Ron Sexsmith Facebook In 2011, Ron Sexsmith raised more than a few eyebrows…
- Posted on Feb 25th 2011 12:30PM by Lonny Knapp
Warner Music Canada
"There wasn't a lot of excitement about my last two; they came out and died the next day. I was afraid to make another record," he glumly tells Spinner.
Sexsmith is an artist whose critical acclaim makes him seem perpetually on the cusp of commercial success. Despite modest record sales, he's one the Canada's most celebrated songwriters.
His famous fan club includes Elvis Costello, Steve Earle and Paul McCartney. He has co-written a song with Feist, lent a track to rock 'n' roll legend Rod Stewart and recorded duets with Coldplay's Chris Martin and crooner Michael Bublé. More recently, Emmylou Harris chose Sexsmith's 'Hard Bargain' as the title track of her forthcoming studio album.
While these hefty endorsements make for an impressive bio, the hype has never resulted in record sales.
With the release of his 12th studio album, 'Long Player Late Bloomer,' Sexsmith hopes to trade his underdog status for mainstream success.
"The last few years, I felt my career slipping away. If I was going to make another record, I wanted it to be something that people would actually hear," he says.
With 'Long Player Late Bloomer' Sexsmith set out to make a commercially viable record, and with the help of big-name producer Bob Rock, he has succeeded in recording the most accessible album of his career.
Best known for his work with hard rock acts such as Metallica and Mötley Crüe, Rock has a knack for transforming periphery artists into viable commercial threats. His challenge with Sexsmith was to pull the notorious self-effacing artist out of his shell.
"Working with Bob, I felt like I was in the big leagues, and it was good for my self-esteem; this is not a shy album."
Sexsmith says the producer challenged him to try new approaches with his material. Take for instance, the album's lead-off single 'Love Shines,' with its big rock drums and layered guitars, the track comes across as a near-perfect pop tune. But Sexsmith reveals that he intended the song as a ballad.
"He came in with his vision and now the song has taken on a life that I never thought possible. To me it sounds like something off John Lennon's 'Double Fantasy,'" he says.
Recorded in Los Angeles, Toronto and New York, with a band of session musician borrowed from the likes of Elton John and Paul McCartney, 'Long Player Late Bloomer' is indeed a departure for Sexsmith. But don't expect a seismic shift: it's not as though he's re-fashioned himself as a portly, middle-aged Justin Bieber.
As a songwriter, Sexsmith has too much respect for his craft to let commercial concerns contaminate his creations. Sure, the record is more polished than his previous efforts, but stripped-to-the-core songs like 'Believe It When I See It,' and 'No Help at All' are as earnest and well-rendered as any in the songwriter's impressive canon.
Still, Sexsmith expects that his bid to reach a larger audience will alienate some fans.
"Some people might think it's too slick, but at the end of the day, it's just another Ron Sexsmith record. And for each one I've tried to do something different," he says. "I'm not a producer, I'm a songwriter. If people don't like the production, I hope they can see that the songs are good."
Sexsmith worries that the media might misconstrue his actions as a scheme to line his coffers, or some desperate attempt to attract celebrity. In reality, his intentions are quite modest.
As he sets out to tour behind this latest record, Sexsmith complains that budget restrictions will force him to perform solo on select dates. After 15 years of performing and releasing records, the guy just wants to be able to pay his backing band.
"I enjoy performing solo, but I want it to be an artistic, not a financial, decision," he says. "I've got a great band, and we love playing together -- but even as I book this tour, I'm not sure I can afford to take them along."
As a musician, Sexsmith seems to have been a late bloomer, himself. He released his debut album when he was 31. Now well into his 40s, he's counting 'Long Player Late Bloomer' as his best, and perhaps last, chance at finally grabbing that golden ring.
With the single 'Love Shines' serviced to radio and receiving spins, and a documentary of the same name set to air on the Movie Network/Movie Central in the coming weeks -- the film covers the last seven years of Sexsmith's career and culminates with recording sessions with Rock -- Sexsmith is once again garnering a media buzz.
Nevertheless, only time will tell if 'Late Bloomer Long Player' is the breakout that Sexsmith needs. Even if the album tanks, Sexsmith admits that he is unlikely to make good on his threat to retire from the music industry.
"Sure, sometimes I get depressed and I think I'll never make a record again, but the problem is that I'm a songwriter, and before you know it, I'm writing songs again.
"There is really nothing else that I can do."