A conversation with Grant Davidson (aka Slow Leaves)

Slow Leaves (Grant Davidson)“One more,” he says “What could it hurt?” Our evening has taken a long glimmering meander through a dozen vinyl records and is now clearly destined for the bottom of another 2-litre Honey Jack. “I like everything you’ve put on tonight. It’s all great stuff. I feel like you would enjoy my friend’s music, maybe he’d be a good fit for your label.” and with those words, I was introduced to the humble brilliance of Grant Davidson.

It is yet another spirited night, several months later, when I get to finally shake hands with the soft spoken songsmith. Grant’s latest release “Beauty Is So Common” was recorded under the moniker Slow Leaves. A Winnipeg boy born and raised, he evokes a country-folk feeling through the combination of fingerpicked guitar, timeless vocal texture and tightly-woven storytelling.

He’s charming, if slightly awkward, as he stands just off the Dakota Tavern stage this night, waiting for his turn to the mic. Then as he straps his guitar and steps to the front, the awkwardness melts away in a flood of white pot lights. His songs get a warm reception of toe tapping head nods, and his banter coaxes laughs from the early crowd. After playing the last three nights in New York City, he is back in Toronto for the last show of an extended tour. Obviously we took this opportunity to celebrate by grabbing an extra beer or three following his set.

On the subject of touring, I mention labels will tend to want an artist that can support an album on the road 365 days a year. He’s quick to respond “Well no, I’m not going to do that. I have a family and that’s important to me, but my success is also important to my family. My wife is the reason I can do this, she’s an angel, and she made the decision to support my pursuit of music full-time. I tour as much as I can, as much as is necessary, but I need my family.”

We carry on name dropping a few of the industry folks currently singing his praises so I ask who he might like to work with. “On this last record [Beauty Is So Common] I sought out the guy I wanted. I knew the sound I was going for and Rusty [Matyas of Imaginary Cities] was it. We worked really well together, and we got the result I was after.” He also said of other producers in the genre “[they] like to put their stamp on a record. It’s going to be done all their way, and I don’t necessarily need that, I know what I want. But it’s always worth having the conversation if someone is interested.”

Well, interested they seem to be. Premiering Thursday, November 26, 2015 on The JUNO Awards YouTube Channel is a five-part documentary series following the three finalists for the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class. For a week in October, the JunoTV cameras followed winners Derrival, Fortunate Ones, and Slow Leaves (Grant Davidson) as they met with Canadian music industry leaders at Canada’s Music Incubator, Coalition Music. I asked him what they were doing as part of this commitment to his progress: “Well that has yet to be seen. I know what I’m doing musically, but navigating the industry is my challenge.”

This from an artist who has been self-managed for the better part of a decade, with no label financing, professional press or publicity, released three full length albums, booked gigs in major cities across North America, and an upcoming showcase at the 2016 Juno Awards. Personally, I think he’s navigating the industry just fine.

I mentioned that I had envisioned an opening sequence to a TV show like ‘The Sopranos’ using his song “Neighbourhood Watch”, referencing Alabama 3 as being relatively unknown before “Woke Up This Morning” got the theme treatment. “I would love to see something like that happen. My songs are all stories, they all paint a picture, and if someone can conceptualize how that gets represented visually, I’m all about it.”

Be sure to check out Slow Leaves this week on JunoTV, and enjoy “Neighbourhood Watch” below.