What can I say about John Fullbright that has not been said already? He’s got the Okemah, Oklahoma Woody Guthrie connection. He’s got the Grammy Award nomination connection. He’s got direct connections with artists like Jimmy LaFave, Patty Griffin, and the legendary Jimmy Webb. He’s even got a David Letterman performance on his resume.
That being said, I’m lucky enough to say that I first saw and heard him about five years ago in Memphis. I was attending a Folk Alliance conference and he was the buzz of the place. From ear to ear to ear: “Did you hear about this young kid who drove his pick-up truck from Oklahoma to play here?” Needless to say, his showcase room was overflowing and the legend of John Fullbright began . . . at least for me . . . and it should for you too.
To learn more about John Fullbright, pay a visit to his website. Here’s a video of his performance on Letterman. Here’s another song that totally slays me.
- When did you first start playing music? What was your first gig like?
- I’ve played the piano all my life. There was always an old piano around either in my parents’ house or my grandparents’ next door. That being said I didn’t put words and music together until I was probably 15 or 16, whatever the age of public brooding begins. I mostly played covers of songs I liked. My first gig was in the corner of a restaurant in Okemah called the Brickstreet Cafe on Friday evenings. I ran a guitar and mic through the school band’s bass amp and sang for tips and catfish. They always fed me well. Nobody told me when to start or stop so I would go on for four or five hours some nights. I played until my voice gave out and then I’d stop. That’s where I really learned what I sounded like, limitations and all.
- If you had to name some influential artists who have inspired you, who would they be . . . and what is it about them that inspires you so much?
- Bob Dylan got me on the guitar and Townes kept me there. I like Townes because he goes to some pretty odd places conceptually but he always pulls it off because his craft is unbelievable. I think about that a lot. Anymore I seem to have a “Warren Zevon filter” in my head that my lyrics go through. I think, “What would Zevon say about this?”
- Do you have a list of “I wish I wrote that” songs?
- Everything Roger Miller ever dreamed up in that wonderful head of his.
- When your first studio album, From the Ground Up was nominated for a Grammy alongside Bonnie Raitt, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, and the Avett Brothers, what went through your head?
- 1. what?
- 2. WHAT?
- 3. Do I have to go?
- Do you allot dedicated time to practice or to write each day?
- No. I should. I make up rhymes that I think are funny just about every day and once in a blue moon it gets serious and matures and becomes a song. It’s rare, though.
- Jon Pareles from the New York Times says that your songs reach for unassailable clarity” and a music writer from Esquire says that you don’t waste a single word in your songs. Do you work at paring down your music — both lyrics and instrumentation — to its most basic and pure form? Do you whittle away at the songs once you’ve started writing them or do you have a natural tendency to write that way in the first place?
- I put high expectations on myself musically and lyrically. Musically I tend to write just out of my vocal range because I like the sound, but it’s hard to pull off every night. The simpler the better all around. I pride myself on writing songs that are simple enough to play on the guitar and/or the piano, though that’s certainly not always the case. I try to build a song strong enough to withstand the fact that I’m going to mature and possibly be embarrassed by the idea it later. I don’t want to not want to play a song I wrote when I was 25 because I think it’s silly. I think about that a lot. People get mad when you don’t want to play a song they like that you don’t think is up to snuff. I want to ask them to publicly read a high school term paper they wrote about penguins or whatever. I’d pay good money to see that.
- You’ve had some great opportunities to tour with some top notch artists like Patty Griffin and Shovels and Rope recently. You played at some fabulous venues. Is it strange to play at some super large places and then go out and play more intimate places or even house concerts?
- It’s all strange. The idea of going out and getting paid to play music is strange. I’m terribly shy and it’s very hard to get up on any stage. That being said, it’s been a VERY fun few months. I’ve made a lot of real friends and played a lot of wonderful rooms. I look forward to listening rooms, though. There’s a connection there you don’t find on a big stage with a bunch of hot lights and a loud crowd. People really care about what you say and how you say it. I’m already nervous just thinking about it.
- What’s your favorite thing about touring?
- If you could come up with a perfect “year,” how much of it would you devote to writing, recording, touring or down time? Are you even able to take any time off just for yourself?
- I’m figuring that out right now. Next year might be that perfect year. I’m taking a lot of time off until summer to figure out what this next album is and who I am making it. It’s a luxury to be able to do that and I’ve never done it before. There’s always the fear that you’ll reach into that hat and pull out absolutely nothing, but I don’t think about that too much.
Greg Klyma is a product of the Rust Belt — Buffalo, NY to be exact. As his bio states, he’s an old-school troubadour with contemporary savvy. He’s a guy who has a ton of stories to tell and songs to sing. He’s rambled all over the country but decided to call Somerville home in recent years. The greater-Boston area has benefited from his presence. If he’s not on stage doing his own set, he’s sitting in with the best of the best at any number of clubs, coffeehouses or festivals. He’s a go-to kind of musician who is much beloved for his musical integrity and hard-working ethic.
To learn more about Greg, check out his website. Here’s a video of Greg singing “Talking Talking Blues Blues.” And for good measure, here’s Greg and friends playing at his regular Monday night gig.
- I’m always interested to hear about what hooked musicians on music. What’s your story? Were you influenced by someone in your family? Or did you have an inspirational teacher? Or did you discover music by listening to some kind of electronic device?
- Music was always around. Whether it was mom and dad listening to Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, going to see my cousins’ Polka band or listening to grandpa play harmonica in the living room while my uncle played guitar and sang country songs, there was music. My friends and I bought and shared records, made mix tapes. I didn’t know people lived otherwise.
- Has your taste in music changed over the years since you’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the Americana scene. Who would you say are some of the best musicians and songwriters around today?
