Indie rocker (and professional dog-walker) Sherman Ewing decided to take some chances when tracking his fourth studio album, Come and Meet Me, last winter.
Produced by Anthony Krizan (Lenny Kravitz) and mastered by Greg Calbi (Patti Smith, Paul Simon), the new disc / download finds the Minnesota native venturing outside his usual acoustic folk-parameters into the realms of classic rock and R&B. Ewing’s pure, sweet vocals are underscored by electric (and slide) guitars, robust base, piano and organ, and mischievous harmonica. A sense of community—of being part of a larger whole—imbues tracks like “Everything is Beautiful,” “Bring Us Together,” and “Hollywood,” giving the album a sense of celebration of the here-and-now.
But some of the music was written for Ewing’s mother, whose illness and death put the New York resident through an emotional wringer…but whose life lessons gave him a newfound appreciation for everything life has to offer. “Come Back Now” and “Shine” address the profound grief everyone suffers upon losing a loved one. Yet they also capture the joy and beauty of sharing time with those individuals while finding one’s way through life.
Ewing is taking the new tunes on the road this spring, so we rang him to talk about the writing and recording of Come and Meet Me and discuss how the creative process got him back on his feet again.
Ewing also invited AXS to debut the music video for his latest single, “Shine.”
AXS: Hey, Sherman! Tell us a bit about the new album. When was it recorded, and who’d you have with you in the band?
SHERMAN EWING: We recorded “Shine” at the beginning of last year…around a year ago now. I’d been writing songs for about six months. I took a workshop with this guy in New York called Tony Conniff. They forced you to write a song a week. And my issue’s never been about the writing, but finishing the songs [laughs]! So there’s nothing like the gun at the back of your head to get you to finish the songs and have to perform them at the end of the week. I took three successive workshops with Tony, and from that I got…I was pleased with the songs I was coming up with. The guy who produced the record is a good friend of mine, and plays guitar when we play out is. He’s named Anthony Krizan. He’ll be coming on tour with me. He’s played with the Spin Doctors. He and I got together and polished up a couple of the songs and also wrote one or two together, and I felt like I had a nice set, and I got excited to go into the studio. So in about a two week period I got together with these guys—I’m very blessed to have played with these guys on the record and on the road with me. There’s Jeff Lipstein on drums, Brett Bass on bass, Anthony Krizan on guitar, Rob Clores on keys. We’ve put together some tour dates, and I’m pleased with how it all came out.
AXS: I understand a lot of the record stems from the grief process from when your mother passed. There are two songs dedicated to her. Did the music help the healing process?
S.E: Songwriting’s always been cathartic for me. With “Shine,” it was a special song for me because it kind of…I read a book once called Songwriters on Songwriting, and I think it was Bruce Springsteen who said that writer’s block is often just a case of what you’re trying to say being too painful to be said. Everyone’s relationship with their mother is a huge part of their life. Good or bad, or whether it never really happened, it’s a big part. Ask anybody who is adopted, you know? But my mom passed when I was pretty young. I was brought up in a family where the religion didn’t allow you to go to doctors. And I was going through a lot personally anyway, so I decided to move home and help out with her, and I basically watched her slowly die this torturous death from cancer. It was excruciating. There are a few moments in peoples’ lives that dictate the course, that cause major turns and twists, and that was one of them—if not the biggest. I spent a long time trying to resolve it. A long time. There’s a self-destructive phase, then you pick up the pieces after that. Over the course of the next few years, I tried to come to terms with it. I think that song in some ways was a sign to me that I’m at peace with everything that happened. Part of it was that I didn’t tell anybody what happened. My folks didn’t want me to say anything; it was secret. What I do remember my mom saying—one of the last things—was when I was going to Columbia. There was a pressure to go to law school or Wall Street. And I just didn’t want to do that. It was like I was walking in a world that wasn’t gonna work for me, but I felt like I had to. But one of the last things she said was, ‘Do whatever you want to do, but do it the best you can.’ She’d been a painter, but she stopped when she had kids. But a couple years before she died she was able to start again, and that was a happy time for her. I’m not a churchgoing kind of guy, and I don’t profess to have any spiritual path I feel the need to impress on anybody else—but I do have that sense that there is goodness in the world, and that people working together can do a lot.
AXS: It’s a good message. You want to actualize your potential. For a lot of people, it can be scary to step outside the comfort zone and maximize everything they’ve got.
S.E: It shuts you down, you know? I lived a long time feeling very afraid and insecure. But the first time I heard that quote was from Nelson Mandela, actually. For me, it spoke to the idea—which ties into the song and to the record—about how my mom said, ‘Be true to yourself.’ If you’re honest with yourself and do the best you can, you’ll be all right. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have greatness in the eyes of others, but you’ll do just fine if you’re the best person you can be.
AXS: Who are some of your influences? What made you pick up the guitar in the first place?
S.E: My first rock ‘n’ roll hero was Elton John. When I was young I was put in an English boarding school. I was ten, and it was right around the time all those punk rockers got big. Like, The Sex Pistols and Boomtown Rats and The Stranglers. We’d listen to them at school, we’d buy the singles—I still have the original “God Save the Queen”—and we’d play the 45s on these little record players with the speakers turned out the windows to piss off the teachers [laughs]! Then I came back and listened to a lot of what is now considered classic rock. Lots of Neil Young, Cat Stevens, and Jim Croce. Those great singer / songwriters from back then; I think that’s where some of my influences come from. Later, it was John Hyatt. His music just spoke to me. The Talking Heads and The Clash, too. It’s like a journey. More recently it’s Band of Horses and Beach House. I listen to a lot of that stuff, too.
AXS: Talk a little about your other job. How’d you get started walking dogs? Apparently, it’s a pretty big venture for you now. You sing about it in “Everything Is Beautiful.”
S.E: My neighbor needed help with her dog. She broke her ankle, and as a kid, my job was to work as an assistant to a dog trainer. After school and in summers I worked as an assistant trainer. So this lady knew I loved dogs, and I said I’d help her out first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. And literally during the first couple days walking this dog—Toby—I ran into this artist from Ireland who was a dog-walker. She was moving back to Ireland and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with my customers. They’re disappointed that I’m leaving. Can I give them your number?’ That’s when I decided I wouldn’t go to grad school. I’d be a dog-walker! I got pretty busy pretty quickly, and I really enjoyed it. I spend time with the dogs during the day and spend time doing music at night. What could be better? Now the company is called Club Pet NYC. Twenty years later, we’re pretty much all over Manhattan. I have a wonderful team of people, and I have dogs staying at my house all the time. And I still get to play music at night!
AXS: The idea is to make a living doing what you love to do.
S.E: Yeah [laughs]! Sometimes you don’t feel like you can stay between the white lines! The truth is you can do anything you want to do. If I wanted, I could save up and take a plane to the middle of nowhere someplace and figure things out from there, you know [laughs]? I’m not going to do that [laughs], but I pick up on how some people think they don’t just have a choice.
Visit Sherman Ewing for more tour and album details.