After years of regular visits to Niles City Sound to record and produce albums, musician/producer Robert Ellis recently moved to Fort Worth to work more closely with the studio’s co-owner Josh Block. After living in Houston, Nashville and, more recently, Austin, Ellis said he chose to make Fort Worth his home for personal and professional reasons.
The pandemic has given Ellis (who was recently brought on as part of the Niles City Sound team) time to focus on co-producing albums, including an upcoming concept LP featuring musician Eric Steele that revolves around the Battle of the Alamo.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO MOVE TO FORT WORTH?
"Josh Block and I are good friends. He and Austin Jenkins came to my show [at a music festival], and we became friends. That’s was 10 years ago. I recorded [my most recent album] "Texas Piano Man" at Niles City Sound. I fell in love with the speed of Fort Worth. I can walk to fine food and coffee and everything. I’ve never had anything like that. In Austin, to get that real neighborhood feel, you have to have a lot of money. Fort Worth feels like a small town with all the great elements of a city. I was attracted to the design of it."
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL PLACES TO VISIT?
"I’ve barely scratched the surface. I visit parks, museums or anywhere where I can take my two-year-old. I recently took some friends who were visiting from New York City to the Modern [Art Museum of Fort Worth], Amon Carter [Museum of American Art] and the Japanese Gardens. Josh introduced me to Charley’s [Old Fashioned Hamburgers]. I went back again last Tuesday. I order take-out from Spice about once a week. I really like Joe T Garcia’s, although it’s not the same doing take-out. I love Joe T’s environment so much.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF NILES CITY SOUND?
"I knew they were building a dream studio there. The conceptual elements of it were so right: a big live room with a control room upstairs that gave a beautiful view of bands playing together in a room. That approach is unique these days. Isolation booths have become commonplace."
"Bands sound the best when people are standing next to each other playing music. It definitely has made what we do a lot more fun. When you look back at the records you make, you remember the process of a bunch of guys together and figuring out the tune and playing it. In those situations, it doesn’t feel like work."
IN A RECENT ARTICLE, YOU STATED THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED TO “EMBRACE YOUR IMPULSES.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
"All of my recorded music up until then had been pretty serious. If you know me, I joke constantly. I’m a wild, fun person. I wanted to make something that is kind of the way I am. In my previous material, I wanted to put a good foot forward, but it wasn’t a complete picture of me."
"Some of my favorite comedy is deadly serious. That’s what I’m looking for in art, whether it’s humor or sincerity. None of us live in that pastiche one-dimensional world. Unfortunately, because a song is three minutes, music generally does embody one idea. That often does it a disservice. People are nuanced. Nobody is one thing. "
"You lose your ability to feel sad if you felt sad for three minutes. It’s like crying wolf. If you say the thing you want to say over and over, it loses its impact. If you say it the right way and at the right time once then people really hear it."
WHAT KIND OF RECEPTION DID TEXAS PIANO MAN RECEIVE?
"I was able to tour on it for one year before stuff got crazy. The last shows before the pandemic were a run of Texas cities: Houston, Dallas, Austin and Tyler. They were solo shows. I had a grand piano at each venue. They were beautiful shows and a lot of fun. It felt like a culmination of that record."
ARE SNAZZY SUITS ALWAYS A PART OF YOUR PERFORMANCES?
"Every album is a lot like creating a character. I wanted that album to be showman-based. I wore that white suit for the whole year and at every single show. I’ve always dressed when I play. I like to dress up. It should feel like a fun event."
HOW DID 2020 IMPACT YOUR CAREER?
"My income to date has been from playing shows. I’ve been fortunate that I have a fanbase who have been adaptable. I play online shows, and I teach lessons. Not being able to play has been a real change. I’m looking forward to a day when it’s safe to do it again, but I can’t put my fans in that position."
WHAT CHANGES ARE IN STORE FOR YOUR CAREER?
"Josh and I are producing a handful of albums. That’s a big part of the reason I moved here. I’ve always produced one record a year. My touring life limited that. I just love being in the studio and helping make something come to life."