Years from now, realtors and their clients — in Winnipeg and elsewhere — will wonder why so many houses feature transformed spare rooms.
Many spare bedrooms and basements have been turned into work-from-home offices, but in the past year, country crooners, Christian singers and rappers have turned unused spaces into home recording studios as a way to get their songs to the public in a quick, inexpensive and safe manner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest artist to join this DIY trend is Winnipeg singer-songwriter Grant Davidson, who performs as Slow Leaves.
He was supposed to be on tour for much of 2020, but instead he spent more time with his wife and son and his dog Charlie, taking the six-year-old yellow Lab, for walks in the park. He also had time to build a long-awaited deck for his family’s house in St. Vital and turned a small part of his basement into a studio to record his latest batch of songs.
"The one flipside is, not having to go anywhere, in a strange way it simplifies things for me because it allows me to just focus on creating and that’s the part that I like the best," Davidson says.
Among those new songs is Holiday, a new single released Friday on Slow Leaves’ Bandcamp page (wfp.to/GWK) in partnership with the Winnipeg-based label Birthday Cake. It will eventually be the title track of a new album that’s expected to come out in September.
For Holiday, Davidson was no longer just the singer and songwriter; he plays all the parts, and was his own recording engineer and mixer.
"It’s the first record I’ve recorded and performed everything myself, partly because of the pandemic and partly because I’ve always liked the idea of doing more and more myself and learning to do it myself," he says. "It’s just me, I guess, for good or for ill."
He wasn’t a complete newbie to recording, though. Holiday will be Slow Leaves’ fourth album and Davidson has picked up hints during past sessions from producers and other recording experts; YouTube videos provided some tips on tech issues he encountered.
"I was always intrigued by getting as close as I can to what I just want to hear," he says. "When you have someone else mixing your stuff, they’re always putting their own flavour on it, and that can be amazing, but it’s always a little different than you necessarily want to hear."
Davidson’s studio space isn’t Abbey Road, the famous London recording studio where the Beatles recorded many of their famous hits, but it proved to be effective enough. He has set up microphones and amplifiers for many a concert, but he had never created a record on his own prior to recording the songs for Holiday nor had he mixed different musical parts to make one song.
"It’s something I’ve dabbled in but I love doing it," he says. "Mixing is a whole art in itself and I’m definitely not a professional mixer, but I’m pretty proud of myself that it sounds as good as it does and I’m happy with how it worked out; I learned a ton in that process."
Holiday is the title track of a Slow Leaves album that was originally planned to be released Friday. Davidson and those at the label believe releasing singles in the spring and summer and the full collection of 10 tunes in the fall is the right strategy as the pandemic enters its second year. There’s a chance that opportunities to tour the two records will open up as more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19.
Holiday is light, upbeat folk-pop, with Davidson’s mellow falsetto putting words to the yearning many feel about being someplace else, anyplace else, after a year in pandemic-created lockdown.
"Take me on a holiday / I could use a getaway / Somewhere on the edge of the world," the song goes.
For Slow Leaves’ previous album, 2020’s Shelf Life, Davidson dug deep inside himself and found personal messages with moments of melancholy. In Holiday, both the song and the upcoming album, he went with a simpler approach with lyrics popping up from his stream of consciousness.
"I wanted to just let it happen more freely, without trying to be too intellectual about anything, so this record is a little more about letting go," Davidson says. "Considering things were locked down and the state of the world, I think these sentiments leaked into the songs but I didn’t sit down and write a pandemic album."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.