Boston Beats: State your name, age and
occupation for the record please.
Ellis: Iím Ellis
Paul. Iím 40 and my occupation is songwriter.
BB: How did you first get into music? When did you learn how to play?
Ellis: I started playing when I was around 20, 21, when I got into
guitar. I started dabbling in music in high school, but not this kind of
thing. I was playing trumpet and band and that kind of thing, but I
didnít have any being-in-a-band dreams at that point. I started really
playing guitar when I was 20, 21, in college.
BB: When did you write your first song?
Ellis: About the same time. I canít remember what the name of it was, it
probably wasnít very good, but I took to writing right away. Didnít
learn many songs, just started writing my own right from the top.
BB: Tell me about your song writing style. How does a new song usually
Ellis: Usually I work on the guitar part first. Iíll just be hanging
with the guitar in between shows, back at the hotel or at home, and Iíll
come up with some sort of guitar thing that actually interests me.
Generally the music tells me what the song should be about, depending on
what mood the music is, and then I start filling in the lyrics. I kind
of use free verse in the beginning until I come up with a good catch
phrase that I can build a song around.
BB: Do you ever start with a concept or a feeling and build it from
Ellis: Yeah, I usually build off the music, but occasionally Iíll go in
with a concept right from the top and that works as well, but for the
most part thatís not the way I go in.
BB: What are some of your biggest songs?
Ellis: Well, I play a song called Mariaís Beautiful Mess, and a song
called 3000 miles. The World Ainít Slowing Down is one of my biggest
songs, a song called Angel in Manhattan and a song called Conversation
with a Ghost. That collection of songs is probably my most popular.
BB: What are your favorites of your own songs?
Ellis: Iíd say Maria's Beautiful Mess is one of them. Usually itís
whatever is the newest batch of songs is that Iíve written. I just wrote
a song called Jukebox On My Grave and a song called Take All The Sky You
Need, and those are my two my new favorites.
BB: Have you found your songs in movies or TV?
Ellis: Yeah, the World Ainít Slowing Down ended up being the theme song
to a Jim Carrey movie called Me, Myself & Irene. A song called Sweet
Mistakes was in a Jack Black film called Shallow Hal, and I had a song
called If You Break Down that got into Ed, and then a couple of songs on
the Real World on MTV, so Iíve had some success with that stuff.
BB: What does it feel like when someone covers one your songs?
Ellis: Itís great. I was singing a song called Godís Promise out in
California at this big music conference, and as I was playing it I could
hear somebody across the hallway in another conference room actually
covering it at the same time. I thought that was pretty cool.
BB: That is cool.
Ellis: Itís a big thrill when people do that. I donít really write them
thinking that other people can play them but itís great when people
actually adopt them and take them under there own wing.
BB: Do you have a favorite cover of one of your songs?
Ellis: Yeah, The Burn Sisters did a version of Godís Promise that was
far better than mine, and that was probably the one I was the most blown
away by. Theyíre a family music group out of New York State.
BB: What are your own musical influences?
Ellis: Well, I love the classic early 70ís singer-songwriters. Neil
Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, John Prine,
Bill Withers, people like that. That sort of sparse folk rock is what
Iíve been into ever since the beginning.
BB: What do you consider to be your favorite albums?
Ellis: Thatís hard. A bunch of Beatles albums, The White Album, Abby
Road, Sergeant Pepperís. I like a lot of the early Dylan albums like
Another Side of Bob Dylan. What else? Joni Mitchell, Blue. August and
Everything After, by the Counting Crows, and a lot of U2 albums. Achtung
Baby is probably my favorite.
BB: How would you describe your own style?
Ellis: Itís a combination of folk and pop and rock music. I think if I
had been born a few decades earlier it would fit comfortably in that
same niche as some of those other people. Maybe not quality wise, I
guess thatís up to the general public, but it comes out of the classic
singer-songwriter tradition. Itís a little Neil Young, itís a little
Dylan, itís a little James Taylor and itís a lot me.
BB: Whatís your process of recording music? What do you do to get your
best stuff down?
Ellis: Well, a lot of times the best stuff just comes to me sitting in
front of a couple of microphones and doing things live. Iíve had some
success layering track upon track upon track, and starting with a
click-track and laying the guitar and having other people lay the drums
down, but I feel like that that process is a little bit hollow in the
long run. I prefer to record with a live band and then clean it up with
overdubs. That way you get some of the spontaneousness out of the band.
But this last record I did, I mostly worked off of loops, which is cool
too. That process was a lot of fun because the producer and I were more
in command of the choices that the instruments were making, because we
were taking things off of the Internet that we really liked.
BB: Tell me about that album.
Ellis: Itís called American Jukebox Fables, and itís coming out on April
5th, 2005. Itís produced by a guy named Flynn, whoís a Boston
producer-songwriter-musician. And it came out great, Iím really happy
with it. We wanted to do something a little bit more contemporary
sounding, more along the lines of David Gray and Dido. So we did a lot
of midi, a lot of programming, a lot of loops. The songs themselves were
more like country songs. They were more sort of simplified story songs,
so the mix is pretty interesting. It came out pretty good, Iím pretty
proud of it.
BB: What kind of guitar do you play? How long have you had it?
Ellis: I play two acoustic guitars that I take on the road with me.
is a Santa Cruz Model F. Iíve played that one probably for 8 or 9 years
now, itís very warm sounding. Then I have a Guild D100 acoustic that has
a beautiful inlay. I have it strung up as Nashville guitar, so it is
high-strung, which is like a 12-string but just the high strings off of
the 12-string, so itís up an octave and itís a little more jangley.
BB: Do you prefer the studio or playing out?
Ellis: Theyíre so different. I like playing out to a certain point. I
donít like being away from home that much but I love the performing
aspect. And being in a studio is really great when things are working
well. So I guess I like them about the same.
BB: Speaking of home, are you still Boston-based?
Ellis: My wife and I moved out of New England, and weíre settling near
her parents place for the next couple of years. Iím hoping that I get to
come back after that, but weíll have to wait and see where life takes
*Pictures courtesy of