Instruments: Guitar, Voice, Piano, Bass
Genres: Folk, Roots, Singer/Songwriter
Slow Leaves is Winnipeg's Grant Davidson. His songs, genuine and honest, spare nothing in creating vivid images and heartfelt connections. His voice, warm and effortless, has been compared to the likes of Doug Paisley, Gene Clark and Brian Ferry. His latest release, 2014's Beauty is so Common, like a California country-folk record newly discovered in your parent's attic, blurs the line between new and old. With producer Rusty Matyas’ (Imaginary Cities) keen sense of pop harmony and arrangement supplying a modern vitality, the result is an album deceptive in its simplicity, rich in melody, and immediately classic. (--ManitobaMusic)
I'm so glad I had the opportunity to meet Grant. He talked about such really problems that every musician faces. I adore his music and getting to hear his music making process and his views on making music was a real treat; it taught me to appreciate it even more. I had such a great time even though we were both freezing together in the chilly wind while talking outside.
Before the interview, I just want you to watch a this video just to see how charming Grant is. I stumbled upon it while doing a little research before meeting him. (I can't help but chuckle every time he does something in the shots where he is wearing a turtleneck and drinking from his wine glass.)
Okay enough about me [ha, at least I think I'm clever] and how I felt talking with Grant and read the interview! I hope you enjoy! Please also check out Grant's social media pages! All listed at the end of the article!
Ashley: What’s your musical background and training?
Grant: I don’t really have much of one. When I was 15 I told my mom I wanted to learn guitar so she bought me a guitar and I took lessons for 2 years for classical guitar. I never really had any interest in theory; I just wanted to play like Jimmy Page. So I kind of quit and took it from there on my own; but it was pretty valuable because it taught me how to fingerpick which is something I do a lot of.
Ashley: Do you do any kind of practicing? How often do you push yourself?
Grant: I don’t do a lot of practicing. I just sit and grab an instrument and play around. Sometimes a certain idea comes along or some sort of interesting melody on the guitar and if I can’t quite to do it, but I hear it, I’ll practice to be able to figure out how I want to play it. I’ll keep practicing it until it’s second nature so I can sing over it. But no, I don’t really practice. But that being said when I started guitar I practiced all time. Well, I wouldn’t use the word practice because I would play any minute I had at home. I would fall asleep playing it. Sounds cheesy, but I really just loved the guitar. I had always wanted to play it, so once I started it never felt like practicing. And I wouldn’t say I would work on specific things I just played.
Ashley: When writing your own music, what is your process?
Grant: There are a couple ways but primarily it comes from sitting around with the guitar and strumming or finger picking, singing melodies or random things. That’s how I’ve written almost every song. Sometimes nothing comes from it but once in awhile there is a certain melody or a hook or a line or some little thing that kind of sparks my interests and I’ll start building around it. Sometimes it becomes a song, sometimes it doesn’t. The inspiration could come from something I’ll hear from another song or another band. If it’s framed a certain way I hadn’t thought of before or just gets me excited, I’ll want to do something like that. It always starts the same way with my guitar, playing around with different ideas. For me, the music always comes first. Music with some kind of vocal melody and then I’ll write the lyrics.
Ashley: I’ve never been able to do that. I think of a melody I like then write a lyrical line that’s doesn’t quite fit and the only way to fix it is by changing the melody so I’ll get stuck. I’ve never done it successfully.
Grant: You don’t want to change the melody?
Grant: Then you just have to pick words that fit the melody. I run into that too, I’ve had big headaches that never actually turned into anything because I couldn’t get past a two-syllable line to finish a phrase. For example if the cadence of the song needs a word with the emphasis on the second syllable but I could only find words that emphasize the first syllable that rhymed. I couldn’t finish the song just based on that because I didn’t have the right cadence.
Ashley: Who inspires you musically? You mentioned you sometimes listened to other bands for songwriting ideas.
Grant: There are lots bands that I’ve loved over the years. I got into collecting music years ago when a friend of mine with a record player and a great record collection got me excited about records. This was 10 or 15 years ago, but it was a musical awakening because suddenly I would go digging through records and pick something that looked interesting. The scope of music that I was exposed to grew exponentially because I would find anything that sounded interesting to me like: 70s music, early German electronic, ambient records, all sorts of different jazz and everything else. Stuff I had never really explored too much before that. In high school my tastes were limited compared to what they are now. I could name all sorts of stuff, but often it comes from a certain record I fall in love with. It could be the songwriting, the production quality, the instrumentation, or the overall feel of it. I’ll have it in my head while I’m writing my own songs. I’m always consciously or subconsciously wanted [my music] to fit in the context of the accumulated records I love.
For me music is about the feeling. I mean that’s how it is for everyone, but I put much more emphasis on the feel than the technical prowess or dazzling people with my skill. I’m not a virtuoso. Music that feels the best to me could be two notes just repeated sparsely as long as there is a certain feel. I like music that makes me feel like I’m getting into a warm bath. That’s what I try to create generally with my music.
Ashley: What accomplishments are you most proud of, musically?
Grant: I hope that the best things are yet to come for me. I kind of started looking at music more seriously and make it a primary occupation in the last couple of years so I’m not a spring chicken, but I’m not old. I have a 5-year-old son and a wife and it’s become more complicated. It’s hard to go on the road and right now there isn’t very much money in it so it’s been challenging. I’m coming to it late so in that respect I feel like I’m still doing a lot of the ground work of building before I can really hopefully reap some kind of benefits. I don’t meant financially, that would be nice too but you know what I mean.
