In the few short months since Ross Ellis signed his record deal, he’s put out a handful of songs that spotlight who he is and where he comes from — and his newest release, “Home to Me,” is no exception.
“I kind of had to fight for that song, to be honest,” the singer admits to Country Now. “Right now we’re recording an album, but I wanted to put something out for the fans in the meantime. If you listen to [my previously released songs] ‘Home for the Weekend’ and ‘Buy and Buy,’ my hometown is kind of everything.”
The grassroots success of “Buy and Buy” is what fueled his record deal, Ellis explains. Even though he spends the bulk of his time writing with Nashville songwriters these days, he always tries to keep a little piece of his hometown of Monterey, Louisiana in his music.
Ellis even name-checked his favorite hometown bar, infusing “Home to Me” with rich, evocative detail about coming of age in Monterey.
“It’s a place you can, you know, come back to and have a little bit of a revival,” Ellis reflects. “There’s one bar here — it’s called The Landing. And I always say, I don’t wanna put anything out that’s not at least close to true. Usually, we write with, you know, there’s two other people in the room, but I try to get as close to my truth as I can. And this place is so important to me, so I thought, ‘Why not put out that song?’
Songwriters have to walk a critical line between being specific enough to show authenticity, but not so specific that their listeners can’t relate to the story. Fortunately, Ellis got a key tip for striking that balance from one of the genre’s most accomplished songwriters and stars.
“The best advice I ever got was from Brad Tursi of Old Dominion,” he remembers. “He’s kind of like a big brother to me — a mentor. He said, ‘The verse is for us, and the chorus is for you, [the fans.]’”
Like a lot of songwriters, Ellis moved to Music City to become a performer, but quickly fell in love with the craft and community of writing country songs. Now, he says that songwriting is still the heart of his career. He was thrilled to discover that there was an audience for him as an artist — but ultimately, he hopes it’s his songs that endure.
“I’m fine with just being the songwriter. ‘Buy and Buy’ kinda took off, and that’s where all this started…but I’m okay with just, you know, writing songs,” Ellis reflects. “I hope they hit. I hope people relate to them. But at the end of the day, I’m gonna put out stuff that I like. That’s it.”
In fact, he adds, the biggest change he’s seen as he transitions into life as an artist has been his ability to make friendships and connections with the performers he grew up revering.
“People reach out, like Joe Diffie. He reaches out a lot,” Ellis offers as an example. (Country Now spoke to Ellis before Diffie announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, an illness that tragically claimed the ‘90s country star’s life on March 29.)
“And Gary Allan. I went on the road with him for a little while, and he reached out and now I’m singing on a song I wrote for him. I don’t know if it’ll be a single or not, but it’s things like that, you know?” he adds. “People that you could never touch…I guess that’s the most surprising thing, to find that some of my heroes — some of these people are just dudes.”
Those mentors-turned-friends aren’t just country stars, either.
“Kings of Leon, they’re my favorite of all time,” Ellis goes on to say. “When I moved to Nashville, I guess I was just scared because my music’s a little different, I would like to think, and I’m kind of a rock dude. But I got to write with their producer from their first few records, Angelo [Petraglia]. And I got to play [Kings of Leon member] Caleb Followill’s guitar, and write with him. When you can meet these people, when you get up close to it, you realize we’re all just people — and that’s a beautiful thing.”
As a self-described “rock dude,” encounters like that make Ellis feel more confident and comfortable about his place in the music industry, even if his songs don’t always sound like traditional country music. As he begins work on his debut album, the singer partnered with producer Aaron Eshuis.
“I was like, ‘Hey man, let’s make a Wallflowers/Matchbox 20 type album. It’s probably not gonna sound very country, and that’s alright. I just want the lyrics to be heard,’” Ellis laughs.
“I kinda think of genre like religion, you know? Like, I’m a Christian, and I go to church a lot, or I try to,” the singer reflects. “Some people are Baptists. Some people are Catholics. Some people are Episcopalians. At the end of the day, you just follow Christ.
“I like to think that at the end of the day, you just like good music,” he adds.