On the cover of his 2009 album “The Awkward Longing,” Alex Davis sports a blue and yellow tracksuit jacket, clenches a small football and looks into the camera with a gentle smile. The androgynous image tells a secret, the answer of which Davis could finally admit to himself after the album’s release — he needed to transition and leave his female life behind.
The album reminds Davis of an awkward time — when he didn’t feel secure in himself or like the sound of his voice, when he couldn’t date the girls that he wanted because he wasn’t a boy and didn’t like being seen as a lesbian. “I knew something was wrong,” Davis says. “I wasn’t being honest about who I was.”
Once Davis embraced his true gender, he transitioned within three months. The process had a profoundly positive effect on his music. Davis’ sound evolved from alternative pop (think a Pixies-inspired, electrified Rachel Yamagata) to a more laid-back singer-songwriter-influenced indie rock with a raw vulnerability and underlying optimism. Davis loves his new voice, and it shows in his newer songs. You can almost feel him embracing the vocals with a renewed sincerity. “There’s a sonorous quality to [my voice]now because it’s richer, it’s deeper. It’s the way I’ve always wanted to hear it,” he says, noting that he took lessons from multiple singing teachers to further hone it.
Inspired by the change, Davis also penned new songs like “Born Wrong,” which features uncanny guitar picking chops and melodies reminiscent of Nirvana. He also wrote “Lucky Me,” a song of gratitude about how great it felt to finally be able to open himself up and trust his girlfriend, and be seen by her as a man. Reaching this hopeful place had taken Davis 25 years — through the death of a parent, a rocky adolescence, and a seemingly boundless depression.
He chronicles this journey through nearly a dozen monologues and songs in his live show “Man of the Year.” Broadway producers Ruth and Steven Hendel (American Idiot) helped Davis stage a successful test-run of the production at the Knitting Factory in NYC earlier this year. The show is now in development to include more multimedia visuals, such as Davis’ drawings and videos of him with his family.
Born to casting director Susan Bluestein and Golden Globe-winning actor Brad Davis (Midnight Express), Alex grew up in Studio City hanging out with the children of celebrities. He started playing guitar at age eight and wrote his first song at age nine, a year after his father died. The tune was about wanting to run away.
“I had been a very outgoing, very bossy kid,” he says of his life before his father passed. “Then everything became lackluster for me. I ate a lot. I watched movies. I played board games with friends. But I kind of just didn’t care anymore.”
Davis joined a band in middle school as a drummer and started writing songs about partying to impress people. He also picked on other kids who he could tell were different, calling them “fags” and “trannies.” Davis wrote a song called “Can’t Fool Everybody” for his “Man of the Year” show about how he bullied people in his attempts to hide that he was queer.
“I was mean,” he admits. “I always knew I was different, that inside I liked girls and people didn’t understand that, and it was a very heterosexist society. I was scared and didn’t want to be found out… It didn’t work. I got depressed and I lost all of those friends I was trying to impress anyway.” Davis’ insecurity and depression not only led him on a search for validation but to play guitar alone in his bedroom where he developed an appreciation for singer-songwriters like Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper, and Elliott Smith. Despite his sadness, Davis experienced an intensely creative period as he struggled to fit-in not just as a teen but as the wrong gender.
All of this is addressed in “Man of the Year,” which Davis hopes can explain why he writes songs. He also hopes it can help trans people and their parents as they begin their process toward self-acceptance. “The show is definitely about how I could look back on the evidence after going through a long period of trying to fit in as a girl and kind of how I came about the realization,” he says.
The show also tackles the questions most trans people get asked ad nauseum: When did you know?… How did you know?… Did you know when you were a little kid?… When did you decide to transition? And then there are the nosy sexual inquiries people feel entitled to make that Davis states in his show that he will not answer.
“I understand that people are fascinated but I can’t wait until it’s no big deal, and it’s like being black or being a plumber,” he says.
Davis has already accepted that he has to explain being trans to members of the gay and lesbian community who don’t get that sexual orientation and gender are two different things. “In my heart, I just feel like a straight guy, and I feel like that’s certainly not addressed in the LGBT community,” says Davis. “I’m not sure that it’s completely understood.
But Davis has let go of his anger about the lack of understanding and accepts that some people just don’t get it — and it’s his choice whether he chooses to out himself as trans and educate people or keep his mouth shut and pass as a straight guy. (Coming out repeatedly as trans can be exhausting, much like constantly having to come out as bisexual.)
To Davis, his orientation is simple: “It’s just like if a heterosexual guy was like, ‘Oh, I like women.’ Nobody’s going to say, ‘You like women? What does that mean? How do you do that? What kind of sex do you have?'” he says with a laugh. “It’s too much to hope for that [sort of understanding]to happen yet, but maybe someday.”
In the meantime, Davis hopes people can focus more on his music. And truth be told, it deserves the attention. Whether singing sweet love songs like “Oh Sugar” or hauntingly honest victory tunes like “Man of the Year,” Davis flaunts his confidence as a kick ass songwriter and performer. He has surrounded himself with professional players and attached major Broadway talent to help develop his projects for a reason — the boy could be the first definitive artist of his kind. The lesbian community has Tegan and Sara. The gay boys have Rufus Wainwright. And the trans community has Alex Davis. They just don’t know it yet.
Davis is played at the Trans-Unity Pride event in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park at Fiesta Hall on July 23. Davis is also in the process of recording all of the tunes from “Man of the Year” show onto a full-length album. Four of them are currently available on the “Man of the Year” EP on iTunes. You can see numerous performances of Davis on his YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/alexdavismusic), which he updates frequently. You can visit him at his website: www.luckyalex.com or befriend him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/luckyalexdavis.
You can here more of his music here: reverbnation.com/alexdavis