Name: Slow Leaves aka Grant Davidson
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Slow Leaves' new album Holiday is out September 10th via Birthday Cake and Make My Day. Click here to listen.
If you enjoyed this interview with Slow Leaves and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, twitter and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I don’t know where the impulse to create comes from. Sometimes it jumps seemingly out of nowhere. I also sometimes get ideas or inspiration from other people’s work — books, music, movies, etc.
For instance, I heard a song by Donnie and Joe Emerson come up on a playlist and knew I immediately had to write a song. That was the beginning of my song “Losing My Mind”.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Most of my musical ideas come from playing around on the guitar or piano without expectation, and once in a while I stumble upon an idea or melody that I want to work further.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I don’t have any rituals beyond recognizing that it doesn’t always come easy, and sometimes you just have to get to work even when it feels like work. That said, reading and exercising are two things I rely on to try and stay in a somewhat healthy frame of mind.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Often, the lyrics will come once the music and melody are mostly complete. Sometimes a phrase or a line will emerge with the melody and the rest of the lyrics will extend from there. Other times, it’s more of a struggle to find words that fit the emotional mood of the song and have the right cadence to fit the melody. Some songs take minutes to write, others months.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
A good lyric for me is one that makes me feel a real emotion, a word or phrase that triggers a genuine emotional response. I’m always hoping to conjure that kind of a response in my writing. I’ll know a line isn’t good enough if I don’t feel good singing it.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
My best work always comes from a moment of inspiration that brings with it a vague notion of something I have to uncover, a picture with hazy outlines that I need to see more clearly.
In these cases, I’m writing with a purpose, a direction, and can sink deeper and deeper into the process. That’s when it feels least like work and more like a compulsion to see a concept realized.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes, this happens. If the new idea is interesting enough, I’ll pursue it. I have songs that I’ve completely re-written or restructured based on a surprise idea that emerged well into the process.
I think you always have to be ready to abandon your work if a better path emerges.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I don’t call it spirituality but I understand why some creative people do. There has to be an element of going beyond what can easily be expressed with words. With music especially, there has to be a certain letting go of the intellect and an opening up to something bigger than yourself.
Some people call that spirituality. I call it poetry.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I try to keep things fairly simple because ultimately I just want a song to shine through. If I start to put too many layers of production on a song, sometimes the essence of the song gets cluttered and buried.
I will often put a bunch of musical ideas over a song and then peel them off until only the ones that augment the heart of the song remain.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
A recording is never finished for me. I will listen a thousand times and make adjustments after every listen. Eventually I have to just let it go, ideally before I’ve fallen out of love with the song from over-listening and over-analyzing.
I’m rarely completely satisfied with a piece, I have to just move on to the next one.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I’ve never been fully satisfied with the production and mixing of any of my work. I guess I have control issues. This is why I started doing most, if not all, of it myself for my new album, Holiday. This doesn’t mean I’m any more satisfied but it was important for me to flesh out the ideas on my own and see what that would become.
To save my sanity for future projects, I think I’ll hand a lot more of that work over to professionals, especially for mixing, because I’ve learned that doing it myself requires getting too focussed on the nuts and bolts of the song and losing perspective of the whole. After doing a thousand tweaks, my enthusiasm for the song can start to wane. I want to stay excited about a song from start to finish.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I agree. While you work on something, especially something deeply personal, it remains wholly yours and no one else’s. Once you release it to the world, it’s open to scrutiny and criticism, and it becomes something else — a measure of your value, your worth as an artist.
The best way to counter that feeling for me is to start working on something new, something that excites me and reminds me why I create in the first place.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I can’t speak for all creative people, but I’m sure there are people whose genuine passions reside in activities others might see as mundane. I’ve simply recognized that I’m the best version of myself when I’m pursuing a song or a piece of writing, and that feeling permeates other aspects of my life; I’m a better husband, a better dad on those days.
If someone has found a creative avenue that allows them to express feelings that have no other way out, whether it be making coffee, hiking, or juggling chainsaws, I think that’s a gift.