This week, Thank Folk For That got the chance to speak to Ron Sexsmith about his amazing career, spanning 20 years with 13 albums. Just before he comes to London for a special show at the Union Chapel, we discussed his life and plans…
You released Carousel One earlier this year at a time when folk is becoming a genre more and more people are listening to. Do you think this allowed for good sales?
I really don’t know. I would think not, only because I’ve never really sold many records. I would like to think that it was doing okay, but I think nowadays a lot of people don’t really want to buy records anymore. Though it does seem that people do know it when I play it on tour and that. I am always afraid to know if it’s selling well.
Do you think that from records to everything being online now, it’s made it harder for people in the music business?
Oh definitely, it’s almost killed it in a way but even when people were buying records I never really sold many. It’s just hard because they’re expensive to make. This record was done in California and you have to pay for the musicians and the producer and all that stuff. It’s kind of becoming a more cost prohibited thing and touring is expensive as well. Nobody has come up with the right business model for people to make a living anymore.
I’ve never heard of artists nowadays with a career spanning so long such as yourself, with 13 albums to date, is it easier making music now or was it easier when you started out?
Yeah, well because there was still a record industry. I mean they were throwing a lot of money around in the 90s when I got started. The albums were expensive but they paid for everything. They paid for the tour bus, it was crazy because you were always in debt to the label and you could only hope to recoup if you sold albums that went platinum or gold. So I can understand why it’s in the shape that it is. I guess certain things are harder now and some things are easier but I’m just really lucky I got involved when I did. But I’m not one of these guys who is good with the internet and can be independent – I’ve always liked the idea of being on a label and that makes sense to me.
As our audience at Thank Folk For That are obviously interested in folk, why did you choose to create albums within this genre?
Folk albums…well I don’t know I’ve always considered myself more of a pop artist. All my heroes were The Kinks, Elton John and The Beatles but all those people have elements of folk in their music. The Beatles have a lot of acoustic songs and pretty much the same with Bob Dylan so I have on one hand all these sort of acoustic musician influences. From Canada I have the more folky (artists) like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and they also inspire and influence me. It’s just a real hybrid of rock and roll and folk and pop. I love Buddy Holly and all the 50s music so I don’t really know – it’s never really felt very fashionable to me. When I came out in the 90s, the music I was playing may have been more successful if it was in the 70s.
Nowadays with more folk musicians making it it big, is it making it easier for you to come back with your edge?
I don’t think it makes it easier for me because I’m getting old now, but definitely there are more great young artists like Laura Marling who are coming up towards the grey and that’s a big deal. When I started out in the 90s I was 31 with my first record which was already old, but I looked young which was a good thing. It’s a superficial world and people like if you’re photogenic, so it helps when you’re starting out if you’re young and if you’re good. I think it may be easier for someone possibly (young). I feel lucky that I had a career and have all these records out that and that I have a fan base with people who will always be there. But you never know, I could have one of those records that comes out and for whatever reason is a hit and something I never expected.
As a Canadian singer-songwriter and Canada being a beautiful country, do your roots and the scenery inspire your music in any way?
I think it definitely works its way into it. I mean there are writers who are overtly all about nature and I’ve always had fun going about it with the seasons and all that is pastoral. Even my favourite Kinks music was the more beautiful kind of stuff, so yeah it’s in there definitely because Canada is such a big space so you can’t help but be in awe of everything.
Who inspires and influences your songwriting?
I’m a melody guy so I’ve got these melodies in my head since I was a kid – for me I get the tune and that may imply a lyrical direction and then its hard to explain. Sometimes I overhear someone say something and then that’ll trigger some sort of idea, but I just take it from all around. I tend to go for these walks every morning, kind of constitutional and think about these things, so usually by the time I get home I’ve got something started.
You’re coming to England to play a special gig at The Union Chapel in London, a venue with a great sound for acoustics. How do you think this venue will ultimately reflect your performance?
I’ve played it before and really love that venue – it might be the 3rd or 4th time perhaps – so yeah it’s got a vibe about it that you want to sort of rise to the occasion. It feels like God is in the room and it’s a very special place so I’ll be a bit nervous. I’m always nervous when I play the big cities like London or New York but I hope it goes well. I have a whole bunch of shows beforehand so I’ll be pretty in the groove I guess. I’m looking forward to it, it should be great.
What are your plans for the rest of this year and the lead up into 2016?
Well we’re touring pretty much the rest of the year. After Europe we go to Japan and then Australia and early next year in February we have a tour of eastern Canada and then that’s it. This record and touring cycle will be over. So right now I’m writing songs for my next record and I’ve also written a novel which I’m hoping may come out next year. I’m just waiting to see right now if the publisher likes it. I did the work! I don’t know if it’s any good but I did the work so there’s a lot of things on the horizon. But for the foreseeable future it’s all touring until February.
Ron Sexsmith’s latest record Carousel One can be found by heading to www.ronsexsmith.com, where you can also find tour details and much more.
Questions by Rachel Allman