The Music Enjoyer: Brett Davis

The Music Enjoyer: Brett Davis

On the first of the month, or the weekday closest to it, I publish "The Music Enjoyer," which is a content series in which I ask music-oriented people for a bit of their musical DNA — the music they listened to when they were younger, the music they listen to now — and also for some practical info, like their favorite ways to find music and actually listen to it.

Last month's feature was Black Bubblegum podcast creator Jasmine Danielle, who explained her excellent and wide-ranging taste for pop music thusly: "I am not too cool for literally anything."

The Music Enjoyer: Jasmine Danielle
“The Music Enjoyer” is a series in which I ask music-oriented people for a bit of their musical DNA — the music they listened to when they were younger, the music they listen to now — and also for some practical info, like their favorite ways to find music and actually listen

And though today is April Fool's Day, I have no pranks to offer you here. I do have some musical history and lore from Brett Davis. Brett Davis is a comedian, writer and producer who has a hand in so many different creative endeavors that it would be unfair to call him a man "who wears many hats"—it's more like many hats, many pairs of shoes, many pairs of sunglasses, and many other sundry items. All the proverbial accessories, really.

Brett currently stars in The John Gentle Show, a faux radio show whose titular character is a blonde, beret-wearing "disgraced college poetry professor" taking over his mentor's old Sunday morning jazz program. If you want to get a sense of the vibe, a sample promo clip starts with Brett-as-Gentle saying "I don't see any beauty in the modern world" and ends with him seemingly squeezing out a tear after speaking the words "Teach me how to undo 9/11 in Roblox."

The John Gentle Show is an offshoot of the cherished and long-running internet radio show/podcast/indie media conglomerate The Best Show with Tom Sharpling, where Brett is a producer (he has a long history with the show, having called in to do character bits as a teenager). The Best Show, by the way, has been doing absolutely phenomenal things in the music realm lately—they're booking kickass guests like Water From Your Eyes and Fat Tony to perform live in-studio, and the vibes are raw and playful.

Particular shout out to the Best Show full album performance of Osees' Intercepted Message. That shit was delightful.

Brett's work is clearly steeped in the anarchic tradition of public access television, and he's definitely keeping the media-chaos flame alight at a time when independent productions are at risk of skewing way more Mr. Beast than UHF. And when it comes to his taste, he's no gatekeeper. He has a regular newsletter called On Repeat where he shares the music he likes—I am a subscriber and appreciate getting put onto bands like the internet-brewed jazz-funk group KNOWER.

ON REPEAT | Substack
Songs and other suggestions from Brett Davis. Spotify playlist here: Click to read ON REPEAT, a Substack publication with hundreds of subscribers.

Without further ado, let's learn a little more about Brett Davis as...The Music Enjoyer...

What music did you listen to when you were a kid?

I grew up in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. As a kid, I had a limited spectrum of music too, as I didn't have cable or the internet into I was well into high school. My mom played a lot of Lite FM and Z100 on the radio, but sometimes she'd put headphones on, close her eyes, and chain smoke Parliament Lights while blasting Led Zeppelin IV which is kinda cool in hindsight but was TERRIFYING from a child's eyes.

My sister liked the typical New Jersey untz untz club music stuff. I have a strong memory of being in the car with her as GOOMBA JOHNNY talked about the big party happening at HUNKABUNKA on KTU. Over the years, I've grown an appreciation for songs like this:

My brother was into hip-hop, metal and grunge and left behind his Metallica and LL Cool J CDs when he went to college. (I later realized they were the taste he was leaving behind.) On his visits home, he'd put me onto records by A Tribe Called Quest or Elvis Costello over the years.

As a tween who loved WWF, there was a lot of Limp Bizkit on my discman, but there was a gradual shift when I discovered Gorillaz' "Clint Eastwood" as it opened up an interest in underground hip-hop and rock. Not long after that The Strokes blew up and I forgot about Fred Durst. From there, I had two parallel interests musically: the 2000s indie rock world, and old-school hip-hop.

What music did you listen to when you were a teenager?

Watching Letterman and Conan every night turned me onto a lot of cool bands, as did my paper (!) subscription to The Onion which had the AV Club's NYC concert listings in the back. I'd pour over those, imagining I lived on the LES going to see TV on the Radio tomorrow, and Ted Leo the night after. (The closest I got was the vLES.)

I have NYCTV to thank for being a huge part of this transition too, as they had two shows I watched religiously: The Bridge and New York Noise. The Bridge was basically a look back at the '80s and '90s hip-hop scene through music videos and archival footage from Video Music Box, with Ralph McDaniels providing historical context. I was probably the only kid in my school who could go in-depth about the UTFO and Roxanne Shante feud.

New York Noise was a music video show produced by Shirley Braha, and it played a lot of the big indie hits but also songs by smaller NYC bands, like The Natural HistoryMy Teenage Stride, and My Favorite.

By the end of high school I got really good at worming my way into the things I liked through comedy characters I developed while not studying. I created this nerdy rapper character called MC Steinberg and I did regular bits on The Best Show on WFMU and Jake Fogelnest's KRock and FreeFM shows just by calling all the time, and the hosts deeply understanding the mind of a deeply bored 16-year-old in the suburbs.

Through MySpace, I even got MC Steinberg on New York Noise and spent a week interviewing coked-up bands at CMJ. (The Knife did not like me.)

How has your music taste developed since then?

I've had waves of interest in all sorts of esoterica. I feel like Jay Reatard opened up an interest in that world in college, lately I've been revisiting trip-hop & drum n bass stuff. A random sampling of my favorite artists: Broadcast, Shintaro Sakamoto, MF Doom, The Avalanches, Cleaners From Venus.

Lately, I've been really into Erika De Casier, Water From Your Eyes, Sweeping Promises, Special Interest, Nourished By Time, and Yaeji.

As a young adult I spent a lot of time going to live shows. I was a part of the New Brunswick, NJ DIY/punk scene in college, even though I didn't go to Rutgers, and applied the same MC Steinberg formula to a punk band called BANANAZZZ, and made a mockumentary with Kate Sweeney about it at SXSW. (My punk character Craig Evanhalen would decidedly not boycott this year's event.)

I got a backdoor into comedy by opening up for bands as these characters, eventually getting my own NYC public access show when The Chris Gethard Show went to cable, where we'd have bands like Mr Twin SisterAva LunaShowtime GomaA Place To Bury StrangersJerry Paper & Sunflower Bean perform.

What is your favorite way to listen to music? (i.e. speakers, headphones, digital vs analog, etc.)

I'm not much of an audiophile. When I buy a record, it's more of a gesture, you know? Certainly, when I have the means I will have something like this:

Where do you find new—or just 'new to you'—music?

WFMU (big fan of my friend Darren's show), NTS, Bandcamp's blog, and just going down wormholes!

Darren’s show
Playlists & archives

For instance, I just got into H31R and producer JWords has a deep catalog already despite being pretty young, so I'll be going through all of that.

HeadSpace, by H31R
14 track album

Also, my brother has a teenage daughter now with good taste, so I'm paying it forward. The first person in my family to listen to music that isn't already popular. I've been giving her come "cultural literacy" educating her on cool music from the past in the hopes that she can school me on cool new music when I'm old and out of touch! 

Thank you Brett! Check out The John Gentle Show via The Best Show's Patreon, and definitely subscribe to On Repeat. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend about it.