Canadian Musician - May/June 2017 - Page 50

Guitar 2017 Ron Sexsmith When we chatted in mid-March 2017, Ron Sexsmith was in what he calls “the worrying stages” before an album comes out. The record in question is The Last Rider, which dropped on April 21 st through Warner Music Canada. “Once it’s out, I can relax as it’s out of my hands,” he says. Fresh off a recent move to Perth Coun- ty after 31 years in Toronto and armed with a new batch of songs as well as a book slated for release later this year, it’s no surprise that Sexsmith is a little anxious these days. Anxiety aside, unlike some touring musicians who pen songs only when it’s time to compile a new collection of mate- rial, Sexsmith is constantly writing – in hotel rooms, backstage at gigs, in his house… If the muse calls, he’s ready to receive the offering. The three-time JUNO-winner writes a lot on piano these days, but many tunes are also composed on guitar; it’s usually a matter of which instrument is closest when the idea hits. Sexsmith started recording The Last Rider, his 13 th solo ef- fort, last September, primarily at The Bathouse, The Tragically Hip’s studio near Kingston, ON. The 15 cuts are some of his most arresting – and most autobiographical – in an already storied songwriting career. One of the many standouts is “Man at the Gate (1913).” Sex- smith talks about the inspiration behind this composition: “My local card shop in Toronto up the street had these vintage Trinity Bellwoods postcards. I bought one that showed the gate from 1913. I kept looking at it, sat it on my piano at home, and noticed that there was a man standing there. As a songwriter, that is the type of stuff you obsess about. This guy was probably just wan- dering by when they took the photo and oblivious that he had become a part of this history. Originally, I was just writing about this man, but since we just moved away from Toronto it became more meaningful and the song also became about leaving To- ronto and thinking that that man at the gate is me 100 years 50 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N from now. I once lived there and I was the man at the gate. It was an unexpected turnaround, but it was the perfect song to end the record with.” For Sexsmith, the record’s centrepiece is “Breakfast Ethereal.” He wrote this song early on in the process and thought about making it the title track. The song is a nostalgic trip where its writer explores not just his own childhood, but everyone else’s – “Just how things seem more magical then … the whole experi- ence of that,” he explains. “As I was writing the rest of the songs, I realized many of them were also about childhood experiences and the whole album took on this personal trip that was com- pletely unintentional; I like when that happens.” While the guitar remains his go-to instrument, Sexsmith’s last six albums were mostly written on piano. He admits he doesn’t play well, but he likes that with those 88 keys, it’s all right in front of you. With the guitar, he knows it so well that there’s a tendency to revisit many of the same chords when he’s writing. Every room in Sexsmith’s house has a guitar in it. Amongst this collection, there are a few special ones. His 1956 Martin acoustic is his go-to guitar when he’s just hanging at home. Sexsmith admits he never thought he’d be able to own such a treasured instrument, but this one was given to him as a gift about eight years ago. “I drag it around the house like a stuffed animal,” he jokes. On the road, a Taylor 812 is his travelling companion. It of- ten sits patiently in its case, just waiting for the call. “That guitar literally arrived [before a show] while I was touring with Sarah McLachlan in 1995,” the musician recalls. “Interscope Records sent it via FedEx and the guitar arrived 10 minutes before my opening set. Since then, it’s never left me. That guitar is my battle axe. It’s been around the world so many times and been lost by various airlines … it’s a very important guitar. It has a nice warm tone. Hopefully it will last as long as I do.”