“As much as I have a sort of a disdain for this town—you know, everyone talks about wanting to get out—I love it here and it will always be my home,” says local singer-songwriter Vincent Draper about Salt Lake City. It’s a love/hate sentiment a lot of Salt Lakers wrestle with, especially during Utah’s get-me-the-hell-outta-here winters, and when “Small Lake City” syndrome causes an uncomfortable random run-in with someone you’d rather not talk to.
But, like Draper and fellow singer-songwriter Charles Ellsworth, who recently collaborated on a split full-length album that’s dedicated to the City of Salt, many of us who live in SLC can admit that there’s something indefinably special about this place, something worth staying for.
“All the problems that come with living here—inversion and heartbreak, all this stuff, physical and not—we kind of ask for it by coming back to this town,” Draper says. “I like that; I think it’s kind of romantic.”
It’s no coincidence that the title of Draper and Ellsworth’s co-created folk/Americana album, Salt Lake City: A Love Story, sounds like the name of an indie film. Originally, Ellsworth—who attended the University of Utah for film and media arts—had the idea with a friend to create a film about SLC in the same vein as New York, I Love You and Paris, Je t’Aime. While the film Salt Lake City: A Love Story hasn’t made it off the ground yet, the song Ellsworth eventually wrote under the same title inspired him and Draper to make an entire album about their respective experiences in the city.
That title, Draper says, is what “really pulls our two perspectives together.”
The two seasoned musicians—Draper is well known as the frontman of local indie-pop band Vincent Draper & the Dirty Thirty; Ellsworth has toured extensively as a solo artist—find common songwriting ground in themes like heartbreak and loneliness. But the two musicians are from disparate backgrounds—Draper was born in Seattle but grew up in SLC, and Ellsworth is a relatively recent transplant from a small mountain town in Arizona—and it’s where the two artists’ perspectives diverge that Salt Lake City: A Love Story has the most power. Draper pens mostly emotional songs about remaining in close proximity with family and past lovers, while Ellsworth writes about being on the road and longing for home.
Before recording Salt Lake City: A Love Story with Draper, Ellsworth had been on the road for six months. While he had the company of a friend for the first four months of the nationwide tour, the final two were spent alone, after that friend decided the on-the-road lifestyle wasn’t for him. Having to quickly become accustomed to traveling alone, Ellsworth says, was a “really good experience for me. It’s definitely made me a lot more comfortable in my own shoes.”
Most of the songs Ellsworth contributed to the album, especially “Stuck Out in Texas,” “California” and “Train to Vienna” are wistful, about a musician spending long, lonely nights in cold hotel rooms, missing someone, as well as wishing he was back in SLC.
The song “Salt Lake City: A Love Story,” Ellsworth says, “is the only one where there’s hope at the end. All the other ones are really kind of depressing or about just low points in my life.” He adds that the tune looks back on past heartache “very fondly … like that was a great experience and I’m so glad I met this person or I did this thing.”
As for Draper, his songs on the album typically deal with relationships with people at home, including an ex-girlfriend (“Back in Town”) and his two younger brothers. His song “If I Saw Blood,” Draper says, was inspired, sadly, by attending the funeral of a childhood friend. “I was like, ‘Christ, man, what would I do if I lost one of my brothers?’ ” He realized that “we love each other a lot, like a scary amount. Like bad things could happen if they were in trouble or if I lost them.”
Alternating between Draper’s deep, meandering voice and Ellsworth’s warm, woodsy one, Salt Lake City: A Love Story—which will get a limited local release on vinyl—is gorgeously minimal, with only the necessary acoustic guitar, vocal harmonies and touches of strings added in. It’s a crossroads between the two musicians’ personal stories, and the different ties that each has to Salt Lake City, Utah.
“This is an amazing city,” Ellsworth says. “This is a really great place and really good people and they’re nice and people are genuine, and that’s something that’s hard to find [in] other places.”