The Whereabouts of Ron Sexsmith

By David Kenney

Usually Ron Sexsmith is a lyrically introverted, bashful guy. An offer to co-write with Elvis Costello scared him. Content alone, the humble singer/songwriter writes his simple songs of insecurity, longing and delicate moments for himself, on his own time.

That is, until recently. Watching Canadian jazz chanteuse Diana Krall on TV inspired Sexsmith to do something he’s never done before–write a song for someone else.

"I think she’s great but she was doing some song that’s been done so many times and I was going ‘Hmmm…’ and I just started writing a song for her," says Sexsmith from his Toronto home.

After walking to his son’s basketball game, Sexsmith finished "Foolproof," which appears on his yet-unreleased album Blue Boy. Even though Krall has yet to receive the song, performing the track live is odd for Sexsmith as he feels he’s interpreting someone else’s song. Playing the Blue Banana Lounge and Engineered Air Theatre Fri., Nov. 24, the Toronto native says he’d rather release a cover record than CO-write

Getting Blue Boy out is Sexsmith’s next challenge. Shortly after recording his fifth record in June, Sexsmith was dropped by label Interscope. Now he’s shopping the new album around.

"I’ve always felt like an independent artist on a major label," says Sexsmith. "I never quite felt it was a real good match because [Inter-scope/Universal] didn’t really know what to do with me and it’s kind of a singles-based label, I think."

Sexsmith says he was surprised he was axed after they asked if he’d make another record and even got him to recruit a new producer, who turned out to be country outlaws Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, aka The Twangtrust. Friends with Earle since 1988, Sexsmith popped into his studio on his last visit to Nashville and six days and 17 songs later, a record was ready for pressing.

"It just felt very comfortable," says Sexsmith of recording with Earle.

"The record is kind of rough and demo-y and it’s all over the place stylistically."

Being recorded off the cuff, the new album–what Sexsmith calls a miniature White Album– deviates from the lavish sounding Whereabouts. More guitars, brass, a jazz ballad and even a ska-like track make up Sexsmith’s new musical stew. Earle and Kennedy’s influence is also felt on various guitar parts throughout the Blue Boy.

"[Steve] was determined for it to rock," says Sexsmith on Earle’s influence. "The last album is probably the saddest record I’ve made, this album is a little less so."

On tour alone, Sexsmith is playing three songs from Blue Boy live, alternating between guitar and piano. While planning a spring release for Blue Boy, Sexsmith isn’t pacing about label details. He’s just worried about his next song.

"For me the challenge is when people tell me, ‘Oh, the best songs have been written,’ and I figure my job is to say, ‘Oh yeah, well take this.’ That’s all I’m trying to do."