Folk musician enjoys making music his way
While record label representatives might embellish their observations, Ellis Paul calls it like it is.
The 37-year-old singer-songwriter-performer would probably never make it as a public relations or advertising representative. It’s a good thing Paul loves his current career.
One Web site focusing on him stated, “The world has come knocking on Paul’s door, offering him the shiny promise of pop stardom and he said, ‘Thanks for asking, but I want more. I want a life.'”
On Friday, Paul said by phone from his home on the Maine coast that those weren’t really his words.
“I wouldn’t say that about myself. But they can say whatever they want,” he said.
His CDs receive high marks on Rolling Stone’s Web readership surveys, USA Today pegged him a “Best Bet for Stardom,” and Dirty Linen magazine called Paul “one of contemporary folk music’s most influential voices.”
His records have climbed to the top five of the CMJ and Gavin Triple A radio polls.
In the last few years, Paul’s songs have appeared in films and television shows.
His “Sweet Mistakes” was heard in the Farrelly Brothers’ film “Shallow Hal,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black. “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down” was featured in “Me, Myself and Irene,” starring Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger. “If You Break Down” was featured on the NBC show “Ed” last week.
Despite glowing feedback from reviewers and fans and given Paul’s relatively recent emergence in different media besides radio, he still doesn’t consider himself a star.
“Maybe one of those stars you can’t see with the naked eye,” he concedes. “You need some kind of telescope to pick us up. Folk musicians need some sort of a map. I’m there, but I don’t know if I’m there enough for people who aren’t looking.”
It would be a different story if he were in movies and the top 40, Paul added.
“For the most part, it’s public radio playing my songs, and there’s a few triple-A stations,” said Paul.
He’d have it no other way.
“I’m lucky to have what I got. You don’t put a million dollars into the record; most of it is word-of-mouth and public radio. I don’t need a record label telling me I need hit singles or breast implants,” he explained. “I have complete freedom to do what I want and travel where I want as much as I want. It’s good.”
He travels about 200 days a year to 150 gigs throughout the country. Paul will be at Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts Saturday to promote his sixth CD, “The Speed of Trees,” released in September on the Rounder label. He’s also playing in Santa Barbara, Chico and Berkeley this week.
“I’m tired, but things are going great so it’s still worth it. The playing is always fun. I’m getting tired of traveling, but Grass Valley is beautiful. It’ll be fun to come back,” said Paul, who didn’t set out to be a songwriter-entertainer.
After majoring in English at Boston College on a track scholarship, Paul was a social worker by day and played at open mikes and Boston area clubs by night.
“It took me four years outside of college to realize this is what I’d be doing. Then I felt I could brave a step,” said Paul, who has been performing fulltime for 10 years.
About that time, Paul also had Woody Guthrie’s name tattooed on his arm upon his discovery of the legendary folk singer.
“I got so wrapped up in his philosophy, his stories,” said Paul, who was invited by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, to examine her father’s archive of unpublished songs.
On Paul’s latest CD, he transforms Guthrie’s unfinished “God’s Promise” into a contemporary hymn.
But don’t compare Paul to Guthrie: “It feels like I’m doing my job. I’m not trying to emulate him but trying to write about what I see, to be honest, and try to make people think and see the world a different way.”
Although Paul won’t admit it, he’s actually following in his hero’s footsteps.
“I’m never going to be Woody Guthrie, I’m always going to be Ellis Paul,” he stated. “I’m proud of the songs I’ve written. I’ve written lots of music, proud of all the songs.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Ellis Paul in
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley.
ADMISSION: $14. Tickets at Herb Shop Records, BriarPatch, Book Seller and at the door.
Call 274-8384 or
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