Kyle Austin Davis: Great Art and Bad Paintings
written by Autumn Marie Buysse
Kyle Davis went on tour playing keys for Chase Rice, is currently producing a series to help young musicians combat performance anxiety, and whenever he passes a flea market, he’s gotta stop to find the really, really bad paintings. This accomplished pianist grew up in Northeast Texas, in a little town called Mineola not far from where other incredible country musicians like Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert were raised. A few weeks ago, Kyle and I got the chance to sit down for bratwursts at Von Elrod’s and talk about everything from baseball to Nelly.
Nowadays, Kyle is traveling the world playing music, but before he ever wanted to be a musician, he wanted to be a baseball star. He jokes that his mom failed P.E., but his dad is a die-hard Cubs fan. It’s no wonder Kyle chose Von Elrod’s for lunch, because looking through the window, First Tennessee Park (the home of the Nashville Sounds) is only about a hundred yards away. Kyle grew up a left-handed athlete, which is usually an advantage in baseball. However, on his childhood team, there was another leftie on his team who also happened to be the coach’s son. There’s not many positions for lefties in baseball, so one day the coach sat him down and told him, “Kyle, you’re great, but you’re not gonna beat out my son at first base, and you’re not going to pitch every game, so you have to learn to challenge yourself to play positions you’ve never played before.” Instead of resenting the coach or his son, Kyle decided to make the best of it and became a damn good right fielder.
“There’s always gonna be a ‘coach’s son,’ but continue making yourself as versatile and as valuable as you can within your job and you’ll find success.” When Chase Rice needed a keys player who also play acoustic guitar and ganjo (that’s a guitar banjo, by the way), Kyle the keyboardist was immediately reminded of that talk with his coach. He went out, bought a ganjo, and learned how to play it within the span of 48 hours.
When Kyle discovered piano at age 14, he decided he would rather be more like Jerry Lee Lewis than Mark Grace. That doesn’t stop him from always trying to catch a baseball game when he’s on the road, no matter what city’s he’s in. Once he gets home from a tour, the very first thing he does is ask Alexa for the latest Cubs score.
Kyle spent his childhood pressing pie dough in the back of his dad's small town burger joint and messing around on an old out of tune family heirloom: his great grandparents’ baby grand piano. A true 90s baby, he was making mix-tapes of Nelly and Lynyrd Skynyrd on Windows Media Player as a teenager. He’s a Southern rock and hip-hop fan, but his favorite band is none other than AC/DC (even though they don’t have a piano player). After graduating high school, he started touring with Texan country bands. Once he moved to Nashville, he began immersing himself in songwriting and (his favorite perk of big cities) fast internet. Since moving to Music City, he’s been touring with incredible country acts like Chase Rice, Daniel Donato, and Elvie Shane, who recently signed to Broken Bow Records.
While Kyle does studio work, he was born to tour. He’s an excellent sleeper with a wanderlust spirit who loves being in the trenches and getting close with his bandmates. His invaluable stage skills have graced stages from France to the Pacific Ocean. As crazy as touring gets, Kyle always finds the time to sip an Old Fashioned at a cocktail bar or a Miller Lite at a baseball game. To this day, his dad texts him about the weather every time he reaches a new city.
A true creative, this keyboardist also happens to collect really bad paintings. His apartment walls are covered with awful pieces of art he’s collected over the years. “It reminds me every day that art is subjective . . . to one person a painting might have this amazing worth, to one person it might have zero.” Kyle applies this same attitude to music, because regardless of whether or not he likes a song, he tries to find something in the music he can appreciate. Musicians often get stuck in a merry-go-round of cynicism, which is why he does his utmost to look for the positives in the music that’s presented to him. Like many, he’s not a die hard fan of “Old Town Road,” but you’ll catch him jamming out to Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X and dissecting his favorite parts.
Eventually, Kyle wants to kickstart his solo project, but when he does, he wants to be able to give it all of his energy. Whenever he accepts a project he gives it his complete focus, leaving it all out on stage. A firm believer in handwork, heart, and hustle, he’s following Coach Herb Brooks example from Miracle: “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.”
OMG! I’m A Songwriter believes in giving back through music, and Kyle follows in this same tradition. As a teen, he dealt with performance anxiety on stage, but he’s since found a way to conquer it. Now he’s helping other young aspiring musicians defeat stage fear through his master class that’s launching in January 2020. “It’d be a shame if a kid is the next Mozart, but they’re so stricken with performance anxiety that they’re not able to break through.” His series called UpVibe will cover everything from getting out of your head to getting up on stage. UpVibe will debut in the Texan music school he began attending when he was 15 years old.
If you take away anything from Kyle, I hope you’re inspired by his unwavering open-mindedness and dedication. It’s rare to find a talent that’s simultaneously flexible and unwavering. Follow Kyle Davis on Instagram at @99redkeys and make sure to shoot a double take at the next virtuoso pianist you see— just to check if it’s him.