Interview: Ron Sexsmith
With fans from Feist to Bob Dylan to Paul McCartney, Ron Sexsmith has generated immense admiration among musicians without ever quite reaching the public at large. After his last few albums attracted a limited audience, Sexsmith decided to get as “far from the indie scene” as he could. He enlisted producer Bob Rock for his 11th album, Long Player, Late Bloomer, in the hopes of crafting a sound that might get more people to hear his music.
A new documentary, Love Shines, depicts the making of the album. The film ends with the Canadian Sexsmith’s struggles to find a label in America, where the record is deemed not commercial enough for the majors and too mainstream for the independents. As Sexsmith says, “I always feel like whatever scene is happening, I don't quite fit in.”
His new album finally found a home on the Thirty Tigers label, and was released in America earlier this month. TOB talked to Sexsmith about his musical heroes, the new documentary, and the craft of songwriting.
TOB: Did you and Bob [Rock] have any touchstones while you were putting together the sound for this album?
Ron Sexsmith: I knew that we would have a lot of common ground. People see Bob as being this hard rock producer, but he also did Michael Bublé as well, which is nothing like Metallica. But when I met him, I just realized we both love a lot of English pop music. We're both fans of, obviously, the Beatles and the Kinks and Bowie and Elton John and those people.
This album sounds brighter and fuller than your others, but the lyrics on the first half are some of the darker ones you've written.
I was feeling kind of disillusioned leading up to this record. The last bunch of albums I made sort of came out and died the next day, basically. Well, I've been really lucky. I have an audience out there. But sometimes when you're feeling down, you don't see all the good things that are going on. So yeah, on the first half of the record, there is this feeling—if you look closely at the lyrics, they're a bit down. But at the same time I think they're kind of funny. There's a lot of little jokes and stuff. By the end of the record it sort of gets more hopeful again.
How does the movie fit with the album?
The movie is mostly about me making this record. It captures me at a time when I was sort of down in the dumps and I'd put on a lot of weight. I was really hard to look at it. It was like, oh man, it's sure not Brad Pitt up there. It's basically about me trying to make the record and resurrect my career. There are also flashbacks and old footage and all that stuff too.
Between performing, recording, and composing the songs, what do you enjoy the most?
Well, the fun part is performing them. It's kind of like, after all the work is done, you get to go out and people go, “Hooray.” It's kind of addictive. My second favorite part would be writing. I don't find recording that much fun. I find it more stressful than anything.
What's stressful about it?
There's just so much that can go wrong. Sometimes you have a song that's good but you can't get it off the ground and you don't know why. This record, I felt really excited by everything I was hearing coming through the speakers. When it's great, it's great. But sometimes it can be a lot of waiting around and just banging your head against the wall.
Do you already have a set of songs for another album?
[Laughs] I do. I finished this album in... it might have been early 2010. But I spent the whole year waiting and waiting for it to come out. So, during that time, I've written a whole batch of new songs. It's kind of what I do for a living. I'm always in the middle of a bunch of songs.
Any advice for a young songwriter?
Well, that's a tough one. I think what helped me is that I learned so many songs. Before I started writing I knew hundreds and hundreds of cover songs. It's not that you have to do that, but I found that helped me. Kind of like getting an education. So that way, when I went to write a song, I could say, “Oh I could go to this chord, because Paul Simon went to that chord.” I just really worked hard on it. I wasn't really good at anything growing up. And then there was this one thing. I thought, maybe I could do this.
Ron Sexsmith performs at on Mar. 27.