RIGHT NOW, it feels like we need the winsome, world-weary indie-pop of Dear Nora more than ever before.
If that sounds dramatic, consider that fans basically begged Portland singer/songwriter Katy Davidson to revive the band she shelved in 2009. Back then, Davidson thought she was done with Dear Nora for good.
Originally from rural Arizona, Davidson moved to Portland in 1995 for college, where she met friends and started making music. After graduation, she formed Dear Nora and recorded a handful of 7-inches and full-lengths that spanned the ’00s and earned a small but loyal following.
Davidson moved away from Portland in 2001 and returned in 2009, but she hadn’t toured behind her own music since 2011, when she released her sole LP under the name Key Losers. She continued writing songs, but took a break from the public side of music to prioritize other things in her life.
“I wanted to work on staying home and getting rooted in the city,” Davidson says. “Work a job and have a normal schedule. I really wanted to buy a house. That was a big goal of mine and I made it happen at the end of last year. I just had some goals that weren’t totally related to [music] and they felt really important to me... but I really started to miss performing.”
So she began toying with the idea of bringing Dear Nora back. At around the same time, she noticed a surge of interest in the band, from both old and new fans. (“The internet is powerful,” she says.) Younger artists started citing Davidson’s music as an influence, including punk-minded pop-rock acts Joyce Manor, Tony Molina, and Girlpool, who included a song called “Dear Nora” on their 2015 album Before the World Was Big.
Davidson says she had “straight-up no clue” about Dear Nora’s growing stature over the years. She is, of course, flattered.
“I don’t need to be validated, but I’m not gonna lie, it feels amazing to be validated and [to know] that these songs [are still] resonating with people,” she says. “That feels special.”
In addition to renewed interest in Dear Nora, her own simmering desire to tour, and ever-present encouragement from her “close-knit group of amazing friends,” Davidson received one final, strong signal from the universe that brought her old band back to life. It came via Owen Ashworth (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Advance Base), who wanted to reissue Dear Nora’s 2004 album Mountain Rock—a cult classic and Davidson’s personal favorite.
The reissue is out this week on Ashworth’s Orindal Records label, and it’s easy to hear why Davidson loves it. As originally released, Mountain Rock is just 32 minutes long, a breezy collection of 17 sparsely arranged indie-pop songs interspersed with the occasional noisy interlude. Recorded mostly in Arizona during the winter of 2003, it feels moonlit, melancholy, and oddly mystical.
Many of the album’s tracks pair gently plucked acoustic guitar with Davidson’s crisp melodies. The interludes are built from piano sounds, eerie guitar parts, and fuzzy vocal recordings. Throughout, Davidson sings of love, loss, and the desert landscape: jackrabbits, creek beds, the harvest moon. One song cribs a line from Snoop Dogg.
Ultimately, Mountain Rock endures years later for a few reasons: First, Davidson’s timeless melodies, which float and flutter beautifully. Second, the uncomplicated recording, which is so intimate you can hear fingers sliding up and down guitar strings. It feels like these songs are being sung just for you. And third, the unique lyrical wisdom of Davidson, who comes off as a sort of Gen X philosopher of the foothills. “Selfish and stoned, I go through life with hazy eyes,” she sings in “Hung Up.” “And I got a crazy idea for a new art project that I will never do.”
Who couldn’t relate to that?
“I think it’s the most cohesive of the [Dear Nora] albums,” Davidson says. “There’s a little bit of forlorn early-20s bullshit, but not a lot. Mostly, I can stand behind the lyrical content. Almost all of it. The melodies are good. I think it’s unique, and I think something was going right during that little window of time in 2003. I was tapping into some deeper stuff that still feels relevant.”