Ron Sexsmith isn’t a superstitious man, otherwise he wouldn’t have waited for his 13th album to make what he says is his most personal to date.
Forever Endeavour, which you can stream below until Feb. 4, shows the singer-songwriter reflecting on themes of mortality and mutability with his usual gift for incisive writing, all wrapped in an orchestrated wall of guitar, woodwinds and brass.
ListenThe Forever Endeavour stream is no longer available. Click here to purchase the album.
After releasing last year’s pop-folk oriented Long Player Late Bloomer in an attempt to balance his critical darling success with some commercial success — “I felt in general that it gave my career a kick in the pants, and the album even went silver in Europe,” he says, sounding surprised — Forever Endeavour sees Sexsmith back in more familiar territory.
A big part of that has to do with the fact that the singer-songwriter once again worked with Mitchell Froom, the producer on his first three albums as well as 2006’s Time Being.
“I thought I should probably just do it with Bob [Rock] because he did such a good job producing Long Player Late Bloomer, but these were very different songs," says Sexsmith. "These were a lot folkier, and then I just ran into Mitchell and he was telling me how he was really getting into orchestration, which I was already thinking would be a good approach for this album.”
As the title would suggest, Forever Endeavour (which, if you say it fast enough, sounds an awful lot like “forever and ever”), deals a lot with time, the result of a health scare Sexsmith had after doctors discovered a lump in his throat in 2011. During three months of tests and checkups (fortunately the lump turned out to be benign), Sexsmith was in a particularly introspective mood, fuelling the songs that stand as the centrepiece of the album.
“I feel a bit funny talking about it because ultimately I got good news, and there are a lot of people who don’t,” he says, “but during that period, I was in a bit of fog because you keep thinking about it. You’re having a good time but your mind returns to it.... You start to hear, you know.” At this he hums the familiar “dum dum dum dum” of Chopin’s Funeral March.
Because Forever Endeavour turned out to be such a personal album for Sexsmith, we thought it best to let him describe it in his own words. Below you can read his track-by-track commentary.
'Nowhere to Go'
"This was written right after we were done on Late Bloomer. We had so much rejection on the album initially, I couldn’t believe it. Here I was working with Bob Rock, we're getting calls from the States from record companies saying they wanted to hear it, but then when we start playing it for people they were all saying it was too commercial. I had never heard that in my whole career. All the enthusiasm I had for making it completely evaporated, and I went back into this funky mood and wrote 'Nowhere to Go,' feeling like I couldn’t do anything right. But at the same time I wanted it to be humorous, so I had a thing about being run over by a lawnmower, which is kind of how I was feeling. I just felt better from writing and singing it and that just triggered the rest of the song."
"This was just about meeting my wife and realizing it was something I should investigate or else I might miss the boat on it. Like last chance for love or something. I was in the middle of my acting stupid and doing all the dumb things that hurt everyone in my family in the first place, so when I met her I just felt that where I was going was nowhere. The song is about me looking back with a sense of relief."
'If Only Avenue'
"This was sort of an accidental song. My wife and I went to a friend's cottage, and I'm not really an outdoors person. It was fine and everything, but I was a little bit bored. I brought my guitar and I started singing this song with the phrase 'lonely avenue,' but I thought there is already a song called 'Lonely Avenue' that Doc Pomus wrote. But it sounded good, so I fiddled around with it and came up with 'If Only Avenue,' and all of a sudden the light bulb came on over my head and I just started writing, again, a song about regret and things that you can't see except in hindsight. I was just happy to be able to quote 'Heartbreak Hotel' in the last verse. It’s always fun when you get to do that."
"You’re probably sensing a pattern here by this point, especially on the first half of the record. The songs are a bit wistful, although 'Snake Road' is a humorous song, the whole Adam and Eve thing, and it's about temptation, about trying to stay on the path. I loved Mitchell’s arrangement on it because I never saw it being that funky with the horn and piano. It was one of those songs I initially wasn't even sure I wanted to record, but when I heard his arrangement I thought, wow, that’s awesome, I just hope I can sing it."
