Interview With Ron Sexsmith Post Love Shines

Over the last few weeks here at the Delete Bin, some of you have read a couple of pieces about Ron Sexsmith, and about the movie Love Shines, which is in part about his latest record Long Player Late Bloomer.

I wrote a review of the film Love Shines.

I even ran a Ron Sexsmith Love Shines contest that sent two of my commenters for drinks and a chat with Ron, and Love Shines director Douglas Arrowsmith.

Today is the third installment in the Long Player Late Bloomer/Love Shines Ron Sexsmith trilogy here on the Delete Bin, and a great honour it is to present it to you here: the Ron Sexsmith interview.

I asked him about the movie, and what he thought of its central character. I asked him about mainstream success, and about some of his heroes who have also been at the center of recent films  contemporary to this one. And of course, I asked him about fan support, and how he sees the future unfolding for himself as a songwriter and performer, post-biopic.

It’s a big thrill for me to have had the chance to do it, given that Ron is nothing short of one of my favourite songwriters of all time. And Ron himself was very generous with his time and his responses, given that (at the time of this writing) he’s on tour, and about to play the Rio Theatre here in Vancouver.

Here is that interview, conducted via email a few days before the show.

***

The Delete Bin: This movie had the director Douglas Arrowsmith filming you for seven years. How did you adjust to that level of attention for that length of time?

Ron Sexsmith: Well, in the beginning it was very sporadic. Doug had no funding so it wasn’t all that intense. But when Bob Rock came into the picture a production company came on board and suddenly there were cameras all the time, which as you can imagine, is a bit uncomfortable when you’re trying to make a record.

DB: The person depicted in the center of the movie is a private man who works on his craft largely in solitude. With that in mind, what was it that made you come around to the idea of this project?

RS: I’m not sure to be honest. I don’t remember even agreeing to it. But Doug was very reassuring that he had my back and he wasn’t out to make me look like a fool, and he was also very tenacious which I imagine you have to be in this sort of endeavor.

DB: Once the Love Shines project was completed, how were you able to view it as a movie, and separate that from the experience of being in the middle of it?

RS: It was difficult for me to watch it. I think he did a real good job though. I have issues I guess with seeing myself on film and I also have issues with the pacing of some of it. But overall it tells a certain story, not the whole story, but then he was focused on the “struggle” aspect of my career and so, it’s a bit downbeat. It caught me at a time when I had lost my confidence and was trying to resurrect my career.

DB: You wrote all of the songs on the new album before you went into the studio, and before the drama of the film unfolded. Now, you’re touring the songs with the weight of that story behind them. How does that affect how you personally perceive those songs now compared to when you first wrote them?

RS: It’s kind of like what Daniel Lanois said in the film about how hearing a sad song can cancel out your original feeling of sadness or words to that effect. I’ve been enjoying performing the new songs with my band and so the initial feelings or reasons for writing the songs kind of melts away and it just becomes fun to sing them.

Ron and his band played the Rio Theatre here in Vancouver, April 1. I met with Ron after the show, and chatted with him. He was affable, generous with his time, and very receptive to fans. He signed albums, posed for pictures, and had conversations with everyone. He recognized several fans who had met him in other venues, and called them by name. A community member on the RonSexsmith.com forum was recognized, and complimented on posts the community member had made there, which Ron had read. Another fellow was recognized by Ron from a YouTube video he’d done singing one of Ron’s songs, and was thanked for a great rendition. I told Ron about the first time I’d seen him play, opening for Elvis Costello in the late 90s, in London at the Albert Hall. He remembered the show, and told me that he’d met another luminary himself that night backstage – Elliott Smith.

DB: One of your key motivations as presented in the movie is the idea of breaking into the mainstream. Given how fragmented the record industry is compared to when your heroes were putting out records and enjoying radio hits in the 1960s and 70s, how do you define that finish line now in 2011?

RS: I think the movie over emphasizes that whole “trying to make a mainstream hit” stuff. It’s never been my motivation when writing and I have no interest in being rich or famous. But I’ve always tried to make hit records. This is not a new thing for me. I’ve tried to make records all along that would connect with people because that’s what all my heroes did. I realize that it’s a different day and age now, and I’m realistic about it.

I guess after feeling disappointed at my last two albums coming out and quickly disappearing, I enlisted Bob to help me make a focused effort that people might actually hear. I’m not sure what the finish line would be these days but I’m already feeling that this record seems to have more momentum than the previous ones.

DB: Tim Hardin, Nick Drake, Townes Van Zandt, Judee Sill, and many others have the respect of other songwriters, but never really found big hits on the radio, or huge record sales when they were alive. How do you think the careers of some of these people would have been different if they had their careers today rather than in the 60s and 70s?

RS: I think they would’ve had an even more difficult time today.

DB: There have been a couple of movies released contemporary to Love Shines, each one with one of your heroes at the center of it: Who is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him, and Still Bill about Bill Withers. Those films reveal the humanity behind the talent. What insights came out for you when viewing your own story in Love Shines?

