Interview with Ron Sexsmith previous page
PM: How are you, and how is the family?
RS: Oh, I'm not too bad. I mean, my family went through a separation last year, last summer.
PM: Oh, I'm sorry.
RS: Yeah, but everybody's fine, you know. Adjusting to the new thing...
PM: Are you still living in the same town?
RS: Yes, still in Toronto, just moved a few blocks west from where I'd been before.
PM: First of all, let me say that we're very big on your music here at the magazine, we love what you do.
RS: Thank you.
PM: I'm aware of Rod Stewart's cover of "Secret Heart." Have other artists covered your songs?
RS: A few. I mean, Nick Lowe did "Secret Heart" too, but only onstage. He was opening all his shows with it at one point. Mary Black and Cry,Cry,Cry both recorded "Speaking with the Angels." And there's a huge Danish artist that wouldn't be known here who also recorded "Secret Heart." And there's some indie bands that covered a song or two. I hope there will be some more of that, I guess I'm just not that well known yet. If the Rod Stewart cover had done better, I think it might have opened things up a bit.
PM: Would you talk some about your recording experience with Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy here in town?
RS: Yes. It was great to finally work with Steve, I've known him since '88. I didn't really know exactly what kind of record we would make. Every time I go in to record, I have just as many ballads as I do uptempo numbers and rockin' numbers. When I worked with Mitchell Froom, he tended to lean more toward the ballady stuff, my voice was better suited to that material. When I saw the list of songs that Steve wanted to do, I thought he was determined to have this record rock more than my others. You know, I just kind of went with it, and we did 17 songs in 6 days. We were really flying. And there's ballads on there as well. I think that, coming off my last album, where we tried to do something really pretty and lavish, I think it was a good direction. This one's a little darker.
PM: Well, Steve's really an independent thinker, in that way. He really doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks.
RS: He's very in your face, it was just really great to be around him. He's very knowledgeable, on different subjects. You could just be talking about something, and it would lead to a whole discussion of the Civil War, battle by battle. And he's a great musician, too. I didn't really know how much into the details he would be, in terms of the structure of the songs and such. I mean, he obviously knows how to put a song together. The whole thing was a good experience. Afterwards, I got dropped, which has been kind of a mess.
PM: In fact, Steve mentioned to me the other day when I ran into him in town that he was looking into the prospect of releasing that 5th album on his own E-Squared label.
RS: Yeah, we're still looking at it. The problem is that Interscope, my old label, owns the record. So that's been the problem, trying to get it back from them, and working out an agreement. Because labels like E-Squared don't have the kind of money that Interscope has. We may look at it territory by territory. We think that E-Squared might be a great label for us in America, but we're not totally sure that their distribution in other countries would be our best move.
PM: Even in America, they're not known for having success with other acts besides Steve.
RS: Well, he has the name, he's been doing it a long time. It's kind of a no-brainer. I think the last album did quite well for him.
PM: Are there other avenues, other labels, also under review in the States?
RS: Yeah, we're talking to a couple of others down there, and we're getting close to figuring out what we're gonna do. I hope it'll be sorted out by the end of the month, because this label in England wants to put it out as early as March. And I hate waiting around, I already have a whole new album written.
PM: Is it okay to ask who the English label is?
RS: They're called Cooking Vinyl, and they have their little labels all over the world ready. So they would probably handle most of the world, except for North America, with a few exceptions. They do XTC and Ryan Adams from Whiskeytown, it's a cool little label. They're very eclectic. Like, Michael Nesmith is on the label. Kind of all over the place.
PM: Well, God knows, you might be benefitted by the hands-on attention of a smaller label.
RS: I don't think it could hurt. On Interscope, especially with the last record, there were just no plans for me. They're so busy, I might have a better chance if I were a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
PM: You certainly deserve to be a bigger fish.
RS: [laughs] Well, thanks. I'm hoping that one day I'll have some kind of breakthrough. For instance, there's a Jennifer Lopez film coming out that has one of my songs.
