When you think about the long history of the blues, do you have a favorite decade in terms of releases? I love this music called The Blues, from Charlie Patton to Charlie Parker, from Miles Davis to Muddy Waters and all that came of the nameless progenitors that were before them and all that will come after. Because it is the history and voice of Black American art and experience which I am exceedingly proud and privileged to be a continuation of. I think that Willie Dixon may have said it best, “The Blues are the roots and the rest of the music are the fruits.” From The Blues to Jazz, through Rock to Reggae, from fusion to hip hop and music around the world that has been sired and inspired by those three supposedly simple chords, I love the Blues, every facet, every movement and every moment. It is the sound of the soul and spirit of my people.
This whole record feels like a solid offering to me. Hard to pick faves, just like your own children. The ending of “Devil We Do,” “Broke it, Buy It,” The string arrangements on “Everything in its Place” and “Turned Around.”
What other Honeydogs release would you say is closest kin to the newbie?
Hmmmmmm. The record feels like a synthesis of our older roots records with some of the more elaborately arranged records of the last decade. It has elements of our first two, and a few moments of 10,000 Years or Amygdala.
Now ten albums on, has the process of choosing the album title changed at all and how does “What Comes After” sum up what this record is bout to you?
Album titles are in some ways like song titles. They have some significance. “What Comes After” has a bit of a spiritual ring to it–i was thinking about life and death matters quite a bit in the last year. it’s also self-referential as an artist–I always like to keep moving forward artistically. I have a number of projects percolating, and feel in a more creatively productive period than at any point in my career. I hope to continue to always ask the question, “what comes after?”
How do you work as a band when it comes to new material; has it changed over the years?
As the band has gotten more adept at learning songs the unit has become accomplished in the art of learning tunes on the spot; this record I brought a lot of songs the band had never heard. They learned the songs and we tracked them immediately, sometimes in one or two takes. That said, the band and my songwriting, while having a signature style, has always tried to not be predictable. We don’t want to retread previous charted territory. The band as players have developed some great antennae and abilities to learn quickly and fashion parts that feel new. This record was the easiest one we’ve ever made. We worked with young engineers. The band didn’t labor over details and we tried to retain as many of basic tracks and vocals as possible.
its time to go in the studio when I feel like I’ve got enough songs to work with. The band loves being in the studio. We grow a great deal every time we do this. As I mentioned, little or no pre-production happened on songs for this record. It is a very collective process of giving shape to a new body of work. I always have ideas and make suggestions about parts. But the more we work together, the more I trust everyone’s amazing instincts in this band.
Did you have any personal goals for this record?
Sometimes not having expectations has some interesting results. We didn’t have big plans tracking this record. I felt like the songs were very personal and felt very comfortable in the studio with results happening quickly. Not having any expectations always leaves you pleasantly surprised.
How did you gravitate toward ‘folk’ as the framework for your expression as a young artist?
I grew up with the 1970’s pop folk landscape of radio. All of those bands listened to blues and folk and country. My early favorites were all bands that merged older American musical styles with various other musical traditions. I studied cultural anthropology in college and managed to soak up a lot of early American music in my studies. I played in country VFW bands, old school honkytonk, and woodshedded to old blues and jazz records. My early songwriting leaned heavily on Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Dylan…I never wanted to be a museum piece simply curating old musics and always had it in my mind to refer to these musics while offering something different. My favorite artists have used the past as a touchstone to produce inspired hybrids and fresh interpretations.
What was the first song you ever learned to play and sing at the same time?
Ha ha ha ha ha. Badly or well? KISS’s “Detroit Rock City” badly. “Sweet Black Angel” from the Stones’ Exile on MainStreet.
Who was your favorite guitarist growing up?
I loved Mick Jones from The Clash. Jimi Hendrix taught me the most. I studied him hard. Keith Richards and Pete Townsend taught me the importance of riffs and funky minimalism. George Harrison taught me the importance of composing parts sometimes to create memorable music.
What advice do you give young artists looking to hit the road?
Do it while you have time and freedom. Create a great band. Make everyone feel invested, loved, appreciated, and hope they areb equally driven. It takes time to build a good team. Be patient but be relentless and learn from failures…over and over and over. Don’t listen to your parents. I say that as a parent!
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.