Ron Sexsmith on his legacy, being an album artist and his exciting new venture

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Ron Sexsmith is in the midst of a massive world tour. The Canadian singer-songwriter has been performing across America and Europe since April and, right now, is taking a quick breather at home in Toronto before hitting the road again. With an extensive catalog that dates back to 1991 (his most recent effort, “Carousel One,” was released earlier this year) Sexsmith ensures that his concerts reflect his body of work, catering to the fans he’s cultivated a deep connection with over the years.

“That’s the kind of thing you hope for,” he says. “When you begin this sort of thing, you hope that maybe that’ll happen or maybe you can do something that is meaningful to somebody. It’s all meaningful to me and I guess that’s how it works — if you’re able to put something into words, into song, that someone else is going to understand what you’re talking about or what you’ve been through, then that’s sort of the pay off.”

The established musician, known for “his insight into the human heart and a melodic purity” (a quote from longtime fan Elvis Costello), has released 14 albums to date, along with numerous contributions to other compilations (including tracks on “Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village In The 60’s” and “This Is Where I Belong – The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks”). Sexsmith has a long list of admirers, from Bob Dylan and Elton John to Paul McCartney and Costello, and has had his compositions covered by Michael Bublé (“Whatever It Takes”), Rod Stewart (“Secret Heart”) and k.d. lang (“Fallen”).

But despite his talent and regardless of the great respect Sexsmith receives as a songwriter, commercial success — surprisingly — hasn’t been as forthcoming. “You always hope that the record will do well for a number of reasons — because you’re really proud of it but also because there are other people involved,” he says. “But I don’t care about success in terms of being famous or anything. When I did a record a few years ago with Bob Rock [“Long Player Late Bloomer”], that one actually did quite well and for the first time in years I was able to afford to have my full band with me on tour. That was a big deal, because I wanted to be able to offer people work and it’s just more fun for me to play with my band. So, it does matter, but it’s not the reason I do it. It’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m writing.”

When Sexsmith does write, he pens albums — collections of songs that one can get lost in from beginning to end, that tell a story that a listener can revisit over and over again. This, he maintains, is the type of music that he both personally enjoys and has strived to create.

“As a kid, all my heroes had hits on the radio but they were also album artists,” he explains. “You would hear Joni Mitchell on the radio but she made albums and it wasn’t about ten singles on a record. Or Elton John, even. He’s an album artist and so were The Beatles. That’s the kind of career I always wanted.”

The next chapter in Sexsmith’s legacy literally comes in the form of words on a page — his first novel. “I’ve handed it in to the publisher here in Toronto and just waiting to see if they like it,” he says, adding that the idea for the story came to him in a dream. “It’s a fiction, a bit of an old-fashioned fairytale. I’m pretty excited about it. When I started writing it, a lot of other things happened that I didn’t expect in the story. I found it very fascinating — my wife sometimes would look in the room when I was writing and I was completely oblivious that anyone was looking at me. I never thought that that would ever happen.”

Ron Sexsmith plays at the Rio Theatre on September 23.

 

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Yasmine Shemesh is a freelance writer who was born in Vancouver and raised on The Rolling Stones.
@yasmineshemesh

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