Five Questions With… Dennis Ellsworth
The acclaimed roots songsmith from PEI mixes things up on his new album, enlisting Joel Plaskett to produce and play guitar. Ellsworth cites '90s rock as an inspiration for the sound of the record.
By Jason Schneider
When deciding to call his new album Things Change, Dennis Ellsworth took it as a personal directive. After making four fine—but criminally underappreciated—albums that straddled the line between alt-country and power pop, the Prince Edward Island native knew it was time to make a major statement.
To do so, he called upon Joel Plaskett to take the helm as producer, and he didn’t hesitate to take the extra step of playing guitar on the record alongside a rhythm section comprised of his longtime drummer, Dave Marsh, and fellow Halifax indie rock legend Charles Austin, on bass. The results on Things Change are a brilliant convergence of Ellsworth’s finely honed songwriting chops with Plaskett’s vintage sonic approach.
In the past, Ellsworth has never hesitated to seek out the right people for specific projects. It’s led him to build an impressive body of work in conjunction with producer David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Sugar), along with CanRock heroes such as Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers, Gord Downie), Hugh Christopher Brown, and Tim Bovaconti (Ron Sexsmith). However, working with Plaskett at his New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia became an immersive experience for Ellsworth that opened up many new creative possibilities that should raise his profile within the increasingly competitive Canadian singer/songwriter scene.
Things Change is officially released on April 20, and for more info go to dennisellsworth.com.
What makes Things Change stand apart from your previous work?
The production and songs. The songs are more ‘90s influenced, and the production attempts to throw back to that era in rock music. We use electric guitars primarily, where before my albums featured an acoustic sound. It was just four people playing together. We didn’t add any keys or synths. It’s more upbeat and fun, a bit self-deprecating, but honest. I’d describe the lyrics as being more direct and less poetic.
What songs do you feel best capture your musical vision for the album?
“Absent Mind,” “The Bottom” and “I Need A Vacation,” which I think are all self-explanatory.
What's been the most significant change in your life in the past year?
I stopped drinking alcohol 10 months ago.
How are you planning to present your new material live?
I’ll be playing with a band, but I also have solo and duo options too. I’m hoping to use a group as much as I can and turn things up a bit.
If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?
Where do I begin? A simple answer would be to do more to prevent artists from being ripped off. That leads to a broader conversation about giving the masses a proper understanding of the value of music and the creators of music. I’ve got lots to say about the music business, but I think the trend of paying artists less and less is something we all should be concerned about.