by Courtney Heffernan
VANCOUVER – Despite the finality of its name, The Last Rider represents a number of firsts for Ron Sexsmith. His 15th album is his first self-produced work, as well as his first album recorded with his entire band. From its conception Sexsmith says, “I knew…it was a band album.” Whereas on previous records Sexsmith largely worked with session players or his producers’ preferred musicians, “This is the first time we’ve actually gone in the studio, made the record, and the people who played on it will be with me live. It’s exciting for me [and] for them.”
That this album is self-produced is partly circumstantial: “We decided we couldn’t really afford to have any outside people, which is just as well. I had already intended on doing it with my band so it all worked out, I think.” Sexsmith and his drummer, Don Kerr, an experienced producer, worked together to produce the album. “Don and I, it was very much a team effort. The band, too; everybody pitched in,” says Sexsmith. The album was recorded at Bathouse Studio in Bath, Ontario, which was a welcomed change from the big cities where Sexsmith has previously recorded.
Despite his previous reluctance to get involved with the production of his albums, Sexsmith had much to contribute to the production of The Last Rider. Its production is a culmination of Sexsmith’s experiences in the studio: “I sort of knew how these songs were supposed to go…. I’ve done so many records now, I had a lot of knowledge anyway that I picked up from these other producers.”
Even from the outset Sexsmith felt a strong connection to the songs he was writing for The Last Rider. He says, “I just really felt close to these songs. Before I even made the record I was sort of living with these songs.” The result is an album that is personal and nostalgic. On “Breakfast Ethereal,” he recounts memories from his childhood in St. Catharines, Ontario, and wishes he could once again look at the world with youthful wonder. On “Radio” he muses, “What has become of the world we used to know?” as he recalls the music he listened to on the radio growing up.
Though Sexsmith has recently moved from Toronto to Stratford, he says The Last Rider is not about his departure from the city. It is only in retrospective that he realized “The Man at the Gate (1913)” is his farewell to Toronto. He says of the album’s concluding track, “The song was inspired by a postcard from 1913 where I see this little man standing by the [Trinity-Bellwoods] gate in the distance…. Afterwards I thought the song was kind of about me, really. About a hundred years later, I’m the man at the gate. I once lived there; now I live somewhere else.” Sexsmith sings that the man’s presence in the postcard remains “to prove his existence”; “The Man at the Gate (1913)” is as much a testament to his life in Toronto as it is to Sexsmith’s.
With the release of The Last Rider, Sexsmith and his band are going on a nation-wide tour, with dates in the UK and Ireland to follow. When asked if the album title suggests this will be Sexsmith’s last record and tour for the foreseeable future, he replies, “It’s unrealistic to think I won’t make any more records—I’m writing all the time—but I’d just like to not do it for a while and play shows and see how that goes.”
Ron Sexsmith performs at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre (Edmonton) May 9, Bella Concert hall (Calgary) May 10, the Rio Theatre (Vancouver) May 15 and the Alix Goolden Hall (Victoria) May 17.Rio Theatre, ron sexsmith