Nicholas David gets goosebumps easily. Not when he talks about finishing third on The Voice, or even when recalling details from the show such as the time Bill Withers gave him tips on how to sing “Lean On Me.” But at one point during our interview upstairs at The Happy Gnome, his favorite root beer spot in St. Paul, he rolls up his sleeve. “I was playing keys for White Iron Band on the West Bank,” says the 32-year-old musician and father of soon-to-be-three. “And I was getting hammered every night. And the one night I wouldn’t drink I would feel this strange sensitivity in the room.” He shows me the little bumps. “I just started asking, ‘Who are you? I want to know you.’”
Did you get that feeling when you were on stage? No. I would hear it the one night that I wouldn’t party. That’s when I would get really sensitive. I would ask, “What are you?”
Who were you talking to? Yourself? A spirit? That’s what I think that is. That’s one and the same. That’s the sticky tricky part.
And now you don’t drink at all anymore? Hell, no. I was sober when we had our first kid. I was sober for the first three years. And then my grandfather passed away at the end of November 2010. For two weeks I was drinking his drink: brandy and Hamm’s beer. And I was just getting bombed. And I was like, “What are you doing?” And I remember the second I became sober again, the spirit was like, “Are you ready again?” Nothing bad happened. I was just getting fat and distracted.
“I fought it hard, but they took my beard up. They took my hair up. They took my mustache up. I had a tough time with that.”
You are clearly drawn to ecstatic feelings. You sang “God Bless America” during halftime of the Vikings-Packers game at the Metrodome. You started the song on your knees. Why? I don’t know where that came from. I’m very sensitive to energy. And feeling that room, I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of hearts beating in this room right now. A lot of hearts.” Then thinking I should take my shoes off, ’cause that helps me chill. I asked the dude if I could take my shoes off: “I won’t go full barefoot, I’ll leave my socks on.”
So you took your shoes off on the sideline? Yeah. Took my snakeskins off and handed them over and walked out there. And it’s like you should kneel. And I thought that might look kind of weird but OK. And I asked the dude, “Can I kneel?” Next thing I knew I found myself singing and I was going for it, and at “stand beside her” I got up. And maybe it was almost cheesy, but I just did it. It was emotional.
You started in the jam band scene here in the Twin Cities with The Big Wu. It seems like our jam bands are more about booze than they are about psychedelics. I remember in high school, I was listening to all that heavy stuff—Marilyn Manson, Sepultura, Pantera, Ministry, Butthole Surfers. And I thought it was just way too heavy. Like way too much. Then I started to really like jazz, and then I really started to like The Grateful Dead and early Pink Floyd. I was a junior in high school and I remember going to the Cedar Cultural Center and they had, I think it was called Magic Lantern. They had all this Dr. Seuss shit going. And I was like, “Wow, there’s like people not caring about what people look like or what they’re doing. And there’s bearded men dancing in circles and they’re just dancing. I dig it.”
The way you looked on The Voice initially wasn’t as refined as it is now. I fought it hard, but they took my beard up. They took my hair up. They took my mustache up. I had a tough time with that. That’s one thing I hate is people asking me to shave. My gals that I’ve been with, my mom, my whole life, since I started growing a beard people are like, “You should shave.” Look, I don’t tell you what to do!
How long have you worn your beard shaggy? I don’t know. Ever since I could grow a beard I’ve wanted a beard. And it just kind of came. And I did start the tradition of growing a beard out when we’re pregnant. And I did the audition a little after our second was born, and I almost shaved before the audition, but I didn’t. And then when I’m at the audition, one of the gals said, “Don’t change your look at all.” But eventually they start to get you TVed up a little.
“People say I’m handsome under here. . . . But if it’s The Voice, that shit shouldn’t matter."
Did you like the clothes they gave you? Most of the clothes are mine. We just had so much fun because they’re like, “What the hell style are you?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” They’re like, “Well, who do you try to dress like when you get up?” I said, “Me?”
Well, the narrative is going to be TV cleaned you up and gave you confidence. Do you think if you would’ve shaved you would’ve won? I don’t know. People say I’m handsome under here or whatever. But if it’s The Voice, that shit shouldn’t matter.
But . . . But it does. It really does.
For part of the show, it seemed like you had to overcome an internal conflict about competition. No. I was a three-sport athlete during high school. I just never looked at The Voice like it was a competition. During the knockout rounds, I actually had to battle my friends. But I never looked at it like a battle. I looked at it like, “let’s sing a duet.”
You didn’t view it as a competition, so you don’t think of it as losing, but were you relieved not to win? Maybe a little bit, because they’re locked in pretty good. And I have a little more freedom.