Ellis Paul

Ellis Paul, playing a new space Thursday night, Calliope Center Stage, reminisced about the various venues, including house concerts that he has played in the Pittsburgh area over the years.  The Center Stage would be a welcome new home for Mr. Paul’s future visits.

Performing two sets of music, with a brief intermission, Mr. Paul was alone on stage with his guitar, harmonica and keyboard in a very intimidate setting.  It was like having your very talented singer-songwriter friend in your basement performing just for you.

Mr. Paul opened with Rose Tattoo from his most recent release The Day After Everything Changed and ended the set out in front of the stage with an acoustic version of Annalee.  In between, he also performed Hurricane Angel, Dragonfly and Once Upon a Summertime.  Roy Orbison would have been 75 this Saturday (April 23) and Mr. Paul paid tribute by doing his version of Crying. He did a new song that he co-wrote with a member of Enter the Haggis, which is about Johnny Cash.  The audience joined in on the chorus of “Kick Off the Lights – Johnny Cash”.  Mr. Paul said the song was about the time Mr. Cash kicked out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry.  There were old favorites like Alice’s Champagne Palace and 3,000 Miles.

The second set had older material, fulfilling some requests from the audience.  In addition to asking for song suggestions, Mr. Paul opened up the floor to questions.  He shared with us which guitars he favors, and how he tunes them.  He also revealed he was working on his second children’s CD (he recited a poem about Thomas Edison to us) and a Christmas CD.  Before singing Jukebox On My Grave, Mr. Paul mentioned the gravesites of famous musicians that he had visited and the audience let him know that he could add another to his list, as Stephen Foster’s grave is nearby.  Maria’s Beautiful Mess, Eighteen, Roll Away Bed and The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down were highlights.  Mr. Paul ended the evening at the keyboard singing Johnny Cash’s The Night Hank Williams Came to Town.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Singer-Songwriter Ellis Paul will be in Pittsburgh Thursday, April 21st (check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more information.)

Barb WYEP's Sunday Mix Host (WYEP):  Hello Ellis!  Thanks for taking the time, while you’re out on the road, to respond to some questions via e-mail for the WYEP Music Blog!

WYEP: Ellis, you are going into your third decade as a touring musician.  How has life on the road changed over the years for you?

Ellis Paul (EP): The main thing that’s changed is the cell phone has made life so much easier, so much more streamlined.  I can contact home, do business, get on the internet, and I can keep in touch with my home base, manager, home and kids.. Whereas when I started, I would pull into a gas station at midnight after a show and try to find a phone and call, I would touch base every couple days, and now I call multiple people many time a day, that’s the best part that’s changed for me.

WYEP: What made you decide to go the fan funding route to raise money to record The Day After Everything Changed?

EP: Well, record labels tend to provide you money to record, they work the record for few months, and then they own the record forever.  Twenty years from now when I’m still slugging it out on the road, they would still own it and be making all the money, and I thought why let them have it when I’m doing the work in the long run? I can just make it work online, and have the people in my management company be the label itself.

WYEP:  What one piece of advice would you offer to a musician who wanted to ask their fans for money to fund the recording of their next album?

EP: I guess be honest with what your needs are, and what you can provide them in return.  They become your shareholders in a way, they’re your boss.  You have to give them a quality product, assure them their investment was worthwhile. They believe in you as an artist, but you have to believe in them, too, you’re partnering with them and you want them to feel good about their investments.

WYEP: Does it feel any different for you to play songs from a fan funded album live versus songs from an album that a record company funded?  Does it give you more satisfaction?

EP: There’s sort of a contentment factor that’s there..  Not just playing live, but if a song gets placed in a movie because we did all the work, I feel like I’m taking care of my family, my fans, and in the long run that’s what’s important, I don’t have that spiritual connection to a record label.

WYEP:  You were quite successful raising money to record The Day After Everything Changed, will your next recording be fan funded also?  If so, what lessons learned will you take into it the next project?

EP: Well, we’re still learning how to be record label. I don’t know that we spent the money on all the right things, but this was the first time we ever did this, there’s still some learning curve.  I’m pretty sure the next album will be fan funded, but we might partner with a label for certain aspects for a specified short time rather than doing it all in house. 

WYEP: As a fellow Capricorn (who is also married to a Capricorn), there are some admirable qualities under this astrological sign: responsible, patient, ambitious, resourceful and loyal.  Do you believe that being a Capricorn has had any influence on the decisions you’ve made with your career over the years?

EP: I don’t know, I could probably attribute any signs or positive traits to what I do for work. I do know Capricorn’s go inch by inch and conquer mountains slowly but surely over time, and I feel like that’s what my path has been over time and will be in the future.

WYEP: Two words:  Woody Guthrie.  What does his music mean to you and how has his music influenced you as a songwriter?

EP: The main thing with Woody is just what the job description is, how he defines it.  You’re supposed to write about things that are important, what’s broken and how to fix it… and have people understand there’s a better way.  To not be writing in just a commercial way, that’s the difference between a folk singer and someone who’s just a songwriter.

WYEP:  Your music has been featured in three Farrelly Brothers movies, including this year’s “Hall Pass”.  How did you start working with the Farrelly Brothers?

EP: The Farrelly Brothers are from New England and are good friends with my manager, and they just take care of the things they care about.  It’s almost a family run business, they bring in New England comics and musicians they love for their movies, they’re just loyal, reliable people.  I feel very lucky to have them in my camp.

WYEP:  Only Aerosmith has won more Boston Music Awards.  Can you briefly explain what makes “Boston-style” songwriting so unique?  Did growing up in New England inspire your songwriting?

EP: The main thing about the Boston scene is that all these listening rooms were here, and instead of coming out of the bar scene like I would have out of Texas, or Austin or Atlanta or Chicago, my art developed in places you can hear a pin drop.  As a result, it’s lyric driven, it’s a little more intellectual… for better or for worse!  It’s not slighting anyone that writes down in Texas that writes grittier, which I think is just as relevant and influential.  In Atlanta it’s more rock,  you have to break through the bar noise.  That’s the difference between learning to write a song in Boston, or Nashville, or LA.. the environment and the support system are different.

WYEP: One of the critiques I’ve received as a writer is that I need to show more than tell; to use the senses.  Do you find that applicable to songwriting as well, that writers need to show more in their songs?  Can you provide an example from one of your songs?

EP: That’s exactly what I tell people in my songwriting workshop, use the senses, make it visual, not just auditory.  Not just imagery, but language of the song itself. I would use like, in ‘Sweet Mistakes’, “Pop the cork, a champagne glass, raise to the future, drink to the past, thank the lord for the friends he cast in the play he wrote for you.”  So obviously, the pop the cork is the sound, taste is there, you visualize the raising of the glass, and that’s also touching the glass.. Then if you read the song out loud and think about the alliteration and consonants, the sonic, it’s not just the melody but what the words do out loud, “pop” and “cork” and very punctuated words, that’s the kind of writing that makes me most proud.

WYEP:  Ellis, thanks for your time!  We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!

EP: Thank you, looking forward to playing in Pittsburgh again!

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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