Ellis Paul gets to hang out with his kids when he’s not on the road. But it’s when they’re at school or in bed that he really starts playing.
“They call it playing music for a reason. It’s fun!” Paul told The Beat with a laugh.
But playing music is Paul’s job, so it’s still work. He’s away from home most weekends – “I’m out three or four days a week, so I’m gone about half the year,” – and even when he’s home, he’s still writing, painting, whatever else he’s “work”-ing on.
In fact, Paul has been working at playing for more than 20 years now. Paul was among the collective of Boston-area artists who helped revitalize the folk/acoustic music scene in the early 1990s.
“There was a group of about 20 of us,” Paul recalled.
The native of Maine found himself among this group of musicians in Boston for practical reasons, he said. There are plenty of places to play.
“Every bar in Boston has an open mic. Every suburban town in Massachusetts has an old church-coffee house. Lots of college radio stations playing this kind of music. People in the area just have a great love for this kind of music.
“I’ve got as much clout in Boston as Aerosmith,” he joked.
Clout in Boston and beyond is well-earned for Paul, a literate, socially-conscious storyteller with a gift for songcraft that bridges roots folk traditions and modern adult pop. His nearly 20 studio and live recordings have earned him a host of honors and awards while also landings songs in, among other projects, two Farrelly Brothers films, Hall Pass and Me, Myself & Irene.
“Story songs form the backbone of all my records. That’s what I do best,” Paul explained.
“As a songwriter, you’re trying to reflect the truth. I might not be telling a true-to-life story, and I’m not afraid of lying or exaggeration, but while a story is fictional, its circumstances are real.”
Musically, Paul acknowledges a little bit of “ego fulfillment” in the recording studio, taking a song written for voice and guitar and adding the work of other talented musicians to the arrangements. But when he takes to the road, the songs return to their core.
“All my songs are meant to be heard with voice and acoustic guitar only,” he said.
Songs often get played live for months before they’re recorded. This is currently the case as Paul is in the midst of a fan-financed campaign to make a new record. However, since his most recent album of original folk songs, 2010’s The Day After Everything Changed, Paul has released his second children’s record, last year’s The Hero in You.
He has taken to performing “family” sets as well, something he will do during his stop in Columbus, with a Saturday family matinee following his traditional set on Friday night.
“I have two kids, and I wanted to create some music for them,” Paul said.
“The kids’s songs tend to be done with bigger paintbrushes and brighter colors. The storytelling elements remain the same, but the delivery is usually less nuanced. And I want them to be informative as well, with an educational element. But I also want kids to be able to dance.
“I love doing both (‘adult’ and ‘family’ songs). I’ll usually include a couple kids’ songs in my adult shows. Sometimes those get the biggest reactions. I’d like to think it’s kind of like watching Toy Story, where there’s something for everyone on different levels.”