From the popular Newport Fest and historical Carnegie Hall to the pristine Pacific Northwest and American South, this singer-songwriter has graced countless coffee houses, community centres, places of worship and arenas for two decades, generally performing about 200 shows per year.

Ellis Paul is a man of many talents, and even though obstacles have littered his path, like when his track star days were railroaded by an injury, he has always come back full force. In fact, it was that incident that brought him closer to his six-string and even closer to that ultimately intimate world of writing; his newest, fourteen-track album, 'Chasing Beauty', seems to encapsulate all his talents for telling absorbing tales, observing human ire, crafting hummable tunes and celebrating unbreakable spirit.

Nora Guthrie, daughter and archivist of her famous father’s catalogue, has noticed Paul’s impressive work. She even asked him to add melodies to the late Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, a task not to be taken lightly. Paul has also headlined the Woody Guthrie Festival, which is held annually in Oklahoma and it’s not difficult to determine why. His material reflects the honesty and timelessness, which Woody Guthrie also honoured.

The Farrelly Brothers saw the filmic potential of Paul’s songs too, and included many of his tunes in three popular American films. His choice of inspirational material also attracted the Parents Choice Awards Panels after Paul penned a children’s book on a litany of unforgettable heroes.

In our second interview with Ellis Paul, the acclaimed singer-songwriter briefs us on his new album, the reasons behind his production decisions and reveals the meanings behind his most compelling lyrics.


PB: “Time was an open road/You can’t look back,” is quite a strong lyric in the title song, ‘Chasing Beauty’. from your new album.

EP: It was a song reflecting my first road trip and my life was in front of me. When you’re 20-years-old and you’re just tasting personal freedom, the future was the predominant sense of time. The past is for senior citizens to look back on.

PB: Which of your heroes inspired ‘Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus’?

EP: Jimmie Angel was a stunt pilot who had his own flying circus in the 1930s. He’d go from town to town giving rides, wing walking, doing dangerous plane stunts. He also was later in life a surveyor for mining companies and was the first westerner to see Angel Falls, in Venezuela, which was named after him.

His life was nomadic and an adventure – gold, silver, exotic foreign countries, jungles, stunt flying and travelling from town to town in the Midwest when the novelty of a plane could bring out thousands of people.

PB: Was ‘Plastic Soldiers’ inspired by a true story?

EP: I guess many true stories inhabit that song. It was inspired by all of those images of recovering soldiers taking their first steps in prosthetics. Thankfully medicine has evolved to the point where many people can survive these kinds of war injuries that may have killed them in the past. The song was the idea of an injured soldier returning home and now recognising his legs were steel and silicone like the GI Joes he played with as a child. His child is outside on the grass playing as he realises the irony.

PB: Your song about Johnny Cash is one of the most upbeat and visceral: “Drunk on ambition, whiskey and coffee?” What are your favourite memories of the legend’s live performances and recordings?

EP: I just liked his fearlessness. He could write and sing about Indian rights, prisoner struggles, drugs, passion and comedy. It wasn’t about creating a radio moment or a summer hit. He was like a folk singer, and was writing about what’s real.

PB: 'One Kiss Could Do Me In' is romantic but cautionary. True?

EP: It’s about seeing someone you haven’t seen in years and not wasting your romantic chances this time around by being scared. It’s about going for it.

PB: Both your children’s book and 'Chasing Beauty' showcase your admiration of mostly American heroes. What is your definition of “hero” and why these heroes?

EP: A hero is someone who puts themselves at risk to push the envelope on behalf of all of us. Challenging corporations, ideas of safety, propriety, the norm. Rosa Parks, Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Ben Franklin, all put themselves at risk. I think we sometimes take them for granted in a way. Like somehow we have earned this freedom we have by simply being born into it. We have to be reminded. And inspired. Or we stagnate. That’s why these songs are important to us.

PB: Why did you record the album in three separate studios?

EP: Travelling schedules and resting my voice made it necessary to do additional work at other studios. It was fun, too! Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts and Virginia all got some microphone time.

PB: You worked with Kristian Bush on 'Little Wood Guitar' and currently Kristian and Brandon Bush co-produced 'Chasing Beauty'. How did the process take shape?

EP: I would go down to Atlanta, and flesh out basic tracks and production ideas with the Bush brothers. Then we’d sit on things for a few weeks, and I’d come back in objectively with new ideas. Sometimes they would work independently on things based on our conversations of where the song needed to go. It was wise to take our time. The extra months made for a better album as a whole, because we pondered our choices longer.

PB: Your 'Road Show Carnival' videos are one way you share your backstage experiences with your fans. The clips of small town America and interviews with locals take us behind the glitter of show business and into the lives of the working class. Will you continue the series?

EP: I need to do more of those and, yes, I plan on it. Thank God for the iPhone. I’m going to try to make more videos and do more home show concert window performances for more of a behind-the-scenes look at things.

PB: At your commencement speech for the University of Maine, you told the audience, “The older you get, the less accommodating the world becomes to your vision of yourself.” How have you dealt with this obstacle in your own life? How should artists deal with this in general?

EP: Everyone wants their kid to be creative until the kid decides to join the circus. My obstacles weren’t many, and I eventually won my family and friends over to my work as a musician.

Our current obstacles as musicians are, how do we get paid for our music online? It’s like someone just came and took away 25% of our income and said, "Deal with it!" My vision of being an artist who is paid for my music is being challenged by these new paradigms. I hope we can take better care of the artists in the world.

PB: Ellis, you are also a visual artist and you’ve created everything from one-of-a-kind festival posters to hope chests honouring heroes. Are you self-taught or did you receive formal training?

EP: Art classes in high school and just a love of drawing and illustration have kept me interested. There’s no real time to devote to it, though. Maybe when I’m older.

PB: You’re in the middle of another extensive national tour. What are you looking forward to this time around and what’s in the future for Ellis Paul?

EP: More books, more songs, more shows! Not a bad life, which brings with adventure, a sense of romance and great stories to tell.

PB: Thank you.











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