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Chris Ronald Interview by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Chris Ronald Interview by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Lamitschka:  Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you for the first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you play to someone who has never seen or heard you?

Answer:  My music is a melding of folk, roots, and Americana (though my countrymen prefer the term "Canadiana").

Lamitschka:  How was the last year for you? What were your highlights?

Answer:  The last year has been fantastic and has seen many career highlights. I’m originally from the UK, and the Chris Ronald Trio completed its first comprehensive tour of England and Wales back in April. I caught up with lots of friends I haven’t seen since I emigrated to Canada 16 years ago. This last 12 months also included a cross-Canada tour and appearances all over my home province of British Columbia including some major music festivals.

Lamitschka:  What is your latest CD and how's it doing?

Answer:  Many of the successes I’ve seen this year are due to my latest album, Fragments, which was released on Borealis Records in May 2017. It’s received rave reviews in Canada and Europe and achieved top ten song, album, and artist in the North American Folk Radio charts.

Lamitschka:  How did you choose the title for the CD?  Is there a story behind the name?

Answer:  It’s called Fragments because I saw the songs as being written around fragments that I pick up on life’s journey. These fragments could be an observation, a memory, a photograph, a story from my life or someone else’s, and so on.

Lamitschka:  Do you write the songs yourself? If not, how do you go about finding the songs for your CD?

Answer:  I write all the songs, though Fragments is the first album where I’ve included a song penned by someone else. "Okanagan Sunset" was written by acclaimed author Bruce Madole. He sang it to me at a folk music confernece in Toronto. I was deeply touched and decided to record it myself.

Lamitschka:  Please tell us about the songs on your album (influences, etc).

Answer:  People tell me they like the variety of topics and styles. When I write I let the song dictate the style that works best, which is why I sometimes have difficulty naming one genre that my music fits into. There’s folk, bluegrass, soul, ballad, rock, and more. As for influences, I’m rooted in the 70s singer-songwriter movement, but I draw from all manner of music, old and contemporary.

Lamitschka:  What is the difference between your last CD and your current one?

Answer:  We took more time to record Fragments compared to my previous album entitled Timeline. Most of Timeline was captured in a single weekend spent in the studio with some of Vancouver’s best session players. Efficiency was important on Timeline because the budget was tight. For example, my takes were recorded singing and playing at the same time, whereas Fragments we built bit by bit. I think the tracks on Fragments are more varied and the songs a bit stronger.

Lamitschka:  Your current single is being played by radio. What do you feel is special about this song that makes people want to hear it?

Answer:  Actually, I don’t really release singles. I just put out the album and leave it to radio to choose what they’d like to play. It seems, though, that radio has picked up on two tracks in particular: "Everything Goes Green" and "Freedom Train." I think "Everything Goes Green" is popular because it’s very gentle with descriptive lyrics and catchy melody. As for "Freedom Train," it’s an uplifting tune with a bluegrss treatment.

Lamitschka:  What will your next single be?

Answer:  I’m thinking of making a more commercial version of "Sons of Summer" and releasing it with a video to coincide with summer 2019. It seems to be a favourite among fans. The production on the album version is quite sparse, so we’re going to beef it up and put it out there.

Lamitschka:  What kind of songs do you like to record the most?

Answer:  I have no preference really, though I do like it when a few great musicians are involved because they bring cool ideas to the table.

Lamitschka:  You did a duet with Angela Harris. How did that happen to come about?

Answer:  Actually, not really a duet in the true sense of the word, but we do sing most of "Everything Goes Green" together. Angela is a wonderful singer-songwriter from Vancouver, and our voices blend beautifully together. A sextet features on "Rain City Blues," however. It’s a long and wordy song so we decided to share the singing between me and five other local singers to make it more interesting.

Lamitschka:  What is your favorite song among all the songs you have recorded and what's the story behind it?

Answer:  That’s a tough question, but I think it might be "Twenty Little Stars" from the Timeline album. It’s a bit of a departure stylistically because it’s quite jazzy and features ukulele and clarinet. The song was inspired by the Sandy Hook shooting in the US where 20 elementary school kids and 6 teachers were killed. I remember the front page of the newspaper showing the US flag at half-mast in the middle of the town where it happened. In writing the song I imagined my own home and family in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Lamitschka:  How much creative control do you have over your music?

Answer:  I have 100% creative control over my music. That said, I’m very lucky to have John MacArthur Ellis as my producer and sideman. Our approach to recording is very collaborative so he has a lot of influence on the final sound. I’m also fortunate to have a label that just lets me get on with it.