"This is just about how lucky I feel to have been born and raised in Canada. With the whole world seeming to be constantly growing insane, either with extreme weather or extreme horribleness, like in Syria, for example, you watch the news and think, wow, I'm so lucky to be living in this seemingly sane country. We have our own problems here too, but it was just about that and also, how it’s amazing we can just go about our business when all that craziness is going on."
'Lost in Thought'
"I felt I was really in the zone on this one. It’s kind of what I do, this type of song. It reminded me of my earlier songs, like 'Thinking Out Loud,' and again it fits in with the general mood of the song that came before."
'Sneak Out the Back Door'
"I wrote this not long after I wrote 'Nowhere to Go,' where again I was feeling like whatever I was doing nobody was interested. And it happens from time to time, I get disillusioned by the music business. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride, so initially I started writing about wanting to disappear. On the last record I had a song called 'The Reason Why,' which is almost about the same thing. This one is just a little more comical, I guess, and it’s also about not wanting to make a big spectacle of myself when it's my time to … you know … to go.
It was written before my health scare, but maybe it brought it on [Laughs]. It definitely fits with that theme though.
'Back of My Hand'
"I wrote this initially as a really slow waltz, and I just thought I have too many slow songs on this record, and I wanted it to be more lighthearted, so I turned it into the song you hear now. It's mainly about the feeling of déjà vu. I'm walking around and everything felt like I'd been there before, and I kept running into people that had been on my mind, and they would come up and say something really nice to me. I thought, 'Why is everyone being so nice to me, is this what dying feels like?' It was just an odd sensation I had, so I wrote this and turned it into a Beatles-y record."
'Deepens With Time'
"I refashioned this song because I initially I wrote it about a year earlier, a different version, for Faith Hill. They asked me, and I thought I don’t know anything about Faith Hill, but I thought I would write this song about family or something, family ties, and then they didn’t want it. I thought it’s a pretty good song, so I just worked on it and made it more personal. The last verse I wrote on it was with this health issue on my mind, not knowing how much time we have and trying to appreciate the people in our lives."
'Me, Myself and Wine'
"I took this down as a title for a Nashville songwriting trip. I wrote a bunch of stupid titles, like 'Put the Emphasis on Memphis,' and I just went down with them because I was going to be writing with a fellow I hadn't met. I thought in case he didn't have ideas, here’s some titles we can mess around with. He thought they were funny but he didn’t feel comfortable working on 'Me, Myself and Wine' because he didn't want to feel like he was making fun of country music or something. I'm glad I kept it anyway, because it became a song about my favourite thing in the whole world to do — listen to records and drink."
'She Does My Heart Good'
"I think the album starts to really pick up on the last half, with 'Sneak Out the Back Door,' but this one is one of the first songs I wrote for the record. I don’t even know if it’s a good song, but I really like singing it. I guess I was trying to write something like one of those old Rod Stewart numbers, like 'You Wear It Well,' from his early period. I always loved how those records sounded so loose. I wish I could sing like Rod Stewart, but I gave it my best. It’s just a song for [my wife] Colleen really."
'The Morning Light'
"This was the first one I wrote, and I didn’t want to write a downbeat song, but that’s the big question. All the people in our lives, do we ever get to see them again after we're gone? There's no answer for any of this. I had the music before I had the lyrics, and it sounded like something you’d hear in a medieval castle or something, and so I thought it was cool that Mitchell had these woodwind arrangements. I felt I should be wearing a powdered wig or something.
"You're always looking for a song that will start the record and end it, and this one seemed like a good one to end it on. I’m not saying it’s a super happy song, but it was a nice sentiment to end on. How great it is to wake up in the morning and still be here. It’s just a good song that completes the album."
Bonus tracks: 'Life After A Broken Heart' and 'Autumn Light'
"I didn’t really have anything for bonus tracks, and these days you can't make a record without bonus tracks or a deluxe edition or something, so the only thing I had were these song I had written with Don Black, who in England is a legendary lyricist. We wrote them with hopefully the idea that someone would record them. We are still trying to shop them around. Maybe we can get 'Autumn Light' to Tony Bennett. We’re working on it."
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on Jan 28, 2013