Ellis Paul is one of the leading voices of the American singer- songwriter world. He was a principle leader in the wave of singer/songwriters that emerged from the Boston folk scene, which helped revitalize the national acoustic circuit with an urban, literate, folk/pop style that helped renew interest in the genre in the 1990's. For years, he has been among the singer songwriter circuit's most popular and dependable headliners with fiercely loyal fans all over the globe.
Ellis' current studio album release, "The Day After Everything Changed" is completely fan funded. As an independent artist with his own label Black Wolf Records, Ellis raised over $100k in the middle of a deep recession. The result of this project is an excellent example and true testament to the relationship Ellis has built with his fans and the mutual respect they have for each other. This is Ellis’ first studio album without a records label in 10 years.
Ellis' charismatic, personally authentic performance style, have influenced a generation of artists drawing from the appeal of pop blending with the authenticity of folk. Ellis is one of the most pop-friendly of today's singer-songwriters. He has bridged the gulf between the modern folk sound and the populist traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger more successfully than perhaps any of his songwriting peers.
Paul fell under the spell of Woody Guthrie, who wrote "This Land Is Your Land," "Pastures of Plenty," and a thousand other American anthems. By 1998, Paul was telling the Boston Globe that Woody, to him, was "ground zero, the prototype in a long line of people I'm a huge fan of." At the start of his career, he put a Woody Guthrie tattoo on his arm, solemnly telling people it was "a commitment."
In the beginning Ellis was creating a buzz in the open mic scene that would soon produce the most important generation of Boston folk stars since the early '60s, including Paul, Dar Williams, Vance Gilbert, Jonatha Brooke/ The Story, Martin Sexton, Patty Griffin, and Catie Curtis.
Almost immediately, Paul's infectious melodicism, literate lyrics, and honest performing style drew attention. As early as 1993, the Boston Globe was calling him a "songwriter's songwriter", adding that "no emerging songwriter in recent memory has been more highly touted and respected by songwriters."USA Today did a feature story on Ellis with the headline, "Best Bet for Stardom". He has had movie and TV placements inclusive of two major motion picture releases by the Farrelly Brothers with his songs; "The World Ain't Slow'n Down" as the title track from Jim Carrey's, "Me Myself and Irene", and "Sweet Mistakes" in "Shallow Hal" starring Jack Black. Paul's song "If You Break Down" was used in the final scene of the highly anticipated last episode of NBC's "Ed".
While his style was highly introspective at that time, it was also informed by a probing humanism shaped in part by an upbringing in northern Maine potato farming family and the five years he spent as a social worker in urban Boston. Every day, he struggled to help poor urban kids hovering dangerously on the edges of the criminal justice and welfare systems.
Recalling those days, Paul says, "It definitely gave me a whole new vision of what the world could be like. Picking up kids at the projects, breaking up fights, talking to parole officers and psychologists, getting to know this side of life I'd never been exposed to, really opened my mind up. From that, maybe I took sort of a wide-eyed view of the world around me, which seeped into my music."
His skyrocketing career is still the stuff of legend in Boston folk circles; how quickly he climbed from opening act for the likes of Shawn Colvin, and John Gorka, to national headliner and recording star. His 13 Boston Music Awards are second only to Aerosmith.
Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, invited Paul to to perform at a Woody Guthrie tribute show held in September 1996 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The show was part of a 10-day celebration to honor Woody and also included performances by Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg and others. In 1998, the quintessential Boston songwriter was also made an honorary citizen of Guthrie's birthplace, Okemah, Oklahoma, in recognition of all he has done to revive interest in the Dust Bowl troubadour.
"A singer songwriter is only as good as the times he reflects. In times like these, when so many nuts are running the show, it's comforting to know that Ellis Paul is actually holding our sanity on his own stage! Wise, tender, brilliant and biting, Ellis is one of our best human compasses, marking in melodies and poems where we've been and where we might go if we so choose to. Personally Ellis, I'm goin' where you're goin'!" --Nora Guthrie (Woody Guthrie's daughter)
An increasingly topical humanism informed his work. Like Guthrie a half-century before, Paul displayed a humble genius for putting the most divisive issues of his day into starkly personal and emotional terms.
"I feel like I'm more a part of a community now than just a songwriter singing about my own struggles and the struggles of the friends I see around me," Paul says of his career today.
It would be easy - perhaps even advisable - to become complacent after succeeding so remarkably at all the things he set out to do. But there is restlessness in Paul these days, a vibrant, glowing spirit of artistic adventure. Success to him is not a prize to clutch and protect, but an open door to a wider journey.
"There are differences between the me now, and the me I was in the early '90s," he says quietly. "I have a reliable fan base that keeps a roof over my head, for which I'm so thankful. And I think they're also willing and forgiving enough for me to go through any evolution I choose, as long as the core of what I do is honest, and that I continue to write songs and stories about the things I see around me.
"I need to keep feeling refreshed. I've been down the Ellis Paul rabbit-hole, you know, and now I'm looking around and trying to learn new things, experience other people's music and stories. I have no idea where I'm headed, but I think it'll make me a broader artist. "