Yes, a single artist in March 1972 and another single artist in November 1972 and….does everyone answer your very reasonable questions with touchy-artiste evasions and sloppy stabs at comedy? Because this is the approach that comes to mind. Evasion and hair-splitting and up-yours ridicule. This is a terrible attitude that is rooted in, I’m pretty sure, teenage overemulation of Bob Dylan. He was my biggest single-artist man crush between the ages of about 15 and 19.
Are there triggers in your life that inspire you to sit down and write?
It’s either a semi-verbal, humming kind of vocalizing out of the blue or it’s deadline-inspired obligation. Obligation 90% of the time.
Keith Richards often says “it all starts with Charlie”, what do you think he means by this and what do you look for in a drummer?
That’s a nice question. Comedy portion of the show over! He means that a music performance that features a drummer is never any better than the drummer, which has been proven true in my experience many times over (and at considerable cost). I’ve been performing music for thirty years plus a couple. First ten years, I didn’t play with drums; I was a folkie strummer mainly. Second ten years I played with a variety of drummers, mostly around Chicago, and as long as they had time within a few miles of metronomic they sounded great to me – really I just loved making noise and getting people dancing. Next ten years I played with an amazing drummer, Gerald Dowd. These last couple years, Gerald spends most of his work hours with Justin Roberts, and I’m somewhat back to folkiedom but I also play with a variety of drummers, as before – but this time around I’m in a better position to be critical. I would say that a good drummer steers the ship, but with subtlety. A good drummer in a steady-pulse situation cues off the other players and off the ingrained direction of the song to allow some play into the metronomic frame, without making the resulting fluctuations in time stand out. Maybe this only reflects my prejudice, because I write mainly steady-pulse songs and I don’t like them to sound metronomic but humanly performed. A good drummer isn’t a monster of ego, doesn’t grandstand before the crowd or boss the band around overtly. I think drummers who are singers tend to play a little better, on the whole.
I’ve not had to! People who are country purists like my stuff, almost to a man. Country has a strong funny-song tradition. Nobody who sees me play thinks I’m making fun of music.
Is there a general profile for the Robbie Fulks fan?
Rapidly aging and easily amused.
What is the craziest thing you have done to win over an audience?
I did all the usual things while afflicted with youth – wounding myself and others during performance, breaking instruments, spitting blood, crowd-surfing, etc. I think the only time I went too far was when I sent my guitar crowd-surfing instead of my body. It was in Toronto opening for Ben Folds Five, and the guitar was my father’s, an irreplaceable Martin 00018. The moment I unplugged it and passed it out into the audience, watching it quickly disappear toward the back of the room, my heart sank and I thought, “What in the world just possessed me?” But it came back in status quo ante shape. Audiences are your friends.
Your website (RobbieFulks.com) benefits from the personal touch of your personal blog updates, do you embrace this as another outlet for artistic expression or see it as an occupational hazard?
You have a history of covering seemingly unrelated songs live, what artists might fulks be surprised to find you count as key influences?
I’m a player who goes for emotion over adroitness most of the time, by instinct or personal limitation rather than philosophical conviction; and naturally a lot of the musicians I’ve looked up to are the same. So the handful of guys who rein in the extravagance and still make the emotion ring are special to me. Since those players watchfully guide me as I play instead of brazenly directing me or offering me phrases to rip off, maybe they’re surprising. Bill Frisell is one such, I feel him watching and trying to correct me pretty often. I was a New Grass Revival junkie during the 1980s, and Bela Fleck’s influence helps remind me, when I’m soloing, to stop thrashing and instead eye the fretboard coolly – just stay calm and make the brain work the fingers, let the listeners do some of the emoting. I mean, just every now and then.
Do you still enjoy the process of ‘a day in the life’ on the road?
For sure. What’s so great about sitting at home? There’s more to life than yardwork and housecleaning and kid-chauffeuring for Christ’s sweet sake.
What advice would you give to a young artist with something to say?
Spit it out, brash and bold! A normal life span offers many years for back-pedaling.