Singer and Buddhist monk finds balance between music and spirituality
Ryan Summerlin September 25, 2012
Singer and songwriter Stuart Davis, who is also a TV and Internet personality, author and Buddhist monk said melding music with spirituality helped him express himself the way he had been trying to do since he was a preteen.
"For me as an artist, the beautiful conundrum has always been that the items I encounter in these inner vistas of the mind are simultaneously more immediate and real, but also paradoxically difficult to verbally articulate," Davis said during a phone interview from his home in Boulder, Colo. "So, I immediately found music and mysticism was a tandem match made in heaven, when it came to sounds, pitches, production and melodies coupled with language. That moved me from a literal, representational lyricist to being more metaphorical, abstract and colorful."
Davis, who will bring his unique blending of music and spirituality to Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Friday, Sept. 28, said the discovery of blending music and the spirit came after a long and troubled journey.
"I started to write songs at the same time I learned how to play music and the two have always been fused and synonymous for me," he said. "When I learned to play the guitar, I was 11. At that same time, I was in my basement recording on a four-track recorder and making 15-song cassette tapes of my original material."
The songs he recorded were the frustrated results of being raised in a fundamentalist Christian family in Minnesota.
"I had a real contentious relationship with religion and I would express my feelings through music," he said. "I began selling my cassettes, which was horrible stuff, in high school, but I think the positive aspect was I immediately felt that music was an expressive vehicle for me.
"When I became an adult, I looked back and realized what I was actually doing was exploring my inner world and non-physical dimensional experiences," he said. "I’m not saying this to be melodramatic, but music probably saved my life many times over and kept me from going down a dark and destructive road."
Even then, the music Davis was drawn to wasn’t hard rock or heavy metal, but the intellectual compositions and lyrics of XTC, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.
"I liked their sense of humor, which tends to run a little dark at times," he said.
He then began to seek out other artists that approached their craft in an intellectual manner.
"As an instrumentalist, I would also follow Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia to American classical guitarist Christopher Parkening and fellow Minnesotan Leo Kottke, and went to college to study classical guitar and orchestration," he said. "That was when I discovered Randy Newman, and that was the first time I heard an American songwriter singing from the perspective of certain characters, and that appealed to me, too."
While Davis was recording one of his first CDs, he discovered Buddhism.
"When I was 24 years old, I was recording an album and the drummer was a Buddhist priest," Davis said. "I knew nothing at all about Buddhism, except for the romantic notion that it was an exotic practice from a foreign land."
The drummer changed that notion.
"He took me to some meditation retreats and began attending Buddhist centers around the country," Davis said. "At that time, I was also exploring Sufism and generally groping for something that wasn’t just a belief system, but a practice."
Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, appealed to Davis because of its openness.
"Zen, I would later discover, placed little or no emphasis on a belief system," he said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or an atheist. It just provides you with a set of tools that will cultivate inner intimacy with reality."
After a period of time meditating the Zen Buddhist way, Davis began to notice changes within himself and his experiences.
"It was like removing dirt and debris and finding the perennial core that was there all along," Davis explained. "I felt like I had put glasses on my soul for the first time in my life. I didn’t know how bad my vision was and then I began seeing things that I never thought existed, and that amplified and focused my creativity."
Davis utilized the Zen method while recording his new CD, "Music for Mortals," his 15th release, last year.
"For the first time in my career, I didn’t have any deadlines and had all the free time and support from my fans in terms of funding," he said. "So, I just sort of wandered around in the desert of music."
Davis, along with his longtime producer, Alex Gibson, recorded the CD three times in two years.
"I had reached a point that was sort of my dark light of the soul," Davis said. "The recording was very therapeutic, but we looked at the songs, and while we thought they were interesting, we decided to sweep them off the table and started from zero."
The process, he found, was exhilarating.
"We felt something we haven’t felt since we were kids discovering something for the first time," Davis said. "So, we went through it again and started the entire process over a third time with musicians."
Drummer Blair Sinta, guitarist Joel Shearer, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and multi-instrumental Nathan Jenkins were the final pieces that were needed to finish the puzzle, Davis said.
"The third set of songs were the right ones artistically and spiritually," he said. "We actually wanted to do it again, but realized the CD was finished."
During the recording process, Davis fell in love with music again and while he still has his other outlets, has decided to remain in touch with his musicality.
"I want to maintain the loyalty to the sense of wonder and mystery and when I leave this world that that philosophy is intact," he said. "I’m back in touch with my creativity again and the next step is to recommit to the process, even though I don’t know when or when it will come again."
Stuart Davis will perform at Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Friday, Sept. 28, at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.stuartdavis.com/event/park-city-ut.