We caught up with Huntington's Jeff Ellis in advance of this weekend's Newsong International finals to talk about his new CD, the process of the contest, and his predictions for tonight's Ladies Night at The Empty Glass...
WVRS: You’re set to play Ladies Night at the Glass Thursday night; have any worries about that?
JE: Only that no ladies will show up (ha, ha!). No, I'll have my right-hand man, Mr. Phil James, with me. If people aren't diggin' on the original tunes, he'll just play the Purple Rain/Journey combo. That usually works.
WVRS: You’ve made it to the finals of the Newsong International songwriting contest. What has that whole process been like and what particular songs have you played to make it this far?
JE: The first round was just submitting a recording. I think I sent in "I'm Not Leaving This Time" off of the new album. For the regional round, I drove down to Decatur, played two songs (I'm Not Leaving This Time, Russell and Honeybee), then drove straight back to school at Marshall. It was an incredible experience! The venue (Eddie's Attic) had delicious food and a good draft selection, and the performance room had one of the best sound systems that I've ever had the pleasure of playing through. I highly recommend that any singer-songwriters out there check out Newsong. The benefits and opportunities are many.
WVRS: You recorded the new CD in Athens, Ohio, how did that go?
JE: Excellent! Eddie Ashworth is the finest producer I've ever had the pleasure of working with. We immediately hit it off and were finishing each other's sentences before too long. He had a vision for the album that very much lined up with mine. We're both extremely proud of the results, and will most likely be teaming up again in the very near future.
WVRS: Once again you worked with Bud Carroll and his Southern Souls on the recording of the new CD. How much do they add in the way of sound and how easy is it to work with Carroll & crew in the studio and on stage when you’ve played out together? Will you ever form a super group?
JE: Bud's a phenomenal musician and songwriter and I'd go as far to say that the Southern Souls are the best band in WV right now. They had two weeks to learn the material on the record, and they exceeded both my and Eddie's expectations. A great deal of this record's sound is thanks to Bud, and I hope to work with him again on some stuff in the future. We actually did a few live shows together earlier this year, but we're both so busy with our own stuff that its hard to get together. Who knows, maybe we'll team up again for a project down the line? I'd be down for it.
WVRS: You bring in about half a dozen musicians to help on the new CD, how did the other musicians work with you and round out the sound?
JE: Eddie and I made a list early in the pre-production of what instruments we wanted on each song, and we pretty much got everything we wanted in the long run. With the exception of Bud and the Southern Souls, Phil, and Jessica Atkins, pretty much everyone else is from Athens, courtesy of Mr. Ashworth. I wasn't even there for a lot of the over-dubs, but like I said, Eddie had my full trust. If he said he was gonna bring something in, I knew it was going to only add to the finished product.
WVRS: The new CD is a bit of a shift away from the harder edges of your last CD “A Front Seat For The End Of The World” -- can you describe your approach to songwriting between then and now?
JE: With AFSFTEOTW, I wrote big band arrangements for a full-band show. Then, after a handful of full-band shows, I began doing mostly acoustic shows and couldn't play half of the material properly. With Covering the Distance, I tried to write stuff that I could play with or without the full band and not lose too much in the transition. Some songs work better than others in different settings, but I can play most of the new material solo and still be satisfied with it. The narrative portion, on the other hand, is still very much the same style of good 'ole fashioned storytelling.
WVRS: You’ve got the Newsong finals Saturday and the new CD out very soon, what are the immediate goals for you as you move forward, if you have any?
JE: I try not to get too far ahead of myself. I plan to promote this album as much as I can and try to play more shows. I'd love to see a label pick it up, so I'll continue shopping it around. In the meantime, I'll just do what I always do: keep writing, playing, and recording and hope for the best.