Dennis Ellsworth was working in a restaurant kitchen when he realized he was ready to launch his solo music career. The Prince Edward Island native had already cut his first album (Chesterfield Dweller of the Year) while living in Toronto, the city he had relocated to in order to pursue his chef’s training. Returning home to work in Charlottetown, he began writing songs, singing and playing guitar with the alt-country band, Haunted Hearts, recording two albums, winning a slew of awards, and building a solid fan base.
But it wasn’t until he found himself feeling both disenfranchised with the restaurant industry and saddled with the weight of performing with a band that Ellsworth realized it was time to strike out on his own as a musician. On a whim, he decided to send an e-mail to musician and producer David Barbe (Drive-by Truckers, Bob Mould/Sugar) in Athens, Georgia, asking if he’d be interested in working together. “In my mind I’d already decided that if he said alright, I would make an attempt at an honest solo career,” recalls Ellsworth.
Ellsworth embraces a flexible approach to songwriting.
Barbe’s answer resulted in Ellsworth’s 2012 award-winning album, Dusk Dreams, which not only cemented his reputation for honest and contemplative songwriting, but also confirmed that he’d found the right musical path.
Ellsworth, who embraces a flexible approach to songwriting that leaves lots of space for inspiration and collaboration, says he knows within the first few minutes of working on a song if he’s on to something. “If I’m not I’ll go and do something else,” he says with a laugh.
While it’s a far cry from the kitchen, making music allows Ellsworth to tap into the creativity that first drew him to cooking. It’s why he prefers going into the studio with his songs incomplete, allowing his hired players and producers to weigh in with their ideas.
“I try to let things happen naturally because I feel like something is guiding us,” he says about the process that allows him to release his work into the unknown. When he’s onstage, however, Ellsworth, is free to keep the reigns firmly in hand. “When I perform live,” he says, “that’s my chance to be in control.”
- Though he didn’t grow up in a musical family, Ellsworth recalls being drawn to music at an early age. He began writing songs at 15, while playing in rock and punk bands.
- Ellsworth won Album of the Year and Roots Contemporary Recording of the Year (both for Dusk Dreams) and SOCAN Songwriter of the Year (for the song “Electric Stars”) at the 2013 Music PEI Awards.
- Thanks to two recent tours, Ellsworth is starting to build a fan base in the U.K., most recently sharing the stage with English folk artist John Smith. The two, who have since co-written songs, met when they were paired through a program run by Music PEI.
Discography: Solo Chesterfield Dweller of the Year (2010), Strange Boat (EP) (2011), Dusk Dreams (2012), Hazy Sunshine (2013) With Haunted Hearts Thank You, Goodnight (2009), Howdy (2010)
SOCAN member since 2000