Fulks to hit Second Street with punk, country and folk music

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 75 views 

review by Peter Lewis
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Robbie Fulks is a alt-country songwriter extraordinaire.

Born in Pennsylvania, Fulks cut his teeth in bluegrass band Special Consensus, before moving on to a successful solo career. From his debut with Chicago’s Bloodshot Records in 1996 through today, Fulks has remained one of the most affecting and unique voices in modern country. Link here to his website.

Fulks will perform as part of the 2010-2011 Second Street Live Concert Series at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 24, at the SSL on 101 N. Second St. in downtown Fort Smith. (Link here for ticket and other details.)

Peter Lewis: I need to start off by asking for the story behind "F**k This Town." My editor loves the song about Nashville and made me promise to ask about the story behind its creation.

Robbie Fulks: I was working as a staff writer for a country-music publishing and management company, and I confess that I was frustrated with the pace of my so-called career and my expectations that weren’t being fulfilled — all that made the song easy to dash off. No research necessary. But another component to the song was amusement at writers down there who tended to be relentlessly positive in expressing their own frustrations — "well, it’s just a five-year town, gotta hang in there," on so on — and another was that I thought the tune would be impactful and sort of socially relevant on a record of mostly straight-ahead old-school C&W. Hmm, maybe I’m giving it too much grandiose complexity, sounds like a Henry James novel.

Lewis: You write such beautiful, earnest country songs (like Parallel Bars and I Never Did Like Planes), it can be a bit of a shock to hear songs that have so much rage (Countrier Than Thou, Roots Rock Weirdos, and the aforementioned F**k this Town). While rage might not be the best word for it, these songs are certainly brash. Are they created as a release valve so to speak? Or are they created in a more humorous spirit?

Fulks: It’s probably ill-advised to write and record some of the stuff that I have, and I’m aware when I’m working on a song like FTT or RWW that I’m laboring on something with a niche appeal and a limited shelf life, but I have so much fun working on certain songs that I almost can’t help it. When you write songs I find that now and then there’s a happy point where you’re so convinced of the rightness of what you’re working on that the thing gets hold of you and you have to see it through, and that includes the comic songs as much as the others. Then you record them and the weaknesses start to emerge, years later…and as to the question of contrast/schizophrenia, I do like to write all over the emotional map, like Roger Miller and Hank Williams and really, almost every songwriter I admire does/did.

Lewis: Throughout your career you’ve been rightfully lauded for your songwriting skill. What comes first for you, the music or the words? Is there a process, so to speak, or does each creation come about in a different way?

Fulks: I get into them in different ways. Often the beginning is a musical phrase, a scenario, or a verbal hook. Probably most efficient is all three at once like a burst of splendor.

Lewis: Your most recent release came out in March and was a series of Michael Jackson covers. Could talk a bit about what prompted this?

Fulks: I was asked to do a show of Michael music back in 1999. Then I kept an arrangement idea (Billie Jean) for ongoing performance. Then one got recorded, then another … then he got arraigned, then I shelved it, and then, several years later, he died, and I did 4 more tracks and released it. So it kind of evolved, on a Stephen Jay Gould-like, punctuated equilibrium model.

Lewis: I’m a big Buck Owens fan, so I naturally love your song "The Buck Starts Here." Just curious if you happen to have a favorite Buck song?

Fulks: There’s about two dozen I like equally, but if the game is to pick then I pick "Together Again."

Lewis: You’ll be playing Second Street Live with Jenny Scheinman. Are you guys touring together or just joining up for this particular date?

Fulks: We have a short string of dates that week. We play here and there throughout the year, as our schedules and lives permit, and I hope and expect we’ll continue for many years to come, since she’s one of my absolute favorite people to make music with. Fiddle and guitar, you know, that’s one of the great pairings, like lath and plaster.

Lewis: That’s it for now. Thanks again for your time and patience, Robbie.

Fulks: Sure! Thanks for writing about me.