Volume 94, Issue 45

Friday, November 17, 2000


Sexsmith not just a folkie

Red Planet ugly from here

Good old Planet Smashing fun

Sexsmith not just a folkie

Gazette File Photo

By Zach Peterson
Gazette Staff

Thirty-six-year-old Ron Sexsmith is one of Canada's best songwriters working today. With his pleasant, soft voice laid over acoustic melodies, he's considered by some to be a folk-based artist. However, Sexsmith disagrees.

"I never really listened to folk music. Gordon Lightfoot is one of my favourite songwriters, but I always considered him as sort of a pop songwriter," he explains.

Born and raised in the Niagara Falls area, Sexsmith has been playing music since his teens. After independently releasing his debut album, Grand Opera Lane, he earned a recording deal with Interscope and has since released three more superb records.

When Sexsmith recalls how his 1997 release, Other Songs, won the Juno award for best roots album, he says he felt he didn't fit into the category and the 'true' roots artists who were nominated alongside him deserved the award more. "I'm feeling kind of guilty about it," he admits.

When asked about his songwriting influences, Sexsmith quickly names Ray Davies of the Kinks and the Beatles. In addition, he states, "I love people like Harry Nilsson and Burt Bacharach – the more pop songwriters." Again denying his folk-based comparisons, he says, "I only recently got on to Nick Drake because people kept comparing me to him."

Actually, the British Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Sexsmith for a Drake documentary. In retrospect, Sexsmith muses, "I think they were a bit disappointed because I really didn't know much about him. I think they were hoping I was going to be sort of like him because he had stage fright and was this tragic person. And I'm like, 'I love being on stage!' I think they were hoping to find some sort of scared, messed up person."

Unfortunately, Sexsmith's songwriting skills haven't translated into record sales, which has subsequently resulted in him being dropped from Interscope earlier this year. This left him having to split ways with Canadian producer Mitchell Froom, since Interscope thought Froom was holding Sexsmith back.

"Initially, the people at the label seemed very pleased with what we were doing. I went away for a few weeks to Europe to tour and when I came back, something had changed," he explains. While the dismissal came as something of a surprise for Sexsmith, he contends he often felt out of place at Interscope. "I thought I'd be shooting him in the foot if I worked with him [Froom] again," Sexsmith claims.

With the help of alternative-country legend Steve Earle, Sexsmith recorded a new album, which he is hoping to get out by February or March of next year. Although he's no longer with Interscope, he remains confident. "It hasn't set me back too much – we're in the process of talking to people and trying to find a good home for me."

Sexsmith's popularity in the United Kingdom and Western Europe far surpasses his popularity in his native Canada or the US. "It's a bit frustrating, but I do see it building, if only by word of mouth," Sexsmith comments, in regards to his smaller following in North America, "I just haven't had the breakthrough; I haven't had the song and you can't depend on radio when you're doing what I'm doing."

He is currently playing selected solo-acoustic dates across Canada, including a visit to London tomorrow night at the Embassy. The show promises to be an intimate affair with Sexsmith shifting between his voice, acoustic guitar and piano. He says he will be covering a mix of older material and new songs from his upcoming release.

As Sexsmith promises, "It'll be a good night of music."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000