Top Scholars, Bottom Dollars: Jake Davis and his post-college quest for musical solvency

A candid Q&A with Newmarket resident Jake Davis.

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Few weeks back, Jake Davis of the Whiskey Stones, came into the WKXL studios and played a few songs. I was looking forward to hearing Davis, 25, sing again after a couple years. I always liked his voice, sort of husky but controlled with really smart lyrics and strong arrangements.

Immediately after Davis played “Top Scholar Bottom Dollars,” a song about getting slapped across the face with a grueling dose of work force reality, Davis, a recent graduate from UNH with two environmental degrees, responded to my follow-up questions in a way that touched me.  His emotions were palpable, familiar even, as he described the savage, spinning, debt-saddled world many graduates live in as they try to get ahead without losing touch with who they are – or hope to be. 

Soundcheck wasn’t done with the Newmarket resident so we reached out with a few more questions.     

Here is what Davis had to say.

Q. Do you find yourself writing more or less – with as much passion or less – during times of trouble? Or do you operate best when everything’s cool? 

I try to carve out a little time for writing every day, no matter how I’m feeling, the passion is always there. However, it is much easier to think clearly and see an idea all the way

through when things are going well. Writing a song requires a significant amount of mental energy, equal parts critical thinking and imagination. With only so much time in

the day, focusing on creative pursuits can be a challenge if you’re spread too thin, worried about money, trudging through family issues, or distracted by the other

obstacles life throws at you. There is a silver lining in trouble times. A good story is the heart of songwriting, and in order to tell a good story, the protagonist needs an obstacle

to overcome. Experiencing a troubled time is the chance to be the hero of your own story and, occasionally, makes for good song fodder. 

Q: Some of your new music touches on getting under that rock of debt, post-graduation. Tell me how you’ve musically been working through that?

I had the title, Top Scholars Bottom Dollars, in my back pocket for a long time. The more I write, the less I write by myself. To orient myself in the direction I wanted to take the

song, I did a sensory writing exercise, about a diploma being dropped in a mail slot. I was able to boil that down into several verses, more or less about the common frustrations of going to

college to “get ahead in life” (as the cliche goes), just to come out on the other side with deepening debt.

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Jake Davis

Q: What came as the biggest surprise after graduating from college and entering the work field?

The biggest surprise entering the work field is how little time one has for to pursue their passions after the work day is done. To take care of yourself properly, work 8+ hrs,

sleep 8 hrs, balance a social life, and exercise creative endeavors requires a lot of juggling.  

Q: The Stone Church in Newmarket, where you live, has a wonderful music scene. As does The Word Barn in Exeter. Has that region always been a good place for a musician to set up shop?

The amount of talent on NH’s quaint coast is pretty incredible. The Stone Church is a great a place. I’ve really been able to cut my teeth there over the past couple of years.

They gave me my first gig in a music club (I’d played some bars before) as a weeknight opener. Now we headline, and will be May 26. I met all the Whiskey Stones in that place. Fiddler, banjo player, and rabble-rouser, Old Time Dave Talmage hosts a weekly bluegrass jam, Tuesday nights. Our lead guitar player, John Webb, is the host of blues night, the third Monday of each month. Just recently, we started entertaining a Saturday brunch, at Block Six in Portsmouth. Im very thankful that the region values its art community as much as it does. The proximity to the I-95 corridor isn’t bad, either, if you’re looking to hit the road.

Q. What kind of music has the Whiskey Stones not played that you hope to tackle someday?

I would love get a little help from our friends, add horns, and some back-up singers to play a big soul show. There are times where I’ve described our music as sweet, salty, and soulful, so it would be fun to kick the soul up to 11 sometime. I’m not sure if my voice is powerful enough to execute a sound that big, but I’d love to try.

Q. Any last words of advice for all the seniors graduating from UNH soon?

 Develop a vision for what sort of impact you’d like to have in your community, and be patient with the pace of  your long term goals.


About this Author

Rob Azevedo

Rob Azevedo is an author, poet, columnist and radio host. He can be reached sitting in his barn at Pembroke City Limits and