The title of Ron Sexsmith’s new album Hermitage is a play on words. When he first moved out of the big city of Toronto to the sleepy theatre town of Stratford, he was planning on embracing his inner hermit and never leaving the house. The age of the hermit was upon him. Not so fast.
As it turns out, the move to an old farmhouse in a quiet town where he could walk along the river Huckleberry Finn style was just what the legendary singer and songwriter needed to spur on yet another burst of creativity that led to this day, the release of his 17th album since his debut in 1986.
“As soon as I moved here, I spent so much time by myself, I didn’t really know anyone and I was just walking to town every day,” Sexsmith says. “Just all the changes, the upheaval of moving from Toronto and finding myself in this peaceful little town, I would come home almost every day with a new idea for a song. So it was very unintentional.”
One thing is certain, Sexsmith is happy to wait out the pandemic in his newly adopted town rather than the narrow rowhouse in the crowded neighbourhood where he lived in Toronto.
“I think we would have been miserable in Toronto while this is going on,” he says. “Here we can go out for a walk and not really see anybody.”
The St. Catharines-born musician established himself as one of the country’s great songwriters with a string of memorable albums in the last 90s and early 2000s. His songs have been recorded and performed by the likes of Elvis Costello, Feist, Rod Stewart, and Emmylou Harris.
But, after his last album was released, he was wondering if he had anything left in the songwriting tank. It didn’t last long.
Ron Sexsmith describes the enormous stress cloud that disappeared upon getting out of Toronto and the renewed creative energy. And his new album is very much an ode to Stratford with a wisp of theatricality and songs of beauty, playfulness, and love with perfect pop gems such as “Chateau Mermaid” and “Glow in the Dark Stars.”
“It is very Stratford-centric in a way,” he says. “It just feels like domestic bliss or something. I mean, I’ve never owned a house before, so being in this beautiful place with trees and birds and bunnies all around it felt very romantic. And living in Stratford feels like kind of an oasis.”
Sexsmith recruited his long-time collaborator Don Kerr who set up a mini-studio in the house and encouraged Sexsmith to do the album Paul McCartney style playing all the instruments himself. Which he did, save for the drums.
It is the kind of hopeful, positive music we need right now, even though Sexsmith finds it more than a bit weird to release a new album in the middle of a global pandemic.
“It is a bit strange, although I think it is more important now when people are stuck at home that they have something to listen to,” he says. “There was talk of postponing, but I really didn’t want to. It’s discouraging what is happening, but we are all doing through it and I know for myself, music is really helping me get through it.”
And, really, even if the album title is a play on words and eludes to Sexsmith’s headspace when he first moved to the small town, it actually makes even more sense now.
“I know, it is strangely in line with what’s going on in the world, he says. “We’re all forced hermits.”