Orba Squara, otherwise known as New York-based artist Mitch Davis, hit on some career "Perfect Timing" when his track of that name, from his 2007 debut "sunshyness," was featured in the first international TV campaign for the iPhone. Now, as he prepares to release "The Trouble With Flying" on Oct. 27, he's reeling from another unexpected opportunity -- the chance to record with his all-time favorite artist, rocker Billy Squier, who performed on the title track and the song "Tell Me." Here Billboard.com offers an exclusive listen of "New Guitar" from Orba Squara's upcoming album. We also sat down with Davis to talk about working with Squier and guitars new and old.
Besides the obvious themes in "New Guitar," what inspired it, what were you thinking about in a broader sense?
It's funny, I was actually thinking about my guitar. I sat down with [it], started to write a song - it was my first acoustic guitar I ever had and it's still my favorite - and it just kind of flowed out. It was just inspired by the simplest thing that was just in my face. And of course it started with thinking about the guitar, and then became ruminations about what's old and what's new and what's better and what's worse.
You made the new record largely with old instruments that you've collected, what instruments did you use?
In "New Guitar" I mostly use guitars, some toy pianos; but some of the other songs wouldn't have existed if not for some instruments that I found and bought that were unique. "The Trouble With Flying" came from the viola da terra, a Portuguese instrument that's kind of like a guitar but has 15 strings; that inspired the sound for that song. I don't use them necessarily in the way they're intended to be [used]. For me, the viola da terra inspired a front porch, bluesy Americana kind of thing, even though it's a Portuguese folk instrument that usually plays very different things than what I did with it.
How do you find and choose the instruments you use, and what are some of your favorite discoveries?
These days how I choose them is I look for the crappiest, most beaten up guitars that look like they've fallen into a fire. It kind of comes full circle. You start out playing cheapo guitars, then you get better and get better guitars, then you get the best one, then you think now this sounds too clean, now I want something dirtier. So I stumble on something from the 1900s that sounds gritty, then I get used to that and look for something even dirtier. And the thing is I get these guitars really cheap, and you have to take a chance, see if they have that character. Some guitars are just old guitars, but with some, the years of struggle that they've been through come through when you play.
What's the first song you learned to play?
For some reason, the first song that I remember trying to figure out, before I even understood how chords and notes really worked, was "God of Thunder" by Kiss.
What was it like working with Billy Squier, and why is he one of your musical heroes?
That was amazing. He's my all-time favorite artist. I don't know how that happened, [his] was the first concert I ever went to. I was obsessed with his albums, somehow I just connected with that music and it became my favorite. It was probably the easiest, best collaborative working relationship I've ever had. I would never have expected to have him playing on my record at all. He was happy in his retirement, but he liked what I was doing fortunately. I had a couple of songs -- on "The Trouble With Flying" I had a part that I thought would be good for him to play, and on the song "Tell Me," I actually wrote that middle section for him to sing. And now I'm recording new Billy Squier songs for him, he's been writing now and we've been recording. Really cool.
Finally, what does Orba Squara mean, and why did you choose the name instead of just using your own name?
I wanted a name that didn't clue you in as to what you're going to hear. I wanted something that's almost like a Rorschach test, you hear the name and you make it what you want it to mean. You know, you say "what's your band called" and you say "Mastodon," you know what you're going to hear. I didn't want people to hear the name and say I don't like that kind of music I don't want to listen to it. People can interpret the music how they want, and the name isn't telling them it's a genre they're not supposed to listen to. The meaning of it was almost stream of consciousness.