Lamitschka:  There's a lot of work that goes into a number one hit. What did it take to make it in your case?

Answer:  "Number one hit" is a bit of a stretch, but "Everything Goes Green" was the top Canadian song internationally among folk DJs for August 2017. I remember a couple of things about writing the song. First, it features intricate finger-picked guitar, and it took me a while to master picking and singing simultaneously. Also, I remember challenging myself to write the most lyrically beautiful song I could. In summary, I think my best songs come when I challenge myself and push the boundaries of my ability.

Lamitschka:  Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your music?

Answer:  Yes. Many. Too many to go into here, but one example involves the song "Get Back in the Game" from Fragments. It was written for a friend who suffered a major heart attack while participating in a curling championship. He was technically dead for 5 minutes before being resuscitated on the ice. He underwent bypass surgery and lived to tell the tale. I’ve had people come up to me after hearing the song and tell me about their back-to-life or back-in-the-game experiences. From an elderly lady who felt like she was finally getting back in the game after losing her husband to a down-and-out drug addict who was managing to turn his life around.

Lamitschka:  Who inspires you musically and how deep do your musical roots run?

Answer:  My musical roots go pretty deep. My grandfather was an important role model for me growing up. He was a singer and storyteller, so I think that rubbed off on me. I also have three older brothers, so I was exposed at an early age to whatever they were listening to at the time. One of my brothers plays guitar and taught me my first chords when I was about 10. As for who inspires me, the likes of Neil Young, Paul Simon, Don McLean, etc. helped shape me musically.

Lamitschka:  What do you think about today's music scene versus its post and where do you see it going in the future?

Answer:  The music scene that we have now is very different to what it was 10-15 years ago. The sheer amount of music makes it hard for the listener to filter out the good stuff and equally hard for artists to stand out from the crowd. I think the output and diversity of music will increase in the future, and artists will have to become increasing extreme or at least very clever to survive.

Lamitschka:  What do you think about today's music industry?

Answer:  Digital streaming is making it harder and harder for artists to make money from recordings so having a strong entrepreneurial spirit is key. Also, having a great live show is more important now than ever, which is a good thing as it means better quality overall. CD sales are still an important revenue stream for me, and the bulk are sold off the stage. This might be the case for another 10 years or so particularly for folk/roots music, but for most other genres that revenue stream has dried up altogether. Streaming service providers are becoming the new record companies, but they’re investing nothing in the artists.

Lamitschka:  If you had the chance to change something about the music industry, what would it be?

Answer:  Nothing really. Success as an artist depends on the opportunities you carve out for yourself. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Lamitschka:  As an artist, you so many tasks such as recording, touring, interviews. What do you like best, what's your favorite activity?

Answer:  I was asked this question for the first time at Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival this summer. For me it’s performing. On stage is where everything comes together and where any artistic pretense is stripped away.

Lamitschka:  Are you doing anything to take music beyond its current borders or are you happy where it is?

Answer:  I’m happy where it is for the moment, but I always try to think outside the box. I’d like to write a musical.

Lamitschka:  What was your big break that got you into the music business?

Answer:  At 40 I realized that songwriting and performing were my passions and decided to make a concerted effort. Three years later I was nominated Songwriter of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards for my Timeline album. That led to me being signed to Borealis Records, so I guess that nomination was an important breakthrough.
Lamitschka:  What inspired you to become an artist?

Answer:  The love of being creative and the ability to connect with others.

Lamitschka:  What inspired you to become a songwriter?

Answer:  I think poetry inspired me to become a songwriter. My first song came from a poem I wrote in high school at age 15.

Lamitschka:  What drives you?

Answer:  I love to travel and meet new people. Touring allows me to do that and work at my passion at the same time.
Lamitschka:  What's unique about you that will differentiate you from other artists?

Answer:  People who see me live often comment on my stage presence, and they enjoy the accessibility of my music and the stories behind the songs.

Lamitschka:  What has been your greatest challenge in music business?

Answer:  Booking shows is probably the hardest part of the business, but it’s getting easier as I become better known and start to build a team around me.

Lamitschka:  What moments in your career stand out in your memory as highlights and achievements which you are proud of?

Answer:  Making it to the finals of the Kerrville NewFolk songwriting competition in Texas and being nominated and performing at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. I’ve also been lucky to play for some wonderful audiences like those at Calgary Folk Club and Rogue Folk Club (Vancouver) as well as perform at some lovely venues in The Netherlands and Germany.

