"I've always wanted to be a torch singer. It's because I've always wanted to wear a really slinky dress," jokes Maura Davis. "But I don't know if I could really do that in Denali."
Sequined piano-bar attire aside, Ms. Davis has all the makings of a modern-day torch singer: a cache of broken love songs and a husky, tortured, jazz-informed voice that warbles and wails its way through its own angelic high range.
Maura is the singer/guitarist/pianist for the Richmond, VA-based Denali, which combines her gutsy vocals with powerful, distorted, gripping rock guitars, and solid drumming, sometimes embellished with swanky piano and electronic beats. The band formed in 2001, when she asked her brother, Keeley, the singer/guitarist for rock band Engine Down, if he wanted to work out some songs she'd been writing. When Engine Down/Sleepytime Trio drummer Jonathan Fuller and guitarist Cam DiNunzio heard what they came up with, Denali became a full-blown band, eventually signing to Jade Tree and, earlier this year, releasing a gorgeous, self-titled record.
It's no wonder Denali became such a force in such a short a time; Maura Davis is a formidable talent, transforming songs into desperate pleas with the smoothest, most tragic swoop of her voice--she's able to turn churning, emotive rock music into modern, cold-sounding break-up knells. Not surprisingly, Ms. Davis started out to become an opera singer, attending UNC-Greensboro for classical training, but she quit early on. "I decided I didn't want to be an opera singer. I got tired of being told how to sing, and I've just really wanted to be a torch singer. I'm a big fan of Ella and Billie--it's just so smooth and sexy or something, and opera wasn't very sexy to me--it's kinda freakish, I think."
Though the jazz and opera backgrounds aren't overt in Maura's voice, they expose themselves most in the fluctuations of her vibrato, and she writes many of her lyrics about the calamity of love. Recently, for example, she gleaned inspiration from a movie. "The other day, I was watching Love Story. It was so sad, I had to start writing this sad song. But each song is never just one type of feeling, and my lyrics are a little more aggressive than I am, I guess I like to come off as a bitch. No, not really--but I'm pretty passive, so maybe in some way I aspire to be that way," she laughs. Spoken like a true diva.