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Ron Sexsmith. Photo by Ming Wu (@photogmusic)

Ron Sexsmith speaks about personal development, The Last Rider, and doing a song justice

By John McDonald on April 27, 2017

Ron Sexsmith, who The New Yorker called “an upbeat downbeat guy”, is a very busy man.

The three-time Juno award winner moved from Toronto to Stratford, released The Last Rider (his 13th long player), and is at the start of a tour that will take him across Canada, before jetting to the UK, Ireland and Japan. Ron and his band will be visiting the National Arts Centre on April 29 with Lori Cullen.

Sessions for The Last Rider were a marked change in approach from Ron’s 2015 Carousel One. That album was recorded in less than a week in L.A. with a host of the city’s top session stars.

For The Last Rider, it felt right to stay closer to home, namely The Bathouse, The Tragically Hip’s studio near Kingston. Also this is the first time that Ron, in tandem with his longtime collaborator, drummer Don Kerr, has taken production matters into his own hands. Ron believes that the result is one of his most personal albums.

Apt613 was able to steal a few quick minutes with Ron while he was preparing for the tour.

Apt613: There must be different frustrations involved when you self-produce. But is it easier because you can hear what you want (as the singer/songwriter) and you can make it happen as the producer?

RS: I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted the songs to go, but I had no idea how to get it to sound right which is where Don Kerr was instrumental. He has produced numerous records and so, he felt right at home. Anyway, I think we were a good team, ultimately.

You worked on this album primarily at The Hip’s Bathouse. How did you decide to record there?

I wanted to go some place out of the city where we could really focus. We had so many songs to record and just 8 days to get it all done. Also, because it was a band album, I needed a place where we could record, sleep and eat there and I’d heard The Bathouse was that kind of place.

Is there a sense of personal development or growth with each album you complete? This feels like one of your strongest collection of songs.

I feel that pretty much with each record. I’d like to think I’m getting better at certain aspects of making albums. I think for example, I can sing better now than I did on my earlier records.

For you, is a song completed when the lyrics and music are all written down, or is it finished when it’s recorded? Or is a song ever really finished?

For me it’s finished when the music and lyrics are done and I can play it from start to finish on guitar or piano and it sounds like a complete song. Recording the song for me is just about trying to do it justice, and give it what it needs. Which can hit or miss in my experience.

When we interviewed Donovan Woods and Good Lovelies’ Kerri Ough, both mentioned you when we spoke about songwriters. Do you realize your status as a songwriter, not only in Canada but worldwide?

They did? Aw, that was nice of them! It’s hard for me to know really, where I fit in or how I rate in the grand scheme of things. But songwriting is a beautiful tradition that I’m trying to uphold.

When you write, do you always have your own voice in mind?

Not always. There have been songs where I felt I wasn’t the right person to sing it. Or times where I wish I had a Rod Stewart type voice or a Bill Withers type voice. Most of the songs I’ve written for others to sing, they never end up doing them so I’ll go and record them myself.

Do you have to make a concerted effort to sit down and write, or is it something you are always thinking about and doing?

I’m just always thinking about songs. I’m basically open 24/7. Usually though, when I sit down at the piano at home I just start playing other people’s songs for fun.

You’ve moved from Toronto. Do you expect your song writing references to change at all?

I expect all kinds of changes but I’ll just have to wait and see I guess.

What can we expect when we see you here at the NAC?

Well, as you can imagine we’re playing quite a few from our new album. It’s also the 20th anniversary of my 2nd album “Other Songs” so I’m trying to play more from that than usual. Other than that, we’re trying to pick some songs from all my other records that compliment each other.

We know that you have to run, so one last quick question. Does the 150th anniversary gives a Canadian songwriter an urge to write a special Canadian song. One that will last the ages. Like Bobby Gimby’s “Canada”.

I’d love to be able to do that but not sure if I could pull it off.

Ron Sexsmith will be at the National Arts Centre with Lori Cullen April 29 at 7:30p. Tickets are available online.