David Edwards-Smith performs at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center last week. Smith uses bass guitars, didgeridoos, a kick box and various drums to achieve his sound.
Photo by John Hult
Chances are, if you’ve looked at an arts calendar or perused any wall full of posters over the past few months, you’ve seen the name of solo artist David Edwards-Smith.
So far this summer, the Soldotna musician has played several shows at Veronica’s, Kaladi Brothers Coffee, the Crossing Restaurant and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center between gigs at the Kenai River Festival, KDLL’s Summer Solstice Festival and Kenai’s Fourth of July Celebration. When September comes, he’ll be performing at the Seward Art and Music Festival.
Last summer, you’d have been lucky to see his name anywhere. Who is this guy, and what makes him appealing to so many venues?
“I’m always a person who tries to push the edge. If someone’s never been there, that’s the place to go,” Edwards-Smith said while setting up for a recent lunch performance at the visitors center.
That place where no one has been for Edwards-Smith is one where he ended up after experiments with an Australian aboriginal rhythm instrument called the didgeridoo. The deep drone of the instrument, which is basically a long, hollow wooden tube the player blows into, can serve as the undertone for a wide variety of music. The lips of the player continuously vibrate during play, and the continuous drone comes from the mastery of circular breathing basically breathing in and out at the same time.
According to Edwards-Smith, the two didgeridoo setup he uses is actually a smaller one than most traditional players use.
“Most didgeridoo players who use eucalyptus didges have an arsenal of them so they can move through different keys,” he said. “With two, I can have a song moving through two different keys, rather than having five to ten didges.”
Not many artists in the U.S. or anywhere, for that matter choose the “didge,” but even fewer pair it with a bass guitar, as Edwards-Smith does.
“There is one group in Germany called Boombinga, but I only learned about that afterwards.”
Edwards-Smith, who performs as a one-man band, also incorporates a range of percussion instruments and kicks a wooden box (a kick box) to keep the beat on his original songs.
For a long time, he had no tunes to play. For the past six years, he’s focused on his work as a Web designer and on raising his son, Copra, who is now six. It was only two years ago, he decided to return to the passion of youth.
That passion has paid artistic dividends. Given his history, the virtuosity he displays on the bass guitar is understandable. Edwards-Smith is a lifelong musician who has played the bass since age 13 and was a touring musician for years before moving from Detroit to Tanana in 1997 (he moved to Soldotna in 1999).
Photo by John Hult
It didn’t take much to relight the fire. Finding his current sound was a process of trial and error, though not a pained one.
To hear the artist tell it, it just fell into place:
“I wanted to start playing again, so I started plunking around on my bass and got to writing this song called “See You.” I was moving around it and started getting this piano-like sound on the bass. As I was mulling it over, I decided I needed to add a kick box to keep a beat. Then I was wandering around at the Alaska State Fair, where they had all these ethnic booths, and I saw some didges, picked one up, and after a few tries I actually got a tone and thought ‘This will be cool to lay underneath the bass let’s try it.’”
And that was that. Edwards-Smith does cite the work of Australian multi-instrumentalist and didgeridoo player Xavier Rudd as an inspiration, but Rudd’s didge playing is coupled with slide guitar. Edwards-Smith has tuned his bass strings to make the rhythm instrument sound more like a piano, and hopes by doing so he can inspire others to see the instrument as more than just a background one.
“I want to explore the bass as a lead instrument. That means approaching it like a guitar or a banjo.”
As far as songwriting goes, the lyrics must have meaning.
“Personal growth is a big issue - self reflection,” he said. “I have a real drive for understanding, so if you look for it, there’s some depth there.”
Edwards-Smith doesn’t have a CD available just yet, but his Web site, www.edwards-smith.com, has mp3 samples.
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