Music: They sing his praises, but does anyone listen?
Everyone from Elvis Costello to Sir Elton thinks Ron Sexsmith is the best thing to come out of Canada since Joni Mitchell, so why then does James MacNair find him ekeing out his European tour staying in a Paris fleapit?
Friday 27 February 1998
I put it to the Canadian singer-songwriter that mastering disaffection a la Ashcroft might be counter-productive. When Sexsmith's modestly titled second album, Other Songs, figured almost unanimously in the critics' "albums of 97", it was because they recognised other qualities. Here, one discovered, was a writer who could crystallise complex yet universally recognisable sentiments without relying on melodrama or grand gesture. "Child Star", for example (which was inspired by the growing pains of the boy who played Alp Alpha in the post-war American comedy series Little Rascals) is an acute and poignant exploration of what happens when precocious talent wanes. Trust me; this baby-faced 34-year-old is one of pop's poet laureates.
Intriguingly, perhaps tellingly, Sexsmith often writes away from an instrument. "When I worked as a courier in Toronto I wrote hundreds of songs," he tells me, "because when I'm walking, I tend to get the wheels rolling. The cool thing is that sometimes the melody will sound really elaborate, and then when I get back to the guitar, I'll find that it's all based around three chords. Burt Bacharach wrote that way too", he adds. "He'd be strolling around with Hal David's lyrics, trying to figure out a melody for `I'll Never Fall In Love Again'."
One of the real strengths of Sexsmith's writing is its subtlety. Elvis Costello - one of his more high-profile champions - recently remarked that he could happily listen to Other Songs for another 20 years.
Sexsmith says: "As a listener, I don't like to hear any big message. In the course of one day I can feel so many different things, so a lot of my songs are just little pep-talks to myself."
The singer spent the late Eighties in Toronto, where he played gigs as a "human jukebox", churning out Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen covers to earn money to help support his wife and their two children.
"We used to live opposite a cemetery which I quite liked because it gave me a sense that people are missed," he says. "My son was about six when I wrote a song about it. One day we passed the cemetery, and he got really choked up asking me what happens when you die. `Pretty Little Cemetery' tries to deal with that honestly, but positively."
Sexsmith is staying in a cheap hotel in Paris's red light district that might euphemistically be described as characterful, and the shoestring budget of his current tour is such that he can barely afford to pay his drummer and bass-player.
Understandably, he's a little frustrated that the glowing reviews and celebrity endorsements - Sir Elton has also raved about Other Songs - have yet to translate into significant album sales. He reckons he has upset the trade by working with Mitchell Froom, producer of the Crowded House classic Woodface. Outsiders say that Froom no longer makes radio- friendly albums. Clearly this is not a concern that Sexsmith shares. He's prepared to wait until June, when Froom will be available to start work on his third album. "Mitchell's great," he confirms. "He's like my George Martin."
Which songs does he wish he'd written? A long list includes such disparate compositions as "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and "Strawberry Fields", with Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways", "one of the most perfect records ever made". "Relationship songs are the hardest to write. When I hear love songs, I get kind of insulted because it's all this `I swear I'll be there stuff'. Love's not like that."
Ron Sexsmith plays Her Majesty's Theatre, London on 1 March. `Other Songs' is out now on Interscope records.
Life & Style blogs
Versace haute couture review: Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
The face of fertility: why do men find women who are near ovulation more attractive?
What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sub-editor is required to joi...
£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...
£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Auto centre is based in We...