Ellis Paul

Jan 15 2010 - The Day After Everything Changed Musings- Final Installment!

Hello All! Welcome to the final Installment of my inner thoughts on the songwriting and production of the new album! Please feel free to make comments and leave your own thoughts about the songs and songwriting, I love to hear what y'all have to say.

"Dragonfly" is a little zen love song written about a dragonfly that makes it's way into a bedroom after a woman leaves a man's house, The dragonfly represents the woman: how did she come to me? It was written with Sam Baker, an Americana star down in Austin. I recorded this one in my bedroom. "Red dress on my door step/ honeysuckle blooming through the front porch screen/ perfume on my pillowcase/ empty bed in an empty room/ there's a dragonfly flying and a red dress hanging from the moon"

"Sometime, Someplace" is about a bar in Charlottesville, Va. It's most famous for being the place where the Dave Mathews band got their start. There are some references to them in the song, which is about finding love, "There's a ghost of a rock star, playing his horn in the corner where the fiddle player sways/ there's a crowd at the front bar, all the locals and the cronies talking 'bout the sugar days/ she tells me gypsy fortunes, lies about the rain/ I love the way the bartender whispers my name/ I want to stand up on a bar stool, shout out to the night/ I don't need a love forever, I just need some tonight"

"Once Upon a Summertime" was written looking back at the innocence of my first girlfriend. I took a lot of the details right out of our lives...
'"the drive in we'd meet/ in the Buick's backseat/ and find the crackerjack prize in the dark/ back home your father would come out and say 'What was the movie about?' I said a ghost, you said a great white shark"

"Waking Up to Me'" is about a long drive back to a loved one. Based on a drive I took from Maine to Virginia to get back home. Everyone has had one of those drives at some point—one that they never forget taking. "Out on the highway lately, the miles, they just fall back/ they roll beneath the wheels behind me/ it's a toll road winding/ you give time, but you never get time back/ just an aching that reminds me"

"Walking after Midnight" is a hybrid song with Patsy Cline and Sam Bakers "Change". It's a medley, I fell into it one night horsing around on the guitar and I liked the way the imagery played against each other in the two songs. "There was a dry good store, a flower shop, a barber with no nose, one alcoholic cop, a beauty parlor were they sat in chrome chairs, and it smelled just like they burned some poor lady's hair"

"The Cotton's Burning" is about a colonel in the 14th Tennessee regiment in the Civil War. He's headed back home after the Fall of Richmond. I am civil war nut and had to read some history to get away with this one. "Tell your captain, I have come claim my dead/ and let the flags of truce arise/ Richmond's burning all the politicians fled/ we are te last men to survive..."

"Paper Dolls" was written for a New Year's Eve wallflower whole alone at a party in a big city. New Year's Eve can be a lonely holiday. Kristian Bush is in a duet with me here, and the voices flow like two different streams of thought- One motherly on the outside offering comfort and one internally having doubt, "All the people at the party left you/ sitting at the table all alone/ you can hear their voices chatter through confetti/ you're alone"

"Nothing Left to Take" is a timeline on a break up from seconds to minutes to hours.
"In the first thirty seconds, she told him she was leaving/ she picked up a one way suitcase/ he stood there disbelieving/ then a minute passed, she turned and walked/ left him without the means to talk, she was history"

updated: 3 years ago

The Boston Globe Feature

After all the years (20), all the albums (15), and all the audiences (your guess is as good as ours), Ellis Paul can laugh when he remembers the all-but-empty room that barely acknowledged him when he arrived to play the legendary club CBGB in New York. As fate would have it, that happened to be the very night seven or eight major record label reps showed up to gauge the commercial potential of Paul's music.

"I didn't have a following in New York, and all these label people came out and there was no one else in the crowd,'' says Paul, who grew up in northern Maine. "It was this horrifying experience, because the club was completely empty otherwise and I was sweating bullets. And of course, no one threw a record contract at us.''

Demoralizing as that moment was, it offered Paul a revelation and a strategy: "I said, you know, I'm just going to go around these people and hit the road. And I'm gonna build [an audience] tree by tree by tree until I have a forest in front of me, of people who get what I'm doing.''

Empty rooms no longer greet Ellis Paul. For quite a few years now, he's played to packed houses and halls across the country, and next week, he'll release his 15th album, "The Day After Everything Changed,'' a fan-financed effort (more on that in a minute) that marks a new business paradigm for Paul. He's on a tour that brings him to the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River tomorrow night.

These days, when he's not on the road, Paul lives with his wife and two children in Charlottesville, Va., but for many he remains a quintessential New England singer-songwriter. The Boston Music Award he won last month as best folk artist (his 14th trophy overall, a total second only to Aerosmith) attests to his place in Boston's music-steeped history. So do the four sold-out shows he played at the legendary folk haven Club Passim in Cambridge last month.

"Gosh, he's probably played here more than anybody in the past 20 years,'' says Club Passim manager Matt Smith, who books the room and calls Paul Boston's "prototypical'' folk artist. "I think when people think singer-songwriter, the immediate reaction is Ellis Paul,'' Smith says. "He's the example that so many people have built their hopes and dreams and aspirations on, as far as being a performer goes. He's a great writer, and he's someone who always connects with an audience. This is a guy who gets on stage and is never just phoning it in. That is what draws many people to him.''

So many, in fact, that Paul decided to forego working with a traditional record label for the first time in his career - his albums had previously been released on Philo/Rounder Records - and instead asked for financial help from fans who might be willing to fund the making of his new record. Initially, Paul had hoped to raise between $75,000 and $80,000, but when the economy collapsed, he scaled back his ambitions. If he could raise enough for a bare-bones recording budget - say, $20,000 to $30,000 - he'd count himself lucky, he thought.

"We really didn't want to push it down people's throats,'' Paul says, "because we thought it was in bad taste at that point to be asking for money when people were losing their jobs.'' To his disbelief, however, the funds kept pouring in from all over the country. By the time he was ready to record, fans had donated more than $100,000.

"I had no idea that it would be as successful as it was, especially when the economy crashed,'' Paul recalls. "The money just kept coming in, and people really wanted to get involved and see their name on the record [as a donor]. I'm kind of amazed. It ended up being far more than any label has ever spent on me.''

The result is "The Day After Everything Changed,'' a sharply detailed, lushly appointed collection of 15 new tracks that Paul believes add up to the best thing he's ever done. The album, Paul's first new studio effort in five years, was recorded in Nashville last year.

"There was a lot more freedom,'' Paul says. "When you're putting something out on a label, you're really trying to please the label, because you want them to get invested in selling it. And sometimes you sell the songs short by trying to fit them into some specific genre.

"I definitely didn't want to just put out a folk record,'' he adds. "The songs felt bigger than that. If they called for really big drum sounds and really big electric guitar sounds, we let 'em go.'' Case in point: the swinging roots-rock rhythm and wide open-road sentiment of "River Road'' is one of the most carefree electric rockers Paul's ever recorded.

Fifteen albums in, Paul claims he's just getting started. "I look at some people like Johnny Cash who [were] doing it into their 70s, and that's the plan - I just want to keep writing,'' says Paul, who turns 45 next week. "I want to do this forever, so hopefully there'll be a lot more coming. Fifteen will seem like the early days at some point.''

Johnathan Perry
� Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

updated: 8 years ago