Rhaye/Ellsworth Double Release Tour ~ Part 1: Dennis Ellsworth

Musicians Jessica Rhaye and Dennis Ellsworth have been touring the Maritimes together each celebrating the release of a new album.

Saint John’s Rhaye fourth album, Far Gone Lullabies, features “songwriting [that] has moved up another notch,” says CBC East Coast Music’s Bob Mersereau.

Hazy Sunshine is Charlottetown-based Ellsworth’s sixth album, from his work as a solo artist or with his band Haunted Hearts. “…never before has Ellsworth released an album as heavily influenced by his belief that, no matter how rough things get, you will lose hope if you lose the ability to affect positive change,” states a recent press release.

The Rhaye/Ellsworth tour will arrive at The Carleton in Halifax Wednesday night; in a couple weeks it will travel to The Guild in Charlottetown. Arts East caught up with the two songwriters in anticipation for this week’s show and upcoming collaborative performances. Today we’ll hear from Ellsworth; stay tuned for tomorrow when we’ll post words from Rhaye!


What inspired you to start making music?
DE: Definitely my mother. She was more of a facilitator. I was in Music for Young Children and then on to piano lessons for 10 years. She also bought me my first electric guitar and when I failed to learn that, she bought me my first acoustic guitar. I taught myself to play and picked up tricks through the years, but without her I wouldn’t have found my way into music. She is also my biggest supporter and inspiration.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
DE: Not all the same. My wife has been a huge inspiration on my music. I sing about life, day and night, love and loss, longing….etc… everything appears.

What makes a good song?
DE: Obviously just my opinion here, but I think a good song is one that evokes feelings within the listener. From a songwriter’s point of view, I focus on lyrics, chords and song structure and the dynamics as it plays out. It’s such a difficult question to answer…there are too many variables to really nail it down. If you’d asked ‘Who makes a good song?’ I would have said Leonard Cohen does.

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
DE: Definitely inspirational. I do work at writing but I believe my best songs are written quickly and without too much obstruction. If I am in the midst of a new song and I get stuck for more than 10 minutes I usually set it aside and if it comes back around naturally, I will give it another go. Most often, I start from nothing and see what happens.

What went into the new recording (Hazy Sunshine)?
DE: A lot of money, a lot of songs (30), a long drive, a lot of red wine, an incredible cast of participants, and a feeling of making something great. The recording was a lot of fun. It was like we were a family for five days. We lived together; we made music and worked hard to serve the songs. We cooked and ate together, we all slept in the same house, we hung out late into the night/early into the morning and spent time talking and planning. It was a real memory. I miss it and I hope to work with these people again down the line.

What were the challenges of the process?
DE: The biggest challenge was deciding what did not make the cut. We mixed 15 songs of 19 recordings and we cut that down to 12. It was really difficult for me to see the dynamic and flow of the record but more than that, it was so hard to have to cut 3 beautiful songs. I will release them later. Other than that, for a whole lot of work, it was a breeze. We experienced minor technical or calendar issues but we worked through them and in the end, we have a better product because of it.

What were the rewards?
DE: Working with Josh Finlayson was a huge reward. He is a treasure and since this record, a great friend. I’ve been a Skydiggers fan since I was 15 so it was a total dream to work with Josh in this capacity and to have his approval was great. I also got to write with Josh and Andy Maize on a song (“Let It All Out”). We wrote that one like patchwork but it turned out great. Andy sang some backup vocals on the record and as a Skydiggers fan, it was icing on the cake. One of the coolest voices in Canada!

The team we put together was incredible. I have been a long time fan of Chris Brown, so to have him come by for two days was a real treat. We also brought in Tim Bovaconti who has some real crucial and defining moments on this record. He was terrific.
Michael Johnston who plays with Josh in Skydiggers was a real magician in the melody department. He added real greatness to these songs.

“The recording was a lot of fun. It was like we were a family for five days. We lived together; we made music and worked hard to serve the songs. We cooked and ate together, we all slept in the same house, we hung out late into the night/early into the morning, and spent time talking and planning.”

I had Kinley and Alan Dowling (father and daughter) playing together on a record for the first time in their lives. It was a real heartwarming reward. They are both total professionals. It was a long time desire to have Alan play drums on a record of mine and so that is more like a dream come true than a reward…but it was certainly rewarding.

Saam Hashemi, our engineer on the record was a workaholic. His attention to detail and his contributions to these songs, as additional guitar, synth, percussion, mixing, fixing, and just general greatness was awesome to be around. He is a star.

Last but not least, probably my favorite, if I had to choose was working with Matt McQuaid. We once played together in a band over a decade ago and we sort of lost touch. I asked him if he’d be interested in this project because I really wanted to work with him again and I was thrilled when he agreed. It was great to spend a week with an old friend and to know that time may pass, but what connects us doesn’t ever disappear.

Overall, the reward was the record we all made together.

What did you learn from the process?
DE: Always follow your guts, hearts, and dreams. Possibly, in that order…

How did you feel when it was done?
DE: Confused. I had nothing to do and it took me a while to get into listening to other people’s music. When the master came back, I had to switch back into a regular, non-record-making life and get ready to tour. I was out of sorts for a few weeks before I got my other groove back.

Do you have a favourite track?
DE: Either “Coke Machine Glow” or “Rudderless Day”.” Coke Machine Glow” because of the way it was written and “Rudderless Day” because it was our warm-up night recording that was made into such a cool recording by Josh, Saam, and Chris Brown. It stands out as a key track for me because it ties a lot of stuff together in my mind.

“Coke Machine Glow” was written as a writer’s block exercise and it wasn’t even fully realized before we hit record. We worked that one out as a team and it turned out so cool. Gord Downie’s poem by the same name inspired it and acts as the chorus lyric. It’s a sort of homage to the record because I think it’s a Canadian classic….and guess who co-produced it? Josh Finlayson.

What has the response been like so far from those that have heard it?
DE: People are loving it. Hopefully that spreads.

How will you promote and market it?
DE: Touring. Promotional stuff…You know, the drill: hard work, determination and belief.

What's on tap for you for the rest of 2013?
DE: Touring: Dates around the Maritimes in October and then heading to the UK for 3.5 weeks in November/December. Next year: Canada, more UK, and hopefully Europe and the United States.

Upcoming Shows featuring Dennis Ellsworth and Jessica Rhaye:
Wednesday, October 30 The Carleton, Halifax • 8pm
Saturday, November 16 • The Guild, Charlottetown • 8pm

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