iNTERVIEW: Ron Sexsmith

(June 2008) One of Canada’s premier tunesmiths will be coming to Peterborough in August. 9 albums, a bunch of tours and thousands of fans including the likes of Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Sheryl Crow and Ron has hit the big time. He recently performed at Showplace to a sold out hall and his appearance at Crary Park will give thousands more an opportunity to find out why he’s become one of the most sought after songwriters around. A reserved performer and nervous traveler, Ron spoke to me a few days after returning from his European “vacation”…

Mb: Hi Ron
Ron: How are we doing?
Mb: Doing well. So we’re interviewing you because you’re coming back to Peterborough in August.
Ron: That’s right.
Mb: You’ve been up here a number of times. How do you like playing here?
Ron: Ya, it’s all been pretty good memories. I played there not too long ago, actually. I played a theatre. I think it was just a one-off show. It was a good time. I don’t know too much about Peterborough though. I don’t get there except to play from time to time.
Mb: Well it’s a uni and college town. I imagine a perfect market for you.
Ron: Ya, it’s hard for me to say really. I don’t know how I do it terms of the colleges. It’s nice to think that anyway.
Mb: So you’ve been out of town of late, I hear.
Ron: Ya, I’m on a bit of a promo trip overseas. I’ve done a few different trips actually Last month I went to Scandinavia and all these places and the other day I went to London and Paris for a couple of days.
Mb: Fantastic. Is that something you like to do, travel?
Ron: Ah well, that’s a tough one because.. I mean, I love performing. I don’t mind if I’m in a tour and we’re traveling around in a van or something. I’m not a big fan of flying.. airports and stuff. I’m kinda nervous. I’m a nervous traveler. When I don’t have to do too much flying I enjoy it.
Mb: So what do you do when you get to an airport? Are you a nervous guy and then have a couple of drinks on the plane or try to sleep or…?
Ron: I don’t go that route. It’s just that, they put you through so much. By the time you get to your gig, you know? I feel really stressed out… and then actually being on the plane; all the turbulence. Nobody likes that right? I’ve just got more and more… it never used to bother me so much. Now I get pretty nervous about it. But I’m not pounding them back. I guess I could take something to knock me out, but I want to be alert.
MB: So what else do you like to do in life, besides perform. Any hobbies?
Ron: Not a whole lot really. I like to watch movies and reading. But for me, the happiest time is when I’m home playing my piano and drinking coffee. That’s my favourite thing to do really. I like walking around. I walk more than almost anybody I know. I don’t golf or anything (laughs) Music for me and songwriting is a 24/7 kind of thing. I’m always writing. And if I’m not writing, I’m learning somebody else’s songs to play for my own amusement. So I don’t have a lot of time for anything else.
Mb: And where does the inspiration come from when you’re writing? Where do you find you’re getting the best tunes?
Ron: Ah, it’s sort of all around you. That’s the thing about being a songwriter. It’s really about staying open. You never really know when your next idea is going to come. You may overhear it in passing. You may watch a movie and somebody says something in a movie and the lightbulb comes on over your head. A lot of times it’s just because you’re going through some stuff. and whatever it is. It’s my job to kind of recognize it and try to take it somewhere. That’s kinda what I do for a living really. The other stuff is the fun stuff, performing and everything. But it’s hard work doing the writing.
Mb: And how was writing the new record? Did it come to you easily?
Ron: Some parts did. Some parts came to me easier than on some previous records. The lyrics on this album seemed to kind of flow more without too much trouble. Lyrics have always been the toughest part. I was working on it and started writing the songs when i was recording my last record and while I was waiting for it to come out. I don’t know how I do it. It’s just a matter of staying ahead of yourself. So I don’t really know how long it took me. Sort of the standard amount of time.
Mb: It’s a different sounding record this time around.
Ron: Ya I think so. Every record I try to take it someplace else. This record just because of the horns it gives it a different vibe, I suppose.
Mb: I kept thinking you’d been listening to a lot of Blood sweat and Tears!
Ron: (laughs) It wasn’t my idea to have horns on the record. My original idea was to make the record just me and the piano. It was what I wanted to do originally. It just grew into this whole other thing. The horns were almost an after thought. We recorded most of the record in England and my producer got the idea. He thought a lot of these songs would benefit from horns and he’d been to Havana before and recorded there and found some of the best horn players he’d ever heard so we hopped on a plane and went down there… and right away.. I mean I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but right away I dug what they were doing, the whole Latin thing.
Mb: Has it been received well by everyone as a new sound and growth or… ?
Ron: I think so. Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been quite positive. I’m sure there’s some bad ones out there, but you can’t please everybody.
Mb: Speaking of pleasing everyone, I have to ask you, how did it feel to have Elvis Costello become one of your biggest fans?
Ron: That was so long ago. That was about ’95? It really gave me a push, you know, because I was struggling with my first record. It really wasn’t doing well and then Elvis started talking about it. Then it got re-released in ’96 and had a second life. So I’ve always been grateful to him for that. We’ve toured a bunch of times and we’ve remained in touch over the years. But that whole Elvis thing is part of ancient history (laughs)
Mb: So what else? What do you want to say to our readers?
Ron: I’m really looking forward to playing the Festival of Lights. Anytime I get a chance to play with my guys, my band… I’m looking forward to hanging out. I really like playing Canada in general. I’m kinda a home body. We’re doing a bunch of things this summer. Edmonton… and all that and the Peterborough show. I hope I don’t come back there too many times, because I was just there a few months ago. But I’m really looking forward to it.
Mb: Well the last time you were here you played a 500 seater. This time, the festival draws from 3000-7000 people. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the turn out for you.
Ron: Ya, I’ve heard good things about it!