Ellis Paul Tim Rice photo

This week’s column has me reconnecting with another old friend, like last week’s Gerald Brann and next week’s Pat Colwell. Today I’ll be chatting with Ellis Paul, a Mainer whose more than 25-year career as a singer/songwriter has featured 19 albums, 15 Boston Music Awards and a performance schedule that has him doing 200 shows a year all around the country. Not too bad for a guitarist born in Fort Kent and calls Presque Isle home, even though he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him many times over his career (the last time was in December 2020), and when I heard he was going to be at the Chocolate Church Arts Center on the 19th of this month, I wanted to chat and see how he’d made it through the pandemic. I called his cellphone to learn about that and more.

Q: We haven’t chatted in a while, and I’m curious to hear how you’ve been, especially seeing we seem to be getting past the chaos of COVID, so what’s up with you nowadays?
Paul: Well, in the past few years I’ve shifted my business online and done livestream shows and taught songwriting and did private shows all online, doing whatever I could to survive the pandemic. Now that the world is opening up, I’m working on a new album and am hoping that next year I’ll be able to put it out and travel pretty extensively in whatever new world exists for us as songwriters.

Q: Where am I calling now, just out of curiosity?
Paul: I’m actually on my way to Florida right now for three shows. I’ve been peppering the year with shows, just maybe four or five a month which is about a third of what I would do in a normal year. But it’s just sort of like sticking your toe in the water.

Q: How are you finding audiences as you head out on the road?
Paul: You know, the crowds are lighter than they were prior to COVID. I think people are still reluctant to come out, but I feel I can keep the ball rolling just playing live. And, yeah, I’ve survived the whole thing, which is great. My fan base was generous to me and kept me afloat, so I feel a lot of gratitude.

Q: Did you ever catch it, if you don’t mind me asking?
Paul: I’ve had it twice in the last couple of months, and I lost seven shows. So I think it will still be coming in and out of my life for a long, long time to come.

Q: You’re breaking up a bit, I’m afraid.
Paul: Well, there’s a place I can pull over up ahead so hang on: we’ll get through this (pause). There, I’ve got up to three bars so I think we should be alright here.

Advertisement

Q: Good. But back to what we were discussing. I found when I went through a low-grade case of COVID-19 myself, after five shots, I lacked energy and the congestion problem was most troubling. So I can only think that, for a singer like yourself, it must have been very troubling.
Paul: Yeah, it was. I’ve been listening to the tracks that I recorded while I was sick, and I’m going to have to do them all over, because there’s just a touch of COVID in the voice. I prefer the voice without the COVID. Yeah, it’s challenging, but it’s the new world, so I think acceptance is the word to embrace.

Q: And I believe that, like with the flu, we’ll be dealing with it for a long time to come. But on to a more pleasant topic: your music. When did your last album come out?
Paul: 2019 was the last one, and it came out in June of that year, so I had about eight months to promote it and work it around the country before the pandemic hit.

Q: What’s your Standard Operating Procedure with album promotions?
Paul: I feel like the regular cycle of promoting records is a year/year-and-a-half, because it takes you that long to hit every club that you play in, to get the word out and the buzz working, so I feel like that record got kind of cut in half by COVID. I just haven’t felt like I should be putting out a record since then until I can travel with it, you know?

Q: That makes sense, for sure.
Paul: So hopefully in April or May I’m going to have this new record out. I’m doing a fundraiser for it, all of that is on my website. Everything is going well, and I should have it done by the end of the year, as far as recording stuff. Then it’s just a matter of manufacturing it and getting all the promotional people on board for it.

Q: I know you’re on the road now, quite literally, but where’s the road?
Paul: Oh, I’m only about 20 minutes from my house; I just left a few minutes ago, so I’m in Virginia. Maine is my home state, but I’m currently residing here.

Q: Now you said you did some livestreaming, but did you have a lot of time to do some songwriting?
Paul: I did, yeah. I didn’t write a lot in the first year, 2020, but I learned a bunch of cover songs that I never got a chance to learn. I wanted to play those during the livestream shows.

Advertisement

Q: Like what?
Paul: Oh, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” songs that I really love. So I finally learned them and then performed them. And there were themes to the livestream shows, like “The Wizard of Oz” theme, that’s why I learned that song and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” too.

Q: So what can folks expect from this show coming up in Bath?
Paul: Well, a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new, mainly, and talking about the new record and playing a few songs from it, letting people know that I’m still writing and still performing and still touring and still creating music. They get to hear where I am in the current moment rather than having to always go back to songs that people heard when they were in their 20s. So that’s the one benefit of never being a James Taylor or a Neil Young or somebody like that where you have to play the hits. I just want people to come along for the ride and get me where I am at in that year, or two years, when I’m promoting whatever new songs I have (chuckle). Kind of like a stand-up comedian that reinvents his set every year; that’s kind of what I feel like I’m doing with songs.

Q: Now, will this be a solo performance there in Bath?
Paul: No, I’m going to have my piano player, hopefully, he’ll be COVID free, and his name is Radoslav Lorkovic. I’ve played the Chocolate Church many times but it’s been quite a long time since I played there last.

Q: Is there anything, Ellis that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Paul: Yeah, I would ask that you let everybody know that it’s like coming home for me. I lived in Edgecomb for many years, and Mid-coast Maine is where I eventually want to settle. I’m down here because my kids are down here. I miss Maine, so any chance I get to go back there is like coming home.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.