For sure there are definitely some high water marks for me. This year I’ll be playing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I grew up going to that festival and most people or musicians who go daydream of some day of being up on that stage. That’s a pretty big [deal] for me. I also started touring, which was another big thing. I went from playing around town to going on the road, which is a whole other experience.
What I’m most proud of is taking that leap and quitting my job. It was with support and suggestion from my wife. We’ve been together for a long time and we go through these cycles of doing different jobs but always feeling like I’m rotting on the inside. Like I’m wasting some potential I would regret if I didn’t give it a proper chance to fulfill it and explore that part of me. It was a big decision: quitting my job and I’m really proud of doing it. It felt like a really big risk. It’s something I still struggle with, I have friends who have nice cars and who go on trips; but my wife and I have had this philosophy of trying to do what we feel is most important and separating it as much as we can from money and making decisions not based on financial reasons. Hopefully the opportunities get better and better.
Ashley: I think that’s the hardest thing, making the big leaps. I have the hardest time putting my music out there. I just can’t get past that fear of people hearing it.
Grant: There is no way of getting around that. Some people spend a lot of time building their craft and working on it before they put out anything. I guess there are kind of two ways.
Like with the YouTube thing, some people just throw it all out there from the beginning. Some people just have the personality that others catch on to. That’s not for me. In fact when I made my first record, I recorded it with my brother-in-law. It was a very low budget thing, solo singer-songwriter stuff. I was pretty proud of it at the time. We were making them one at a time just burning CD-Rs. It sounds bad so I don’t want anyone to hear it now. It’s no where to be found other than a few people who have it. I don’t like putting something out unless it really represents what I want it to. I think there is a risk if something’s not quite ready or if the ideas are only half-baked or if it’s just not there. I don’t know if there is a right answer for that but that’s how I’ve always felt.
Back then there was no YouTube. 15 years ago, I was just playing songs for my friends late at night. I don’t know if I would have put stuff on YouTube then either, it’s hard to imagine. It’s the idea of releasing, like I’ve said, I’ve hidden that record from when I first started.
Actually going back to your last question with what I’m most proud of, my last record I feel like I finally made a record I am really proud of. I put out something I could 100% back up because it felt like it was fully realized. All the other albums I made prior, I felt there were compromises in different ways and in varying degrees. That was my fourth record, and the first one has disappeared, a lost classic maybe [laughs]. That was pretty important to me to finally have something and it also goes to show how hard it is. You can’t stop there; you always need to move forward. It takes a long time to realize those things. At least, for me and for a lot of people it does. You have to start putting stuff out there. You want to be proud of it but who knows if you’ll be proud of it 5 or 10 years later. All that matters is that you are proud of it at the beginning and even that’s hard.
Ashley: You mentioned you had gone on tour, had you had your son at the time? What’s the challenge of having family and going on tour for a long period of time?
Grant: Where there is are few. Number one, I’m basically a stay-at-home dad. I quit my job so I can stay home and take care of our son while my wife works full-time. It frees me up to work on music in the evenings. Going away means having to find some kind of childcare. That’s the tough part. I have our family chip in and it’s hard leaving feeling like you’re leaving a burden behind. Not my son, but putting that responsibility on other people. I can’t go on tour for a long time for that reason. It’s hard because some bands, especially if you get involved with labels, they want you to be touring a lot so it’s hard to get involved with that.
The other real challenge would be financially. I wouldn’t say the money is pouring in on my end and especially the way music works for the first little while you are investing more that you are getting back. Everything is expensive like making records and applying for showcases. It’s a real financial hit when you have many moments where you’re like “Why am I doing this? Why don’t I get a reliable job?”
Ashley: Once your son gets older will you try to go on longer tours?
Grant: Yes for sure. He’s in kindergarten now and next year he’ll be in grade one. He’ll be in school until three which helps alleviate the logistics of whose going to take care of him. Hopefully it will get easier that way, I don’t know. We will see.
Ashley: What advice would you give to beginners who are starting to perform or who want to get their music out there?
Grant: I don’t know much advice other than you just have to perform. Performing in front of people is it’s own topic, an art in itself. Just like learning how to be good at piano or guitar or singing, you have to just start and practice. You have to do it a lot before things start getting easier and more polished. There really is no way around just starting out. You just have to keep doing it. Getting comfortable in front of a mic and knowing how to present yourself on a stage, there is really no short cut. Some people are naturally more comfortable but I think for most people it’s just a nerves thing. People get really nervous. You’ve got to start out in comfortable environments, in front of friends and family. People who won’t boo you off the stage, you just have to keep doing it.
Ashley: That’s what everyone keeps telling me, but I’ll need to hear it 100 more times before I start to believe it.
Grant: Yeah when I first started playing guitar and I had all these songs. I was terrified of playing in front of people. I remember my sister and I would have these house parties, back with I was 15 or 16 and my friends would want to hear my music. I would take a select group of 5 or 6 people down into my room in the basement, and it’s funny thinking back to this, but I would have to have the lights off. I just didn’t want to see anyone’s faces. It’s so nerve wracking. That’s how I first started.
Ashley: Do you still do that?
Grant: No [laughs] I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable.
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