PM: Who now is apparently called J.Lo.
RS: Oh, is that right?
PM: Yeah, I saw it on AOL this morning.
RS: Did she change her name officially?
PM: I think so. I didn't click on to see why we're supposed to call her J. Lo now...
RS: So, apparently they're using one of my songs in a romantic scene, so, you never know.
PM: I remember reading some time back that Nick Lowe's first big money was when "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding" was cut by some grunge band or something.
RS: It was actually done by a crooner, this guy Curtis Steiger. Yeah, that totally bought the farm for Nick Lowe.
PM: Is that the one that ended up on the soundtrack of The Bodyguard?
RS: That's right.
PM: I know that you're a big Nilsson fan, me too. What other strong influences come to mind, musical or otherwise?
RS: Ray Davies was always one of my heroes. I've got a song on this upcoming Ray Davies Tribute album that I'm pretty happy about.
PM: Which one?
RS: "This Is Where I Belong."
PM: Ah, yeah.
RS: It's also the name of the record, which I was extra pleased about. I like Ray Davies, I like a lot of the Canadian songwriters, like Gordon Lightfoot. He's probably my favorite songwriter.
PM: Especially that first record, the cowboy record, which many don't know about.
RS: Yeah, I like all the early stuff, I buy all his records. He put an album out a few years back, the production was a bit tacky, I guess, but songwise, it was really great. I go see him every year. And there's Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and all the usual ones, the Beatles.
PM: Actually, I mentioned something in the beginning of the article about listening to your three discs in a row, and that I don't even like to listen to three Beatles records in a row...
RS: [laughs] Wow. I haven't done that in a long time. Often times, when I finish a new record, I do this pretentious thing where I just want to compare, you know? I go through some tunes with my Walkman, and hopefully the records all complement each other in some way...
PM: I think there's a strong thread of continuity, where, like you've said in other interviews, just baby steps were taken between each one.
RS: That's all I'm interested in, really, just the baby steps. I just start with the song. With Mitchell, we try to do something a little different each time, try to flesh things out a bit. It was all done in a way that made sense to me. And the new album, too, is a departure in sound, a lot drier. But I'm really proud of the work I did with Mitchell. It feels like we went from black and white to full color. Hopefully they'll still be available, even though I'm not on Interscope anymore.
PM: I hadn't even thought of that. That would be a tragedy.
RS: I get e-mails all the time from people who are still buying them somewhere. Hopefully the stores are still ordering them, and all that. There's not much I can do at the moment.
PM: I'm a friend of Brad Jones, who, aside from playing great bass on three of your records, is a fine producer. I noticed you put one of his acts on your Top 5 list last year: Joe, Marc's Brother.
RS: That's right.
PM: Are you conversant with any of his other acts, like Swan Dive, Jill Sobule, or Cotton Mather?
RS: Oh, I know Jill Sobule, I've heard those records. I may have heard the Cotton Mather one, he interested me a while back in one of the bands he was working with. He also just did a David Poe record.
PM: Right, I haven't heard that one yet.
RS: I just love the Joe, Marc's Brother record. That was pretty much my favorite album last year. It was kind of like the Lovin Spoonful, or something. It had a real joyful energy about it that's missing in a lot of music. Obviously, my stuff has always been a little more melancholy. But I just loved it. And I went to the release party, and I was totally blown away by the show. I don't know if you were there, but...
PM: No, I was out of town at the time. But I'm doing a gig with them at the end of the month, and I'm looking forward to that.
RS: I don't know what they're doing, but it would be nice if someone would come along, and put that album out in a wider fashion, 'cause I just thought it was really strong.
PM: Yeah, I have a rave review of that record in this same issue where you're the feature.
RS: Oh, well, that's good.
PM: Have you any comment on the rather rabid proliferation, in my view, of hip hop music, or on the current pop music picture? continue