Lamitschka:  Any thoughts of retirement ahead?

Answer:  Funny you should ask that. I have a song called "Retirement Plan." One of the lyrics is "This is my retirement plan, making music while I can."

Lamitschka:  Who is your biggest critic, yourself or others?

Answer:  Myself. I’m a perfectionist.

Lamitschka:  When you get time off, how do you like to relax?

Answer:  Read, get stuck into a good TV series or documentary, have friends over for dinner, go for a run or hike.

Lamitschka:  Is there anything in your life that you would change if you could?

Answer:  It would be nice if the kids helped a bit more around the house. Just tidying up after themselves would be a start.

Lamitschka:  What hopes and desires do you have?

Answer:  I hope my kids grow up to be well-rounded adults, find and honour their passions. I hope the planet can recover from the damage caused by humans so that future generations can enjoy its wonders.

Lamitschka:  What has been the biggest disappointment in your life?

Answer:  The fact that England hasn’t won the World Cup for over 50 years.

Lamitschka:  Many European fans travel to the United States to attend the several of the music festivals for the opportunity to see so many of their favorite artists, bands and celebrities. Will you be participating and how will the fans be able to find you?

Answer:  I recently went to Nashville for the first time to take part in AmericanaFest. If I’m involved in events like that, I usually post something on my web site.

Lamitschka:  Is there any place you haven't played that you would like to?

Answer:  Australia

Lamitschka:  What can your fans expect to see when they see you in concert?

Answer:  I’ve been described as having "a keenly luxurient voice and immaculate songcraft." Aside from that, they can expect some laughter and a good dose of singing and clapping.

Lamitschka:  When you're on tour, do you have time to play tourist?

Answer:  Yes. Experiencing new places is one of the perks of touring. As most shows occur at night and often shows at the beginning of the week are hard to come by, there’s usually plenty of time to play tourist.

Lamitschka:  Do fans mob you everywhere you go or do they respect your privacy?

Answer:  The closest I’ve got to a mobbing situation is people lining up to buy my CDs and get them signed.

Lamitschka:  Many music fans today get their information about artists online. Do you have your own website and what will fans find there?

Answer:  Yes, my web site - www.chrisronald.com - is the best place to go to sample my music, watch videos, check for upcoming shows, etc.

Lamitschka:  Tell us about the fan club and how people can join it.

Answer:  The best way is to subscribe to receive email bulletins by signing up online or at a show. As for social media, I’m most active on Facebook and sometimes post things there that I don’t put on my web site. So "liking" my Facebook page – chrisronaldmusic - is also a good idea too.

Lamitschka:  What's the best compliment a fan has ever given you?

Answer:  I received this compliment just the other week: "I'm not a fan of roots n blues but you blew me away. Wow! Already looked for another venue to go to but you're leaving the country, boohoo. Looking forward to hearing you again. You have the most amazing, beautiful voice and Grandpa's Wedding Ring made us both cry. Keep up the singing. Good retirement plan!"
 Lamitschka:  What's your favorite song that you wish you could have recorded?

Answer:  Joni Mitchell’s Blue album is amazing. Anything from that.

Lamitschka:  What message would you like to send your European fans?

Answer:  Last time I was in Europe, many of you prepurchased the Fragments album, and you were among the first people to receive it before it was officially released. Thanks for your support. I hope you’ll come out to see us again in November and bring a friend.
Lamitschka:  You have a new love in your life? Can you tell us something about it?

Answer:  Yes, she’s a black lab called Tesla.

Lamitschka:  Fans are always hungry for good road stories. Do you have one you can share with us (come on don’t be shy)?

Answer:  We played a venue near Preston, England, and the owner kept a parrot in a cage by the bar. Of course, we were hoping it would say something, but all we got was "F**k off!"

Lamitschka:  Describe what a perfect day is like for you.

Answer:  My kids joined me on the road this summer for a trip to Whitehorse. When we were camping in the Northern Rockies, we spent most of the day bathing in a natural hotspring. Later, on the way back to the tent, we saw our first moose just metres away. That was pretty darned perfect!

Lamitschka:  Most careers don't last as long as yours.  What's given your career the staying power?

Answer:  While I’ve been writing songs on and off for over three decades, I’ve only been pursuing a career in music for the past 7 years. That’s a relatively short period of time but it’s still required some staying power to take my career this far. The notion that "we only get one life so we might as well, as much as we can, do what makes us happy" has kept me going.

Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de ) for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

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