Robert Ellis Sure Hopes He Can Sing at Discovery Green Homecoming Gig
Photo by Destiny Ellis/Courtesy of New West Records
One of the damndest things Rocks Off has seen in our five-plus years in Houston is the way word of mouth spread like a brush fire among the local indie scene about "Whiskey Wednesdays." Starting in late, late 2009, scenesters both shaved and unkempt (more the latter) flocked to Mango's and then Fitzgerald's in the dead center of the week to watch Robert Ellis & the Boys -- a motley crew of local Americana all-stars including Geoffrey "Uncle Tick" Mueller, Hilary Sloan and Will Van Horn -- play, to borrow a line from Dan Jenkins, from 9 til overdose. Many alarm clocks went ignored Thursday mornings as local music scribes spilled more digital ink on the weekly event than drinks got spilled on the floor.
Before that Ellis was a 21-year-old folksinger from Lake Jackson with a raw, brooding 2009 CD called The Great Re Arranger that hinted he was already familiar with the darker moments of Willie Nelson's discography. After inking with New West Records at the height of Whiskey Wednesdays, Ellis released the product of that union, Photographs, in 2011 and spent several months on the road supporting it as opener for big-time Americana all-stars like Old Crow Medicine Show and Richard Thompson. He also moved to Nashville, dagnabbit.
After spending the summer in his new home recording Photographs' followup, tonight Ellis and his Boys return to inaugurate Discovery Green's free fall concert series with Temple-based spousal openers the Clarkes. Rocks Off knows Ellis to be a straight shooter, so earlier this week we hit him up about the new record, his lovely wife Destiny and hanging out in Music City with Kings of Leon (or not). We just had to do it via email because Ellis blew out his voice at the Trans-Pecos festival in Marfa last weekend.
Photo by David McLister/Courtesy of New West Records
Rocks Off: How is your throat? Robert Ellis: Getting better. Hopefully it will be back at 100 percent by Thursday evening.
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RO: What happened to it? RE: Most likely a combination of the dust out in Marfa and not taking good care of myself. The Trans-Pecos festival we played this past weekend is one of my favorites. I got a bit excited and went on a bender, so my wounds are at least partly self-inflicted.
RO: Are you taking anything for it/treating it at all? RE: Just trying to sleep as much as possible (with the aid of NyQuil) and avoid talking.
RO: How are things in Nashville? RE: Nashville is great! We love it.
RO: What are you finding to do up there (besides play)? RE: We spend most nights at the house cooking dinner either alone or with a few friends. Occasionally we get out for a bite or to see a show. It seems like every couple days lately friends come through and we end up going out to see them play.
We usually end up closing down a gay bar in my neighborhood called "Purple Hey's" after going out.
RO: Are you running around with the Followills yet? RE: I've yet to meet them.
RO: What kind of a job did you say Destiny had found? She works for Jim Lauderdale now as his personal assistant. It's a great job and a real treat to get to see him so frequently. She is kicking ass.
RO: I know you've been on the road a lot -- how much time have you actually spent in Nashville? RE: I've been able to be home quite a bit over the summer. We recorded a record, which allowed me to block out a solid month and a half of not touring.
It was also nice to be able to bring all the guys in the band up and hang in Nashville for a few weeks. I'm trying to talk them all into moving up there.
Interview continues on the next page.
Ellis and Will Van Horn at Cactus Music in April 2011
Photo by Jim Bricker
RO: How are things in the New West world? RE: Things are going very well with New West. They have been very enthusiastic and supportive with this new record, and I really couldn't ask for more out of a label.
RO: Last week you mentioned the new record was "all over the place." Would you please elaborate on that? RE: This next one, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, is definitely a stylistic departure from Photographs. The feel of the songs range from bossa [nova] to R&B to fusion-rock, as well as a couple more folky or bluegrass tunes. I'll be playing many of them at Discovery Green. My hope is that they feel much more like their own thing than anything else we have done.
RO: Are you nervous about playing Discovery Green at all? RE: Well I sure hope my voice comes back! Other than that I'm not really nervous at all, just excited.
RO: How much do you miss Houston? RE: A ton. I love this city.
RO: Name one thing -- not counting the food or the people -- you miss about Houston. Why? RE: I miss being in Texas. Things are just different here. I also really miss the feel of living in a city with over 2 million people. Nashville only has around 600,000, which has its downsides.
I miss hanging out at the Menil or MFAH, or going out to see really good jazz any night of the week. I also really miss being close to mine and Destiny's family.
RO: Name one thing you don't miss besides the weather or the mosquitos. RE: The traffic!
RO: Ever think you'll move back here for good? RE: If we were in any position I would love to buy a house here now. I am here at least once a month, and ideally I'd love to live in Houston during the winter and Nashville in the summer and always have a place to stay here.
Robert Ellis & the Boys, with openers the Clarkes, play the ExxonMobil Fall Concert Series tonight at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. Music starts at 6:30 p.m.; free.
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