Mullum Music Festival announces its most international and diverse lineup yet for 19–22 November, marking its eighth year of bringing music to the streets, halls, pubs and clubs of Australia’s Biggest Little Town. Along with Trinity Roots, Ben Ottewell, WE Two Thieves, The Californian Honeydrops, and Harry James Angus is Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith, who is touring Australia with his band for the first time in six years. Ron is getting ready to play his socks off…
I was googling and discovered you have the same birthday as Elvis… and David Bowie I think too from memory. Did that ever feel auspicious to a burgeoning singer/songwriter?
It actually helped when I was trying to make it in music because it made me feel that it was meant to be or something. And that prevented me from packing it in a few times.
How has the industry and your approach changed since you started out? Are there things you miss about how it used to be in your early career?
Well, the industry has changed a great deal. I got in at the tail end of it… you know, when there were big budgets for records and videos and tour support. It was all money that I couldn’t hope to ever recoup because I never sold many records. So, I guess I miss that even though it was a bit insane with the money they were wasting.
I miss being younger, too; I’m not really enjoying getting older at all – at least so far. But my approach to writing and recording hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still all about the song for me.
You are much in demand as a musical collaborator. I’d love to know what it was like singing Marianne with Leonard Cohen. What are the collaborations that have been most memorable or interesting for you?
Singing with Leonard was pretty special and completely unexpected. He was doing a book launch and I was asked to sing a few songs for him. I didn’t know that he was actually going to sing with me.
I also got to sing a few times with my hero, Ray Davies, which was definitely a highlight. I got to jam with Paul McCartney once at his house too, and that was surreal beyond belief. And I guess the most unusual was probably my duet with Engelbert Humperdinck. That was pretty sweet.
What are the songs that you have written that have stuck with you through the years?
That’s a tough one because I’m usually most excited about the newer material. But I still perform lots from the older records. I always liked Seem to Recall and There’s a Rhythm. One of my favourite albums that I ever made was Retriever – I’m not sure if anyone knows that one in Australia though.
What are the songs that you have played and thought, damn I wish I’d written that!
I have a covers channel on YouTube where I’ve posted more than 200 songs, and every one of them I wish I had written.
You have had numerous artists such as Rod Stewart & Michael Bublé cover your work; is it hard to step away from a song you have written and see it reconceived?
Not really; it’s mostly flattering and exciting. When you’re a songwriter that’s the thing you hope will happen. Emmylou Harris recently covered a song of mine, Hard Bargain; it was the title track of her record. I was on cloud nine for weeks because of it.
What is your songwriting process? Do you take your ideas from everyday narratives, or literature, or are you an observer…?
All of the above. I just try to honour whatever idea comes my way even if it seems silly. Some songwriters can only write when they’re messed up or heartbroken. I can’t sit around waiting for that. Most of my heroes could write about the broad spectrum of emotions and so that’s what I try to write about. I don’t want to be the master of one emotion.
Do you have a strong intuition for what goes and what stays in the songwriting and recording process?
Yeah, usually I have a pretty good sense of that. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell if I’m singing well, but that’s about it.
Tell me about your latest album?
It’s called Carousel One, and I recorded it with Jim Scott in Valencia, California. It’s a real travelogue of different styles of music that have influenced me over the years. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but I’m glad it did. It’s a very upbeat record, and again that wasn’t intentional.
What should we expect for your show at the Mullum Music Festival?
Well, I have a great band with me and so we will be playing songs from my whole catalogue. I’m not sure how long my set is supposed to be but I hope that I’ll get to play a whole bunch of tunes.
For more program and ticket information go to www.mullummusicfestival.com.