RYAN BOWMAN, MyToba.ca
This is the second in a five-part series leading up to the Real Love Summer Fest, which will take place at Gimli Motorsports Park from June 6 to 8. For tickets and more information about the festival visit www.reallovewpg.com/summerfest
“I’m splitting at the seams, an invalid with a dream, I’m a captor of birds that land. I do nothing at all, for something that I call…the life of a better man.”
“The song is about this guy who fantasizes about the life of a better man, about what he could accomplish if he only had the courage to grab hold of his dreams and take that risk,” Davidson says from a coffee shop in the south end of his hometown.
At the time he wrote the song, Davidson may as well have been talking about himself; working full-time at a “soul-sucking” job and running laps on the proverbial hamster wheel of middle-class society, he had little time – and even less energy – to foster his passion for making music.
It was shortly after writing Life of a Better Man, however, that Davidson mustered the courage to grab hold of his dreams. The risk, in his case, was quitting his job and giving up the comfortable life it afforded him, his wife and his four-year-old son.
“I always had the feeling that I had a sort of potential with music that I’d never fully explored or given a chance to,” he says. “I didn’t want to turn 40, or turn 50, and say, ‘I should have gone for it.’”
Davidson’s foray into music began at a young age, when he would string together single-note melodies on his recorder and make up lyrics as he went. But it wasn’t until he stumbled upon his brother’s copy of Led Zeppelin II that he fully realized how much music meant to him.
“It kind of blew my mind,” he recalls. “That really opened the doors for me, and I began taking a more pro-active approach to music.”
In Davidson’s case, that meant learning how to play the guitar and performing for friends. Then came his first real gig – a short set of originals and covers (“Ben Harper and Dave Matthews type stuff”) at a local coffeehouse.
“It was horrible and awkward and exciting all at the same time,” he says. “You always remember the first one.”
By the time he was in his early 20s, Davidson was collecting records – sometimes buying up to five in a single week. As his collection expanded, so too did his knowledge of – and appreciation for – all kinds of music.
“It’s one of those things you just get into, but I always looked at it as educating myself,” he says. “Whenever I’d find something that excited me it would open up ideas for writing music and filling the gaps of what had come before me and there was this thirst to keep finding new stuff.
“I consider that my real musical awakening.”
It’s also around this time that Davidson was introduced to some of the songwriters who would come to influence his own style, which could best be described as American folk with underscores of country and pop. Like most folk artists, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams are among Davidson’s favourites, but so are lesser-known “unsung heroes” including Gene Clark and Mickey Newbury.
“Everybody that I always admired had the attitude that you come where you come from, and that’s who you are. It’s less about being perfect and more about having style and feel.”
As he began to develop his own style and feel, Davidson was forced to balance his music with the life of a typical 20-something. After graduating with a bachelor of environmental science degree from the University of Manitoba, he worked a number of “menial” jobs, none of which could hold his attention the way music could. And while he continued to make music – and even managed to put out a pair of albums under his own name (2009’s Tired Limbs for Ashes and 2011’s Dust and Violets) – the elusive life of a better man always took a back seat to his other priorities.
After sitting down with his wife, Davidson decided to give up his job as an EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher and pursue music full-time.
And Slow Leaves was born.
“I really wanted this to be a new beginning, to start fresh,” says Davidson, adding that the name comes from a Jorge Luis Borges poem. “It’s hard to come up with something that you like that actually represents what you’re doing and it kind of jumped out at me. It had the right cadence, the right sort of feel and ambiguous meaning I was looking for.”
With his new identity in place, Davidson got to work on the songs that would become Beauty is so Common, set for release this September.
Unlike his past efforts, which ended up sounding like “basement recordings,” he decided to invest in professional recordings and teamed up with Rusty Matyas of Imaginary Cities. He also hired an East Coast publishing company to promote his album and landed a new agent with connections from Vancouver to Halifax.
“With this record, I really wanted to do things right,” Davidson says. “I’ve made records on a shoestring budget before and I wanted to hire the right people and give myself a chance to do actually something with this one.”
So far the investment has paid off.
Life of a Better Man, the album’s first single, has garnered substantial airtime on CBC Radio 2 and recently peaked on the station’s weekly Top 20 chart. Slow Leaves also has several festival appearances lined up, including Real Love Summer Fest (June 6 to 8) in Gimli, Man., and North by Northeast in Toronto (June 13 to 22), and will tour the country on the heels of album release in September.
“Now that there’s a little bit of momentum, it feels good, it feels like the sacrifice was worth it,” Davidson says. “I think just taking the risk alone was worth it, but it feels like redemption in a way.
“I feel like this is only the beginning.”
– For more information about Slow Leaves slowleaves.com
– For more information about Real Love Summer Fest visit the festival’s website