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If anyone in the Midwestern world has an actual shot at achieving nirvana, it's Stuart Davis. Having created his own brand of "post-apocalyptic folk," the Minneapolis resident and velvet-voiced crooner approaches such subjects as monasticism and meditation with legs planted firmly in the lotus position and tongue planted firmly in cheek. On "Eight Days in the Lotus," Davis sings about flogging himself with a hockey stick while practicing zazen, yet he's still able to give poignant treatment to a dying lover on "Swim." Of course, given the cover of his recently released self-titled CD, one unfamiliar with Davis's work might suspect glam-rockery rather than energetic guitar folk: Against a black background sits the lanky Davis--bald, cross-legged, and butt-naked save for a silver sheen of post-Goldfinger body paint.
Is it odd for such a spiritual man to expose what God gave him for the entire world to see? Maybe. But it's only when you start talking to Davis that his real eccentricities become apparent, as they did during a Monday evening interview at Sursumcorda.
"I'm not saying the next Jesus Christ will be holding a guitar, or that pop music is the next religion," says Davis, his natural bellow filling the narrow room as he picks at the mandarin oranges adorning his spinach salad. "But pop is the number-one way to access the interiors of the widest number of people in all the crucial places. The U.S. in particular, where so much of the transgression, so much of the damage, so much of the dangerous coma has set in, is where pop music holds the most sway."
These are words one either hears from the lips of a musician concerned about man's search for meaning or from an insane comic-book villain bent on world domination via mainstream radio. Luckily for Western civilization, Davis isn't trading in his guitar for kryptonite anytime soon, no matter how much he might resemble Lex Luthor. Instead, he speaks with absolute conviction about the lack of spirituality in today's postmodern society, then converts the subject into salient sound bites that could make a believer out of many a jaded music writer.
"I think the potential inside a human being is God," Davis says in a confident tone that would disarm more than a few door-to-door proselytizers. "But if you use sentences like that, you're not going to make anyone want to buy your record."
Still, Davis needn't spend his hours in coffee shops debating the particulars of religion; he could just let his decade-long catalogue of records do the talking. On "Kaleidoscope," a meditation on emerging spirituality from 1997's Kid Mystic, Davis sings, "Whatever rhythm I begin/There is another closing in," noting the tenuous synchronicity that enfolds a newly enlightened mind. Davis alters tone and melodic texture with whichever facet of personal godliness he happens to be interested in at the moment. Murky guitars darken the spooky "Dresden"; a lusty, jangly jaunt heightens the spirituality-through-sex vibe of "Immanence"; and the last three tracks--"Dive," "Swim," and "Drown"--all float through the ebbs and flows of the afterlife.
Over the years, Davis has crafted some ingenious schemes to raise money to make his records. While on the road, he sold raffle tickets to fans for the chance to win the dubious honor of driving his tour van. To finance his new record, he announced that he was selling shares of stock in the album, and would split profits with investors until their initial payments of $1,000 were quadrupled. Now Davis's fundraising abilities are directed to a more charitable purpose: a benefit concert with fellow singer/songwriter Peter Mayer for St. Paul's Clouds in Water Zen Center, which is in need of renovation. Doubling as Davis's release party, the event boasts consumerist hedonism (let's buy the new CD!) funneled toward a spiritually charitable end. And that's a pretty good deal, even for the most enlightened of us.