For East Coast singer-songwriter Ellis Paul, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club is what he called “perfect room” for his type of show.
That show he is bringing to the venue on Sept. 26 is simple: Him, his guitar and his folk songs, which will be split between music from his latest album, “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” and from his back catalogue, dating back to 1993.
Born in Maine and based in Massachusetts, Mr. Paul’s songs emerge out of ideas he draws from his own and other peoples’ biographies. Thematically, his lyrics tend to be about “people at a crossroads.”
For example, the stories he has collected and written down to one day compose a song around include one about a man he knew who sat next to Marilyn Monroe at a baseball game and thereafter became inspired to pursue a life and career in Hollywood. Mr. Paul said he finds moments such as these particularly fascinating, calling them “pivotal stepping stones that form who you are.”
Of the new songs being showcased on his current tour, Mr. Paul is especially fond of “I Ain’t No Jesus,” the opening track from “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” and the fifth track “Slingshot.” He particularly likes playing them on guitar.
“There’s a tactile enjoyment playing the guitar parts to those songs,” he said.
Though he is based on the East Coast, “Slingshot” demonstrates Mr. Paul finding beauty in the opposite side of the United States. The song came to be when one day he wrote down a list of questions to elicit song ideas out of himself that included, “What was the most beautiful thing you’ve seen in your life?”
The answer, as it turned out, was a night the singer spent at Big Sur, where he saw a full moon and a clear sky full of stars above him and a blanket of fog covering the Pacific Ocean. In Mr. Paul’s estimation, his songwriting is best when rooted in actual experiences he or others have had.
“When I’m writing about things I’ve gone through or what other people I know have gone through, the songs tend to be more vivid,” he said.
When it comes to playing live, the song that gets him the biggest audience reaction is “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down,” which was released on his 1998 album “Translucent Soul” and featured in the 2000 Jim Carrey movie “Me, Myself & Irene.” Beyond its familiarity from the movie, Mr. Paul said the song’s “universality” continues to impact audiences.
His songwriting may be inspired by places beyond the East Coast, but Mr. Paul told the News-Press that the side of the country where he grew up is home to him. There’s little if any chance he’ll move to bigger music markets such as Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville, as he doesn’t hanker after the commercial mass appeal that would necessitate moving to one of those cities.
Fascinated by the songwriting and tragic life of Great Depression era folk singer Woody Guthrie to the point that he has a tattoo of him on his arm, Mr. Paul doesn’t see success as dollars and cents, but rather a producing songs with rich content. While Mr. Guthrie’s song “This Land is Your Land” eventually became a hit, much of his catalogue isn’t known to the average listener. This is how Mr. Paul likes his catalogue to be: Not ubiquitously heard and therefore requiring listeners to spend time exploring the body of work.
With a songbook now nearly three decades long, Mr. Paul looks forward to adding to it. Following his tour for “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” he will be right back to writing songs for his next album, which he expects will be released in 2021. This is a process he’s glad to continue for decades to come.
“I’m happy that I have another 20 to 30 years of this,” he said.