Winnipeg folk singer Grant Davidson, who goes by the stage name “Slow Leaves,” is in the midst of a Western Canadian tour and will be playing at The Root: Community Emporium on May 1.
The title of his latest album, Beauty Is So Common, comes from a Jorge Luis Borges story and Davidson says it helps give him perspective.
“It keeps me at arm’s distance from getting too wrapped up in the self-importance of creating something artistic. Sort of just to keep in mind that it’s just music,” he said. “I guess it just means for me that I want to make something beautiful with music, but I want to just remind myself that that can mean anything, that could be anything. I guess it sort of leaves the door open that way.”
The album’s title can be seen in a positive or negative light, and this duality is present throughout the record. At first the songs all sound pretty, with charming harmonies, bright, jangling piano and laid-back guitar slides. But subsequent, closer listens unearth themes of mistrust, self-doubt and cynicism, lying buried like shallow graves amongst in the lyrics.
“I would agree there’s a certain cynicism, I guess, though I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily deliberate. It sort of tends to creep in. I tried to make a fairly positive-feeling record. I feel like some of my past albums, they had a more sombre tone and I wanted to make a record that was safe listening for the depressed,” Davidson said with a laugh. “I guess in my wise old age of my mid-30s I start to realize that there are really no right answers to anything. So as much as I want to talk about things like I know what I’m talking about ... I try to catch myself because I really don’t know what I’m talking about and I don’t think anybody really does.”
Davidson’s songwriting is a central element of his music, with instruments playing supporting roles, cushioning the words and expressing their meaning.
“I definitely put a lot of attention into the words and I’m definitely very deliberate with what I want the words to communicate, so that’s always been important to me,” he said. “The words and the lyrics are featured in the song, rather than hidden, covered up with too much production.”
The album was recorded by only Davidson and his producer. The instruments were recorded one at a time, gradually building songs up. He says there were some discussions, but the sessions were informal and the songs unfolded serendipitously with little preconceived direction. Now Davidson is teaching these songs to his accompanying musicians and he says the songs will sound more stripped-down live.
As for his thoughts on the commonality of beauty?
“I think (beauty) is everywhere, just like ugliness is everywhere,” he said. “It just depends on which perspective you want to choose. I tend to flip between the two like a lot of people. It’s all about how you look at it, really.”