Daniel Davies needs to drive. It's his preferred way back to Los Angeles after a tour leading the band Year Long Disaster, behind the wheel of his 1996 green van, sometimes driving alone, sometimes in silence, or cranking up the satellite radio for hours of music and basketball. He can get across the country in just three days, while the rest of his hard rock trio flies comfortably back home.
"I get there faster than most," Davies, 29, says of his driving skills but admits, "We keep finding these tickets in the back of the van." One night, he and his bandmates were rushing back home from Denver, rolling through the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter. "And suddenly, it just went white," says Davies. "I couldn't see anything."
He also knew a cliff was nearby, and the van wouldn't stop. "I saw a big boulder, and I hit that," the singer-guitarist says, smiling wistfully. After removing some damaged trim from beneath the van, the band kept right on going. The trio have been pulled over by the Border Patrol in search of illegal immigrants and by police looking for contraband.
These are the usual hazards of a hard-working young band on the road, and Year Long Disaster has been at this since the end of 2004, igniting classic thunderclap riffs with a modern sensibility, fitting somewhere between Wolfmother and Black Sabbath. After the band's first, self-titled album was released on the indie label Volcom Entertainment in 2007, Rolling Stone listed Year Long Disaster among the "10 Artists to Watch in 2008." The trio is now set to release "Black Magic: All Mysteries Revealed" on Monday, the same night as a free performance at the Troubadour.
On a recent afternoon, the tour van is parked outside Davies' Laurel Canyon house as the trio sits over mugs of hot tea and coffee. In a few hours, Davies would be on a plane to Berlin, to shoot a video for the provocative "Show Me Your Teeth," the new album's first single. He explains with a grin that the churning song concerns "submission and cleanliness . . . I was going through a germ-phobia thing."
The new album was recorded last fall at Sound City in Van Nuys with Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz, known for his work with the Foo Fighters and the reunited Alice in Chains. "Recording rock is so much harder than any other kind of music because so much of it is the energy," says bassist Rich Mullins, a longhorn-skull medallion hanging over his chest. "Just going into the studio and playing really energetic doesn't just translate into something that sounds energetic. A good rock producer will bring that."
During the last night of the band's month-long residency at Spaceland in January, Davies stood tall onstage, hair to his chin, slashing at a low-hanging Gibson Les Paul guitar. He led the thundering trio through a sweaty hour of intense hard rock, at times bluesy or psychedelic, his vocals rising from roar to a shriek.
In the past, says Davies, his singing was always of secondary concern to his guitar playing, "because I couldn't find anyone else to do it," but after listening to the first album, he realized: "You're singing in a band. You better figure this out."
The group was initiated by Davies and Mullins, who recruited Brad Hargreaves into their new project (briefly called Fantasy Snake) after seeing the drummer jam onstage at the Scene bar in Glendale. The feelings of admiration were mutual. "When I saw them play," says Hargreaves, who also plays with Third Eye Blind, "I just remember I had this vision: No one in L.A. is playing anything remotely similar to this."
Davies grew up in this world as the son of Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, often credited with helping invent heavy metal with the blistering riff from 1964's "You Really Got Me." Two weeks after his birth, Daniel was on tour with the Kinks. "I was on the road for the first eight or nine years I was alive," he says. It seemed normal at the time.
Through these early years, he was frequently in the company of major figures in rock, but Davies remembers hardly any of it. Did he really meet Mick Jagger? Bowie? He's not sure.
Davies and his family lived in London until he was 11, then moved to California. He started playing guitar at 14 after dabbling on drums. "I was really angry as a teenager," he says. "That's why I wanted to play drums, because I wanted to hit something. Then I realized I could do that with my guitar. You don't have to talk anymore. It's easier to communicate with a guitar."
His father never suggested it. "He would tell me to shut up just like any other dad that wants to watch TV," says Davies. "Then I would do things intentionally to annoy him, to make him feel that I was not improving, just for my own amusement."
They did finally bond and argue over music in the early '90s, watched the rise of Nirvana and Soundgarden on MTV together, and the veteran rocker gave young Daniel a few lessons. Eventually, Dave Davies returned alone to England when his son was 16, and Daniel graduated from Hollywood High. He went through a period of alcohol, drugs and rehab but returned seriously to music.
By then, Daniel had important questions for his father. "I asked my dad: 'How do I do this? You've been doing this your whole life, since you were 15.' And he wrote me two lines. He said, 'I have bad luck with labels, I have bad luck with managers. Try to get a lawyer you can trust.' That was it! Forty-five years of music, and that was his advice."
The elder Davies and Year Long Disaster were set to share a stage at the El Rey Theatre on Feb. 5, but the Kinks guitarist canceled his tour. Still, the connection brings out the curious see to YLD. "Some Kinks fans are really nice," says Davies. "Or some people say, 'It doesn't sound like your dad.' "
His group aims for a heavy, brooding sound, rooted in the classic guitar bands of the '60s and '70s, while also looking ahead. "We're developing," Davies says. "That's the idea, for the band to develop and grow."