Dear Nora has always thrived in a protean state. Dear Nora is a band whose only constant member has been Katy Davidson (songwriting/vocals/guitar); since its birth in 1999, the band has featured a cast of rotating members.
In Summer 1999, Davidson started Dear Nora in Portland, Oregon, with her friends Marianna Ritchey (drums/vocals) and Ryan Wise (bass). They named the band after a Lewis & Clark College music professor who had provided them much inspiration and friendship. After establishing themselves on the scene in Portland, and releasing two 7”s and a handful of self-released cassettes, the band recorded We’ll Have a Time in San Francisco with Amy Linton (Aislers Set), and released it on Magic Marker Records in early 2001. This debut was doubly calm and boisterous, marked mainly by mellifluous melodies and uncomplicated lyrics.
Driven by a desire for a change, Davidson relocated to San Francisco just after We’ll Have a Time was released. There Davidson began playing unaccompanied shows, still using the name Dear Nora. She wrote and recorded The New Year, which resembled much more the attitude and spirit of Dear Nora’s pre-We’ll Have a Time recordings. The New Year was homemade, recorded by Davidson on an 8-track cassette recorder, and echoed lo-fi influences of the GBV-kind, with nature/fantasy-based lyricism and short songs that ran together as if they were not separate units but threads in a woven narrative. Dear Nora released The New Year in time to tour Japan with Mirah and the Fairways in Spring 2002. For this tour, Dear Nora featured its original line-up, plus Jake Longstreth, another long-time Portland friend, on guitar. Davidson also toured as Dear Nora unaccompanied during the latter half of 2002, supporting both Mates of State and Family Outing on their U.S. tours.
Davidson continued the touring machine through 2003. She formed a new version of the band, which featured San Francisco-based friends Gretchen Hildebran (bass/vocals) and Antonio Roman-Alcalá (drums). This incarnation of Dear Nora toured the U.S. and Sweden in 2003. In December of that year, Davidson retreated to the arid wilds of Arizona (her home state) to record Mountain Rock, a stripped-down, simple, and mostly acoustic record involving a metaphorical odyssey through a mountain wilderness. With this record, Davidson revealed an implicit weirdness that had not been fully disclosed on previous releases.
Davidson released Mountain Rock in the spring of 2004, and soon after formed the final incarnation of the band, including Davidson (vocals/guitar), Longstreth (guitar), Roman-Alcalá (drums), Jaime Knight (bass), and Nora Roman (vocals/percussion). This version of Dear Nora was the tightest and perhaps most psychedelic to date. Based on local San Francisco performances, the band drew comparisons to anything from Fugazi to the Grateful Dead. This band became a mainstay on the San Francisco live music scene throughout 2004-05, though was unable to take to the road because of discordant schedules. So, in the autumn of 2005, Davidson toured unaccompanied once more through the U.S. with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and made a solo trek to Australia.
When Davidson returned from these tours in Winter 2005, she resumed work on what would be the final Dear Nora album, There is No Home. The record, somewhat sonically akin to Mountain Rock, also reveals a dark side to which Davidson had only furtively hinted on previous releases. There is No Home is about a landscape beautiful and damaged. In all the ways that Mountain Rock is about hope and magic in nature, There is No Home is about nature in ruin, and dashed hope.
Davidson’s style has always been heady and ethereal, awkward and beautiful, sarcastic and kind. These stylistic traits have survived Dear Nora’s different shapes and forms, wending their way through time, creating a constant aesthetic through a series of surface changes.
In spite of this, Davidson decided There is No Home would be Dear Nora’s final release because her songwriting and orchestration style had veered far from its original benchmark, far enough to be established as a something new. Davidson will continue to make music, both on her own and with friends. Among other outlets, she has started a Los Angeles-based project with long-time friend Marianna Ritchey, aptly called Katy and Marianna.