Robert Ellis – a young Houstonian who is already garnering praise as the future of country/folk/rock – took some time in between stops during his North American tour for his newly-released album Photographs to chat Excited about his upcoming NYC performance at The Bell House tonight (July 14), Robert talked candidly of the many aspects of his music.
How much has your southern upbringing influenced your music?
I’m sure that subconsciously it had something to do with it, just growing up in a southern Texas town. I don’t know how much the lyrical content has to do with it. There wasn’t a lot to do in my town, so I turned to music so that the small town wouldn’t suck the life out of me.
Do you find that the audiences differ greatly from town to town?
I’ve been getting really positive responses so far on this tour. There is a wide age range; it’s a lot of older folks, which I like because they actually shut up and want to hear the music. They are attentive, so we can play a lot of the quieter stuff.
What do you think of today’s cross-over country music?
It is irrelevant to me. It’s not even anything I think about because it isn’t music to me; it doesn’t sound like real music. I don’t really care for it. There are some killer songwriters out there, but the songs that usually rise to the top are all about “honky tonk.”
Can you describe the layout of your album Photographs?
It is two sides set up for vinyl. Each side is supposed to sound uniquely different, so that when you flip the record, it actually sounds like a different record. We laid it out this way because we wanted to be able to write different-sounding songs. We also wanted people to be aware that we were consciously trying to make a classic country inspired album on the B side. We were actually going for classic country rip off.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
I always write the song and then bring it to the band to finish. I arrange some of the songs, and we arrange some together. When it comes to melodies and lyrics, it just depends on the day and my mood. Usually, lyrics and melody come at the same time; other times I just start building a song off a piece of a lyric. I’m currently trying to write more narrative type songs, from pieces of information I read off the Internet or hear about on the news.
Who are your musical influences?
Paul Simon is one of my big influences. I also respect John Prine’s songwriting, and then of course I like classic country. My family, my wife and my life in Houston also are a huge influence. They are what most of my songs are about.
Who would you want to share a bill with and why?
Well, this tour with Old 97s is awesome. I also really like the band Dawes. Then of course, there is Paul Simon.
Do you come from a musical background?
My mom was a piano teacher, so piano was my first instrument. I started to play the guitar in about 5th grade.
Do you have any pre-post performance rituals?
I don’t have anything I do every night. I usually drink a special tea that helps my voice. Sometimes I drink beer. Sometimes I don’t. After a show I like to head to the merchandise table and meet people.
What is your favorite venue to play?
The Orange Show in Houston is the most unique venue I’ve played so far.
For more on Robert Ellis, visit his Myspace page or check him out tonight at The Bell House.