Interview: Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith
"In every nowhere town there are somewhere dreams."

The G-Man speaks with Ron Sexsmith ahead of his upcoming Irish tour.

Ron Sexsmith has forever been known as the "songwriter's songwriter", critical acclaim for an undeniable talent that all began with the independent release of debut record Grand Opera Lane 24 years ago before the follow-up, 1995's superlative Ron Sexsmith, one of the 90's most finely crafted LPs, caught the attention of heavyweight stars turned Sexsmith supporters Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. With this year's Carousel One, the Canadian's impressive 14th studio album, the Ontario songsmith continues to add to his ever-growing canon.

The G-Man: Where in the world are you right now and how are you feeling?
Ron Sexsmith: I'm in Calgary Alberta with a bit of a cold but otherwise I'm pretty good thanks!

No matter how big or small, we all have and need our routines. What do you need to do every day/week to keep you on track?
I need to get out and walk a bit or do yoga if possible. My health tends to suffer whenever I go out on the road due to lack of sleep and exercise but I'm trying to maintain.

It’s good to see you smiling on the front cover of Carousel One. Is it fair to say your heart and head were in a good place during the recording of the album?
I'd say so. The whole recording experience actually was quite pleasant and the songs were pretty outgoing as well.

You recently mentioned you felt like "I feel like I've got my career back." What happened that made you feel like you had lost it?
It just felt like there was little interest in the records I was making and for me in general. I don't know if it was all in my head but it certainly felt that way.

Carousel One has a special commentary section on Spotify. How comfortable do you feel dissecting your songs publicly?
I didn't feel all that comfortable doing that but these days all the labels are pushing for extra content and bonus material. I haven't listened to the Spotify thing so I can't remember if it was any good.

With CDs needing to contain more and more extras to make them more appealing, do you think the world is asking for more and more of you?
Yes. Also, they were streaming my album for free weeks before it was even released. I guess that's what they do now, but I liked it better before when nobody heard a note of the record until it came out and there was still some mystery to it all.

In the commentary you say that you approach writing by grabbing a coffee and heading out for a walk. Ireland is a pretty great place to take a stroll. What are your favourite walking routes and what about them do you like most?
I have a route that I stick to when I'm home, mostly because I don't want to have to think about it. But I walk up to College Street and then over through my local park. I usually have a bunch of ideas by the time I get home.

Everything nowadays is rush, rush, rush and do as much as you can. Even with walking everyone is on the phone or has earphones jammed in their ears. How important is it to take time out for yourself?
Well, actually I don't have a phone (except for a land line at home) so it doesn't really affect me too much - although I do walk around with my cd disc man listening to albums.

Is it true you only had the band for 5 days? To record 16 tracks, that’s some going! How comfortable do you feel as a band leader? What are your strengths and weaknesses in that regard?
Yes that's true, but when the musicians are as good as these guys were, you can do it fast. Also, I always go in with complete songs so there's not a lot of questioning the material. I think I've gotten better at working with musicians in the studio, in terms of explaining what I hear in my head. I used to rely a lot on the producers for that.

What GFL (Good First Line) were you most proud of going into the studio?
"In every nowhere town there are somewhere dreams."

From an Irish person's point of view, song titles and lyrics such as "Is anyone going to San Antone?" (please note it’s actually, “Is anybody going to San Antone”) sound so exotic, so much moreso than using Irish place names which can seem a little silly to us. As a Canadian/North American, does it work the same way with you and Irish/European place names?
Yes definitely. It always sounds romantic to me when I hear about Galway or County Cork or hear a song like "Down By The Sally Gardens." Everything feels exotic to me when I'm over there.

The sentiment behind “Can't Get My Act Together" strikes me as I’ve gone through similar recently. What do you actively do to look after your own health, physically/mentally/spiritually?
Well, it's hard for me on the road because I've always had little self-discipline so I eat or drink too much or I get down on myself. But my wife helps me keep it together and I'd try to do the same for her.

It’s difficult to find a Ron Sexsmith interview or press release that doesn’t mention "under-rated" or "missed out on big-time success" etc. yet here you are with a 14th – and beautiful - record. How can that not be seen as the height of artistic success?
Yeah, it is hard. I got painted with that brush long ago so I'm not sure what to do about it.

What do you make of Ryan Adams recording and releasing Taylor Swift’s 1989?
I haven't heard either record.

Personally I think it’s an orchestrated grab for some worldwide attention but who am I to begrudge anyone. Have you had any difficulties/struggles in the past with doing the right thing artistically rather than commercially?
Well, to be honest I felt the same way when I first heard about it but I don't really know Ryan.

Is there a popstar out there for whom you have a soft spot?
I like Lorde, I think she's really interesting.

Besides music, what inspires you?
Movies and books mostly.

I have to ask, what makes you identify with a St. Bernard as your spirit animal?!
I guess the older I get, I feel I look more like one. But I've always loved that breed of dog… not sure why. Maybe I was one in a previous life?

Upcoming October tour dates:

  • 7th - The Pav, Cork
  • 8th - Dolan's, Limerick
  • 9th - Róisín Dubh, Galway

For more on Ron Sexsmith visit:

- Ron Sexsmith plays The Pav, Cork on Wednesday 7th October
- Tickets are €22.95 and available here

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