Houston musician-of-all-trades Robert Ellis released one of my favorite local albums of 2009, The Great Rearranger, and continues to gain a bigger audience with his country-tinged folk music. He plays with several bands around town, including the new-ish band Grandfather Child, and also hosts a weekly show of classic country covers at Mango’s. Also, Ellis recently performed a Daytrotter Session, which you can download for free here.
Here’s what I wrote about The Great Rearranger last year:
Ellis is a musician that seems to never be satisfied unless he is making music. From his work with musician Chase Hamblin to various local side projects to old-school country covers at Mango’s to his excellent solo work, Ellis definitely stayed busy this year. The Great Rearranger is a folk album that could have been made at any point in the past 50 years and would still be as strong as it sounds today–and that is a testament to Ellis’ songwriting. After a single listen, I couldn’t get “Good Intentions” out of my head–good luck getting it out of yours.
In advance of his upcoming performance at Free Press Summer Fest, which runs June 4-5 in Houston’s Eleanor Tinsley Park, Robert Ellis recently some questions for Houston Calling.
HC: You seem to be very busy these days (playing with Chase Hamblin, among others) and you also have the weekly gig at Mango’s. Are you planning on a solo gig at Summer Fest or will you have some friends onstage with you?
Robert Ellis: I’m going to have my full band with me. Geoffrey Muller, Wil Van Horn, Ryan Chavez, and Kelly Doyle. It will be a rowdy fun show.
HC: Will you be playing in any other bands during Summer Fest?
Ellis: Yes. As you mentioned, I play drums with Chase as well as I am Mesmer and Grandfather Child. I’m gonna try and not drink as much as last year. It’s hard work.
HC: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
Ellis: There are two sides to my stuff right now. Half is dark folk music. Influenced heavily by Paul Simon, Doc Watson, John Hurt. The other side is a big classic country sound.
HC: There’s a definite 70s folk/country vibe in your songs. What do you consider to be your primary musical influences and how do you think
these play into your songs?
Ellis: George Jones, Willie, Ray Price, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizell, Paul Simon, Smog. They all affect my sound in some way. I think the country stuff is obvious, but much of the folk and “indie” music I listen to has had a lot of influence over the arrangement of the records and the songwriting.
HC: You recently did a Daytrotter Session, which seems like some great publicity. How did that come about? Are you pleased with how it turned
Ellis: Daytrotter rules. I got in touch with them through a band I play with in Austin, The Lovely Sparrows.
HC: Which band or bands are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Summer Fest? Surely, Sideshow Tramps are going to be all over it again this year…
Ellis: Yeah, Tramps are great. I’m not gonna miss Golden Axe for anything. Wild Moccasins, Buxton, listenlisten, and I’ll probably catch most of The Nationals.
HC: Houston’s never really had anything like Summer Fest before. What’s your hope for the festival and your participation in it?
HC: What else do you have planned, music-wise, for 2010? Are you working on songs for a new album?
Ellis: We are working on a new record. Should be out this fall. Half country/half folk. After that I’ll be going on tour indefinitely.
HC: What’s one album you’ve bought or heard this year that you would recommend I check out?
Ellis: Bill Callahan’s new album [Rough Travel For A Rare Thing], Paul Simon self-titled, Kris Kristofferson’s last two. George Jones’ The Grand Tour is one of my favorites.
Thanks for Robert Ellis for taking the time out to answer these questions.
Here’s a video of “Good Intentions” live:
Robert Ellis plays at Free Press Summer Fest on Saturday, 6.5.10, at 12:40pm on the main stage.