Last spring legendary Ontarian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith released Carousel One, his 14th studio album and one of his finest to date. Immediately, critics noticed a change in his tune. Longtime considered a perpetual sad-sack, Sexsmith's Carousel One was filled with much more levity and bounce. The track, "Saint Bernard," especially showed a lighthearted approach to song composition and content. Never mind life's anguish, who doesn't love a big ol' doggie?
Since the 1980s, Sexsmith has worked with some of the world's most passionate songwriters, including Steve Earle, Bob Wiseman and Don Kerr (The Rheostatics), and yet remains modest and unassuming, crafting tunes full of feeling and recording covers on his popular YouTube channel. His Twitter account reveals his sense of humour, with pun-filled tweets and his notorious "RS" sign-off. Read on as Sexsmith talks about about Halifax, dogs and David Bowie.
You've been touring almost all year. Are you looking forward to Halifax?
We’ve done everywhere else, so this is the last part. Halifax always been one of my favourite cities. I don't know what it is about it, but my wife and I have talked about ending there someday.
Have you been surprised with the reviews for Carousel One?
I never know what to expect. You're working in a bit of a vacuum until it comes out, and you hope people like it. And obviously the songs are all very Ron-centric, which everyone’s album should be.
What do you make of all the claims that the album is less melancholy than others?
Well, I never really felt any of my records were unhappy. I got labeled that way early on, but I’ve always had humour in my records and uptempo songs. The early ones were a bit sad, definitely. And this record was more outgoing than my last one. But I don't really think about it too much. And even when I was making the record, it wasn’t until the end that I realized there wasn’t a whole lot of melancholy songs on it.
I saw on your Twitter you're dogsitting lately. You must love dogs?
Yes, our friends from Buffalo came up and left a yellow lab. He’s the best dog, he’s great, but it’s work. You have to put blankets on everything . . . take him for walks.
Why don't you have a dog of your own?
Because I’m away too much and because we live in the city. And I know a lot of people live in the city and have dogs, but if I want to have a dog here, well, we live in an apartment. And because we just rent right now . . . To be honest, we can’t afford to buy a house in Toronto. And we're also gone from April to December on tour, so it’d be hard to find someone to take care of him.
I noticed you have the same birthday as David Bowie.
I do. And Elvis. I've always felt it to be a positive sign, like it's in the stars. I remember when I was a kid, I used to think there was some cosmic thing between me and Elvis. And my mom always said I looked like him, especially when my hair was slicked back in the bathtub. And I’ve been a Bowie fan all my life, I've always felt some connection to that. And I have a YouTube channel and recently covered "Kooks."
You post new ones constantly; how did your Youtube video covers start?
It started on the road, as "hotel covers." I didn’t even know how to do it at first. It looks like I'm a left-handed person, because the computer mirrors it. I just started doing it one time. And then people responded. I’m not playing my songs, I’m playing songs I love. I love songs so much. It’s my little personal tribute to songs that I loved growing up, and now. So it’s been fun. I was home for a year or so waiting for the record to come out and I just started to do them at home. I think they got a little better, in terms of their look. Really, it’s just me and my computer. It’s been fun.
Why do you cover the songs you cover?
I just think of them. I’ll be in the grocery store and hear one, and think, oh I’ll do that one. And when Bowie died, well, I used to do "Kooks" in the bars years ago and so I re-learned it. And I've done songs from the '30s, '40s and up until the '90s. It’s just a way to turn people on to songs, to shine an acoustic light on songs that have so much production on them.
Is that what you generally listen to? Older songs?
Yes, I tend to listen to older things, for the most part. I'm not up on whatever’s happening. I do love the new Bowie. We were just listening to it the day before he died. I do love it. And there’s an older song on the new record that's influenced by Roger Miller, called "No One." I've always worn my influences on my sleeve. The Kinks, Bill Withers and people like that, The Beatles. So that’s all on my YouTube, too. But I love a lot of people, Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson. That’s kinda where my head's at. I don't really know much about who's out there today.
Well, you are out there today.
I’m out there. But I don't really feel like I'm part of it. I have an audience and I’m just very thankful for that. So we’re all excited about getting to Halifax. These are the last shows of this tour and we’ve had such a good time. We’ve gotten so tight, you just feel you want to keep going. So I guess it's time for me to do another album.