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Music is Ethan Daniel Davidson's hobby -- but with a capital H
Music has never been something Ethan Daniel Davidson had to do.
Except that he, well, HAD to do it.
The adopted son of the late Detroit Pistons and Guardian Industries owner Bill Davidson has been releasing albums since the early 2000s, as a co-owner of the now defunct Times Beach Records label in Royal Oak. He toured hard — including a trek aptly dubbed the Six Year Tour — and even took a seven-year break at one point before returning to active duty with “Silvertooth” in 2012.
And as he rolls out his seventh album, “Crows,” this week, Davidson — who runs the family charitable foundation and is working as an archivist for the Pistons — says music serves much the same purpose for him now as it did when he first began writing and recording songs.
“It’s sort of become a hobby with a capital H, I guess, rather than a profession,” Davidson, 47, says by phone during a business trip to Chicago. “My life has changed so much, being involved in all of my dad’s sort of stuff after he died, having kids. There just isn’t the kind of time for it (full-time).
“But what hasn’t changed is the healing properties of the music. That was always the things for me, anyway. The music was a salve. It was medicine. And I feel good about it in a way that I didn’t for most of the past 10 years.”
Davidson — who holds degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard, the University of Chicago and the Universite Paris — blames burnout for his earlier break from music. “I was on the road all the time for many years, trying to make it into a self-sustaining thing,” Davidson recalls. “I never thought I would get rich off it, certainly, but I wasn’t able to make it a self-sustaining thing, and for a couple of years I lost the ability to play music.”
He came back with encouragement from his wife, Gretchen Gonzales Davidson, and good friend Warn Defever, who leads the group His Name Is Alive and others and has an extensive production and engineering resume. “Silvertooth” was followed by “Drawnigh,” but the Defever-produced “Crows” takes Davidson in another creative direction entirely, a kind of noir, country-flavored sound filled with nuance and ambience.
“On those two other albums we’d covered the sort of musical ground I’d been covering for a long time,” Davidson notes. “For ‘Crows’ Warn said, ‘Let’s stick to one kind of music. Why don’t you just write a bunch of 1940s, 1950s country songs.’ I don’t think the songs came out that way, but that was the original mission. It’s what we had as a template.”
Lyrically, however, “Crows” draws from Davidson’s Hasidic philosophy studies, including a direct influence from Martin Bruber and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. “A lot of it is thinking about relationships -- How do I have a relationship with another human being or an object, that kind of thing,” Davidson explains. “It’s mostly about people that are really having trouble with relationships.”
“It’s not that interesting to talk about how perfect your life is. It’s much more interesting to say, ‘My life is totally screwed up and I can’t relate to people. How do I break through whatever it is to actually have a real encounter with another human being?”
Davidson acknowledges that some might see this as a kind of “method music,” given his own lineage and comfort with his wife and their three young children in Bloomfield Hills. “I’ve got this crazy, exceptional life,” he agrees. “I’m so incredibly lucky.” But, Davidson adds, “I’m not always present with people. “I can treat people like objects like anybody else can. We all have those kinds of blockages, I suppose, that keep us from connection with other people.
“For a lot of people out there who are trying to put food on the table, I realize that might not sound like that much of a tragedy. But loneliness is loneliness; It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, right? Lack of connection is lack of connection.”
As well as through music, Davidson is also connecting via his continued stake with the Pistons. He was personally asked by current team owner Tom Gores to help collect artifacts and memorabilia to display at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, which will be the team’s new home come fall. And he’s feeling some twinges of sentimentality at the nearing end of the Palace of Auburn Hills, which his father opened in 1988 as the then-premiere arena in the country.
“I slept on the floor of that place,” says Davidson, who worked as a Palace stagehand during his teens and 20s. “I carried fear for all the bands. I rolled up cables after concerts that had all kinds of, um, concert liquids on them.
“Time moves on, of course. Nothing is forever. My father died. Chuck Daly died. Jack McCloskey just passed. You think at some point there’s going to be none of us left, or very few of us left and the Palace will be long gone. I’m just happy they asked me to stay involved. I couldn’t be more grateful for that.”
If You Go
• Ethan Daniel Davidson and DJ Mike McGonigal
• 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 13
• Third Man Records Cass Corridor, 441 W. Canfield St., Detroit.
• Admission is free.
• Call 313-209-5205 or visit ethandanieldavidson.com.
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