Weaving his narrative: Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul celebrating his 30-year career09/06/2023 11:46AM ● By Caroline Roosevelt
The Kennett Flash will be hosting renowned singer-songwriter, Ellis Paul on Sept. 15 as part of his 30th anniversary tour. A contributor and teacher of the Boston Style of songwriting, which is known for its thick storytelling, rich narratives and colorful placemaking, his songs transport the listener into a beautifully crafted inner world that feels at once intimate and universal.
After 30 years of producing his work through Black Wolf and Rounder Records, Paul ventured off on his own and created his own record label Rosella Records which he kicked off with the album The Storytellers’ Suitcase in 2019. He’s won fifteen Boston Music Awards, has been included in multiple soundtracks (Shallow Hal and Hall Pass) and is a veteran of the touring circuit-having performed over 5,000 shows over the course of his career.
Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Ellis leading up his upcoming performance at The Kennett Flash.
You’re not only playing at The Kennett Flash on Sept. 15, but you’re also headed to Europe on your current tour. It’s part of a 30-year touring schedule that has taken you around the world. What are your favorite locales?
I love going to Ireland quite a lot. Anywhere there’s a full house to play will be great. America and Canada are great. The Flash will be a really nice show as well.
I was reading that you really like the more intimate settings for your performances. The Kennett Flash is great for that. You’re right there with your audience.
It feels really personal. In front of a crowd or a folk festival, I feel like I need a band to get across what I do, but when it’s intimate like that, it can just be me and my guitar.
So, do you have a preference for stage or studio at this point in your career?
I love the studio. You’re creating something out of nothing. I love performing but at this point with the drives and the airplanes and the suitcases and the lugging and all that stuff – it is starting to be a little bit of a drag. But everything else about it is great! If I could just be beamed down and play a show that would be the best of all. Performing is really, really great, but it’s the travel that’s challenging.
There’s something about going into the studio with a blank canvas and you add color to it and shape to it and that’s pretty exciting and then you make a living off of it! Then you go on the road to celebrate that moment. It’s pretty exciting.
Do you pull any inspiration from when you travel? Do you write on the road?
I fortunately have an iPhone with me. Anytime an idea comes up when I’m on the road I record whatever I’m thinking on the iPhone and jot it down. I’m constantly working on songs whether I’m standing still or in transit.
You are from a potato farming town in Maine. Kennett Square is the Mushroom Capital of the World, so there’s some similarities with that one-crop agricultural town. But you wound up in Boston.
I was a runner in high school and got a scholarship for track at Boston College. That brought me down to Boston and eventually got me into the folk clubs in Boston because the folk scene was thriving in the 90s. That’s where I got my start.
Tell me about your time in Boston during the 1990s. I know that Tracy Chapman, The Lemonheads and The Pixies, among others, were all up and coming around you.
There were national places that people were playing in and I was lucky enough to be doing the open mics there and they would use me as the opener for these national acts that came through. It was a very heady time in Boston because commercial stations would be playing us, as well as folk stations. So, I went from playing for nobody to playing for a thousand people a night, very quickly.
Who among modern songwriters do you have an interest in? I know you mentor some up-and-coming singer-songwriters.
I am of that era where the music from the early 70s is my favorite: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and John Prine. Those guys are sort of my heroes. And then I have closer-to-peer heroes like John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Bill Morrissey, Mark Erelli and Antje Duvekot. They were up and coming as I was getting established. I like trying to mentor people whenever I can. It’s a hard path.
You describe your songs as little three-dimensional worlds.
You’re creating a setting for people’s imaginations to settle into, like looking into a snow globe. If I’m doing my job right, if I’m talking about the details of my life, or what’s happening in the snow globe, people are seeing their own lives inside of it. If I can get that through the listener, even though I’m singing about my life, I’m singing about theirs as well, and that’s how you get a hardcore, connected fan.
Who are the authors who inspire you? I know you’d probably go to songwriters, but given that you have such a foot in the literary world, what literature inspires you?
I like people who use language beautifully. I like wordy people like John Updike, and Stephen King, and folks who can really paint a scene. I like brevity like Raymond Carver, and Hemingway, who create a sentence with just nuts and bolts. It swings both ways.
What can we expect from your show on the 15th?
I have a new album out. It’s called 55 and I’ll be doing a lot of songs from that and then tapping into my back catalog and making sure I’m making people happy who haven’t seen me in a while by singing songs they discovered me with, telling stories and trying to weave a narrative in between.
Ellis Paul will be playing at The Kennett Flash on September 15th. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Tickets are available at www.kennettflash.org.