Ellis Paul is the iron man of the folk music scene.
For more than a decade, the balladeer has put in 200 plus concerts annually. He hits the road, plays his tunes and meets his fans. And in the process, he's also built up a national reputation as a master performer.
Paul wouldn't have it any other way.
"The only way to get my music out is to get my butt in the car and take it to people," Paul says during a recent phone interview. "There isn't a lot of national exposure, and radio airplay is limited, so you tour and develop fans that way."
The formula works for Paul, who has developed a strong following while also honing his own performance skills. In the process he has put out four albums, won a slew of regional awards from his Boston region and garnered a big thumbs up from a USA Today reviewer, who called Paul a "Best Bet for Stardom."
Paul will perform as part of the Westside Folk Series at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ecumenical Ministries Building, 1204 Oread St.
He's touring to promote his latest two-CD set "Live," which features new cuts alongside his fans' favorite tunes.
It's his way of shifting gears in his career. His "Live" CDs, coupled with a forthcoming "Best of" album, will give his listeners a wrap-up of his older material, after which he'll retire most of the songs from his set and start playing new music.
"I hope to phase all that out and start a new phase of my career from scratch," Paul says.
Working on the road
Paul's need to create room for new songs stems from his prolific songwriting. He's always on the lookout for new material, and writes solo or with other collaborators. The collaborations help give him different perspectives while also speeding up the writing process.
"I'm writing more and more with friends," he says. "It quickens the process because I have to let go of the editor in me. The collaborative voice votes and decides things."
He uses current events to comment on societal trends. For example, "Translucent Soul" examines an successful interracial friendship in a racist society.
Paul derives his subject matter from media sources and from discussions with friends and fans. On a current project, a song about the Empire State Building and its construction, he told concertgoers he was researching the colossal structure and the events that led to its completion.
A fan got him in touch with her grandfather, who had been a laborer on the project.
"I get snippets of information from a lot of people. If you leave yourself open and get interactive, you'll get feedback," he says.
His projects have led to some unusual musical adventures. The introspective folk singer recently had his song, "The World Ain't Slowin' Down," featured prominently in the Jim Carrey comedy, "Me, Myself and Irene." The song is also included on the soundtrack.
It turns out that the movie's creators, the Farrelly brothers, are who recruited the singer for their film.
"They're huge fans, and they're from the Northeast, where I'm from. They're really big on taking care of their own. It's a real family arrangement," Paul says.
The songwriter's job
Paul's compositions have led to musical ventures with a litany of studio stars. Jerry Marotta, who works with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Paul McCartney, has produced albums, along with playing percussion and drums, for Paul.
Guitarist Bill Dillon and bassist Tony Levin often work with him, and singer Dar Williams added a cameo on Paul's "Translucent Soul" CD.
At the Westside Folk Concert, Paul and his touring band will be joined on-stage by guitarist Don Conoscenti and singer/percussionist Christopher Williams.
Though he enjoys the musical camaraderie, his ultimate goal is to involve the listeners in his songs.
"The job of a songwriter is to hold up a lens for people to interpret the world through," Paul says. "A song should make you see more clearly or feel more deeply. That's the songwriter's job. Hopefully, I do that."