Venice is an oasis of creative inspiration for Australia native Matt Ellis
By Michael Aushenker
Americana by way of Australia?
Venice is teeming with musicians and their stories, and this happens to be the shorthand for singer-songwriter Matt Ellis.
The curator of the locals-only lineup for last year’s Abbot Kinney Festival, Ellis takes the stage at The Townhouse’s Del Monte Speakeasy on Tuesday to perform original songs — most of them from “The Greatest Escape,” his fifth album, released in October.
“In many ways, it’s a coming-of-age album. I was turning 40 and dealing with the loss of my father,” Ellis says of “The Greatest Escape.” “It’s kind of a multi-layered, onion-skinned title for me. It harkens back to what brought me here. And music is my greatest escape. It’s also my most L.A. album in a way. It was all written in or around L.A.”
He means that quite literally: “Most of the lyrics I wrote while driving around Los Angeles,” says Ellis, an indictment of the constant traffic congestion in his adopted home. “We’re always headed somewhere.”
Ellis and wife Vavine Tahapehi (a singer in his band) moved from Sydney to Venice in 2005. Attending the Abbot Kinney Festival was one of his first experiences here, which he says pretty much sealed the deal on his new address.
For Ellis, “The Greatest Escape” represents something of a return to his rock roots.
Back in his native Australia, Ellis’ interest in music evolved from skateboarding, when he’d listen to 1980s punk bands such as The Dead Kennedys and The Cramps.
“My passion went from skateboarding more to music as I grew and became a more proficient guitar player,” Ellis says of the path that put him on the road to discovering some of rock and country’s greatest songsmiths: Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe.
Ellis says it was “basically the quality of life” that drew him here.
“There’s nothing exactly like Venice anywhere in the world,” he’s quick to add. “It’s definitely sinking into my writing.”
This year Ellis plans to continue writing new songs and touring behind “Greatest Escape” as well as editing down several music videos, including one for the lead single “Thank You, Los Angeles,” which opens with a reference to Venice.
For now he’s eager to play at Townhouse again, where he and Tahapehi will be joined by band mates Josh Norton (lead guitar), Grant Fitzpatrick (bass), Kim Walker (pedal steel guitar) and Fernando Sanchez (drums).
Opening for Ellis is another Venetian, Lacey Kay Cowden, whom Ellis discovered during one of her shows at the WitZend on Lincoln Boulevard.
Ellis, his wife and a friend were so thunderstruck by her work that by the end of her show, Ellis inquired whether he could produce an album for her. Cowden will sing songs from that EP, “Go Great Gun,” during the Del Monte show.
“It’s my favorite place on the Westside to play,” he says of The Townhouse and its Del Monte Speakeasy. “It’s kind of ground zero in Venice. It’s the oldest bar.”
Spoken like a seasoned Angeleno.
The music begins at 9 p.m. Tuesday at The Del Monte Speakeasy, 52 Windward Ave., Venice. $10. Call (310) 392-4040 or visit mattellis.com.