Ron Sexsmith almost quit the music business before making JUNO-nominated album
Ron Sexsmith’s JUNO-nominated album “Long Player Late Bloomer” almost didn’t get made.
“I was trying to figure out a way to get out of the music business,” Sexsmith tells CTV.ca about the time before he started in on his twelfth album. “I didn’t want to keep showing up and striking out.”
After a disappointing reception of his album, “Exit Strategy of the Soul,” and an even more disappointing tour, Sexsmith was all set to throw in the towel.
“There were a lot of things I was frustrated with. I couldn’t put on the show I wanted to put on,” Sexsmith reflects. “When I got off the road I was in a bad place. I had put on a lot of weight and we were drinking so much on that tour.”
It was a trip to New Mexico and a guitar rented for him by his wife that got him re-inspired. “It took me by surprise because the last thing I wanted to do was make a new record,” he says.
“Me and the guitar were inseparable the whole time and I found the songs I was writing were more, not cynical, but had a humorous grouchy quality that I liked,” says Sexsmith.
This “creeping pessimism” culminated into “Long Player Late Bloomer” that is nominated for Adult Alternative Album of the Year, with another JUNO nom for Sexsmith’s songwriting.
“I’ve always tried to write very spiritual hopeful songs, and I just thought there’s this new thing that I liked,” says Sexsmith.
A prolific songwriter
Though Sexsmith is seen as a prolific songwriter, he admits it’s not always a fast process.
“Sometimes I’ll get a bunch of ideas all at once, but then it takes time to pound them into songs,” he says. Though he doesn’t have a strict daily structure for his songwriting practice, he says the most important thing for him is sitting down to work.
“I try to take time every day to work on an idea that I’ve started, or play other people’s songs on the piano because sometimes that’ll trigger something,” he says. “You just sort of stockpile and eventually you see an album taking shape.
“And when I’m not writing, I feel a bit useless,” he adds. He often starts with the beginnings of a melody, or a phrase he’s overheard. “Often times, it’s stuff that’s going on in my life that I’m trying to figure out or pinpoint. You get these ideas and sometimes it’s a phrase, or a musical idea and then you see there’s potential for a song, and it takes time,” he says.
And from there, he has to try to keep the doubt and judgment at bay.
“You never know, you might have a song that feels like a dumb idea, but if you investigate it a bit, it might turn out to be not so bad, or end up being your best known song. You can’t tell sometimes when it’s so new if it’s worth pursuing or not,” he reflects.
Writing for himself, writing for others
Though Sexsmith has put out 12 of his own albums in the past 10 years, he still finds time to make a name for himself as songwriter for everyone from Feist to Rod Stewart, Emmylou Harris to Michael Bublé.
“It’s kind of a different side of the brain, writing for myself and writing for others,” he says. “When I’m writing for myself, it seems to come naturally,” he says.
“When I’m writing for someone else, it’s more like a project. I really have to think of the kind of music they do.”
Michael Bublé’s version of “Whatever It Takes” was “pretty unexpected,” Sexsmith says with a laugh. “He did a kind of Latin-type bossa nova tune.”
And he was so surprised by Feist’s version of “Brandy Alexander” that he decided to record his own take on it.
Sexsmith says “God Loves Everyone” is one of his most covered tunes, with artists ranging from Tom Jones to the Swedish Children’s Choir. “‘Maybe ‘This Christmas’ is also right up there with ‘Secret Heart’” says Sexsmith.
Though “Secret Heart” was made hugely popular by Feist on her album “Let It Die,” the first time Sexsmith heard it covered was in 1996.
“I heard Nick Lowe doing it and that was pretty special to hear someone else do my song.”
As it turns out, it was the first time he had ever heard one of his songs covered.
“When you’re listening to someone do your song, you’re almost bypassing the person singing it and listening to the song, hoping that it holds up and doesn’t let the singer down.”
About Lindsay Zier-Vogel
Lindsay Zier-Vogel has been working for CTV.ca since 2008. In addition to interviewing the famed American choreographer Bill T. Jones and Canadian prima ballerina Karen Kain, Lindsay’s highlights include criss-crossing Canada on four SYTYCDC audition tours and covering the Juno Awards. Follow her on Twitter!