RS: I think I mostly come off awkward and insecure in the movie. I loved the Bill Withers and Nilsson films so much, but they’re very different stories from mine. Bill had success but he walked away from it and Harry was self destructive. In my film I see myself as kind of my own worst enemy in that I can’t see the good things around me sometimes.

DB: For many years, you’ve had a pretty strong community of supportive, and very evangelical fans who are always looking to turn on their friends to your songs. We’ve certainly seen a lot of enthusiasm around the release of the film, on the RonSexsmith.com forums, the Love Shines Facebook page, and other spaces. How do these fan communities fit into your idea of success?

RS: I’m really lucky in having such a supportive fan base (and) it’s the main reason I’ve been able to “keep on keeping on” as they say. As Steve Earle says in the movie, I’m just lucky that anybody knows who I am. I don’t take it for granted but like I said sometimes when one is depressed it’s hard to see the good things.

DB: One of the highlights of the movie is your show at Massey Hall, where you’d seen many of your musical heroes play. Now that you’ve done that and have recorded it for posterity, what’s your current dream gig?

RS: Wow… that’s a difficult one. I guess it’d be nice to play that sort of venue all over the world, but clubs are fine too.

DB:  You’ve already got new material written. Given that this movie, and this new record might be a new chapter for you, how does that affect the way you’re thinking about approaching recording it.

RS: I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I’m still writing songs and hopefully when it’s time to make another record, I’ll know what I should do.

***

Thanks, Ron!

If you haven’t already heard about the film, you should absolutely check out the trailer for Love Shines, a movie that was a smash success last month at SXSW 2011, winning an audience choice award, as well as gaining official selection at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto 2011.

If you’re in Toronto for that festival, the film will be shown  at the following locations and times in May:

  • Friday, May 6 (9:45pm The Isabel Bader Theatre)
  • Saturday, May 7 (9:45pm The Isabel Bader Theatre),
  • May 8 (4:00pm Tiff Bell Lightbox 2)

The movie is scheduled to be shown on HBO Canada on May 14 at 9:00pm ET/MT.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ Love Shines on Facebook, to share your impressions with other Ron Sexsmith fans.

Big thanks to Tanya at Promoter At Heart,  Karen at Paperny Films, and Erica of Ahimsa Media, all of them associated with the promotion of the Love Shines movie for helping put this interview together. Thanks to Warner Canada.  And thanks to my pal Emme Rogers, who published a post of mine about the movie, and who is a recent Ron Sexsmith fan.

L to R: Emme Rogers, Ron, and me.

Enjoy!

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9 comments

  1. Insanely awesome questions Rob, drawing insightful answers. Clearly things you thought carefully about & got more than the average interview as a result – well done.

    1. Thanks, Jon. I certainly had a bunch more questions, many of which occurred to me after I’d sent these ones off. But, a great many of them were what I’d call Fan-Boy questions (“What’s it like to have Elton John, McCartney, Costello, blah, blah, as fans!!”, “What’s it like writing songs with Feist”, “What are you going to get Bob Dylan for his birthday?”). So, in many ways, I’m glad I didn’t include them here.

      Thanks for comments!

  2. Magnificent work. Ron may still have a distance to travel to reach a wider listening community, but that’s all ephemeral in the greater scheme of things. I feel the lack of ‘success’, whatever that is, has actually become one of Ron’s attributes. That kind of ‘success’ has a built in ‘sell-by date’ aspect to it, so I don’t know that it has that much to commend it. I came late to Ron Sexsmith, and actually saw him three or four times before I caught the vibrancy of his talents, once headlining for David Mead, another singer songwriter who is now having to pay to have his own albums put out – Ron’s fans are all genuine followers of his talents and not faddists – I noticed that Tori Amos is about to put out her twelfth album later this year, but she’s had major label backing along the way. It’s an interesting comparison, even though she clearly isn’t the songwriter that Ron is, by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, keep up the good work and remember that it’s quite civilised buying tickets for a Sexsmith gig at a gentle pace without having to get up on Sunday at the crack of dawn for an Internet lottery fight over a seat in a football stadium where you need to bring field glasses to see the singer!

    1. Thanks for comments, Martin.

      From what I gathered from Ron, it seems that the mark of his success is really being able to do what he’s doing, and make a living at it. But, I also think that it’s the sense of impact with an audience that he’s looking for, which is much different from purely seeking fame as an end itself. I think he’s looking for each record he puts out to be acknowledged, and for it to build upon the others which have come before it. In this, I don’t think his goals are much different from those of any other songwriter. This was what was getting him down around the time he wrote the songs on Long Player, Late Bloomer; that his latest records were not connecting with a growing audience as he saw it. Still, as he mentioned, he acknowledges that his fanbase have been incredibly supportive, and understanding of his place in the songwriter’s universe.

      I’m glad the film was made. His is an interesting story – an introvert put into an extrovert’s shoes. To me, this is the heart of the movie.

      Thanks again for comments!

      Thanks again for comments.

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