- Anais Mitchell and Jonathan Byrd are two of the best songwriters I know. Duke Levine and Michael Bean are a couple of my favorite musicians. I don’t listen to much current music ’cept what I might catch on WUMB. At the moment, I’m listening to Kris Kristofferson’s first albums on Monument Records. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is as good as songwriting gets.
- Did you take music lessons or are you self taught?
- I took guitar lessons when I was 13. I studied music a little in college, mostly because I thought I was supposed to. I haven’t stopped learning. If I live a long life, I hope this remains truth. Lately, I’m inspired to work on my lead guitar playing. I have a Telecaster and Fender Princeton Reverb. Now, if I only had chops.
- Tell us about your latest release, Another Man’s Treasure. It got some great radio airplay which makes me do all kinds of crazy happy dances.
- Thank you. Yeah, it was in rotation on WUMB for a while and then got added to rotation on The Village on Sirius XM. All very exciting!
Another Man’s Treasure was my first fan-funded project. We reached our goal a full week before the deadline. Then, on two glorious days in June 2013, me and 7 friends gathered at a barn-turned-studio in Eden, NY. Some had driven in from Boston, a couple live in Buffalo, the organ player drove up from Central PA by way of a wedding in Indiana, and yet another flew in from Houston, TX. On Day 1, we tracked 10 songs over 13 studio hours; on Day 2, 6 more songs in 8 hours. All on 1• analog tape! The 16 songs were mixed down and we found the 12 songs that made for the best album. I couldn’t be happier with the sound, vibe and feel of this record. Folks can find it online here:
- I’m not familiar with Village Produce. Is it like CD Baby or Amazon?
- I’m really down on all the big stores and how they ultimately undercut us independent artists, playing on our emotion and desire to get our music out there. I prefer farmer’s markets to big chain grocery stores (even though the big chains fit my budget better • which is why I end up shopping at them). Village Produce is run by a friend. He’s local to Boston. So, while in theory, I’m supposed to have my music available in as many outlets as possible, the only place you will find Another Man’s Treasure is at my concerts or at Village Produce. This is what local looks like.
- One track that stands out is actually not written by you but you definitely made the song your own. What inspired you to give “You Are My Sunshine” such an interesting and plaintive take?
- You told me once dear, you truly loved me and no one else could come between. Now, you’ve left me for another. You have shattered all my dreams.
- She “shattered” all his dreams. This is a happy song?
- The production of the album is really spectacular. There’s a lot going on and it’s all so tight. Did you produce it or did you work with someone else on it?
- Ryan Fitzsimmons and I produced it. I’ve played a lot of gigs with Ryan and had played some with most of the other musicians, but they all hadn’t played together until we started to roll tape. It was an interesting experiment. They all brought independent gig experiences to the songs, but there was this freshness and excitement of playing this music with new talented friends. Everyone clicked, and that’s good luck.
- It was great to work on this project with my brother in arms. Ryan was particularly helpful when it came to mastering and sequencing the album. I nearly left “Scream” off the album. Ryan fought for it. It was a great call.
- If you were asked to put a compilation of your favorite Greg Klyma songs for someone who was not familiar with your music, which ones would you choose and why?
- I think you just asked me what my favorite songs by me are. I’d probably just make someone a mix tape of Steve Earle, Tom Petty, Todd Snider and The Band with some Dylan, Stones, Waylon, Willie and Cash peppered in there. Then, I’d invite ’em to pick up a copy of Another Man’s Treasure. It’s where I’m at right now. By the time you read this, I’ll have a different answer. Come to show. I don’t play songs I don’t like.
- You’ve created a lively scene called Americana Mondays at P.A’s Lounge in Somerville. Do you generally play with the same band every week or do you have guest musicians sit in and mix it up a bit? What’s your favorite part of playing gigs like this?
- Americana Mondays make my week. I’m regularly joined by Joe Klompus on doghouse bass and Steve Latt on pedal steel, fiddle and harmony vocals. We play a lot of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and the like. Most Mondays we start as a trio. I’m lucky to have a lot of talented friends. They come out for a beer or to network with other musicians, then I put ’em to work in the 2nd set. By the night’s end, there are usually more musicians in the band. It’s a fun hang.
- What is it about the Cambridge / Somerville area that attracts so many musicians?
- Community. The sense that we’re all in this together. That’s what got me.
- One of your many talents, beside playing a multitude of instruments and writing fine songs, is that you are a most excellent storyteller. It’s clear to me that you craft these stories very carefully and choose the correct words and phraseology to set a tone for the tale you’re spinning. Have you always had a penchant for storytelling?
- Growing up I remember being asked a lot “do you talk just to hear yourself talk?” For a while I wondered, “do I?” All the while I was simply honing my craft of choosing correct words and phraseology. Could be I talk because other people like to hear me talk.
- You spend an awful lot of time in your car when you tour. Do you listen to music, NPR, audiobooks, or all of the above?
- I’m not touring so much these days. When I am out there, I don’t listen to much of anything. The road is noisy. I might look for All Things Considered and I do keep the iPod nearby should I need a fix of Hank Williams or Tom Petty. By and large, I value the alone time.
- What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? Do you have any advice for young singer-songwriters who wish to pack up their cars and take their songs on tour?
- I have all sorts of advice for young songwriters. If they happen to be in town, we can go out for coffee or drinks and I’ll yap till it crushes their souls. If they aren’t dissuaded, then good luck to ’em. No one is doing this because it’s easy.
Rod Picott refers to himself as a lucky guy. He feels blessed to be able to live the life of a troubadour who travels from town to town singing his songs, seeing the sites, and meeting all kinds of people along the way. One music reviewer described his songs as “gems that finely balance despair, desire and optimism with dexterity.” I nodded my head. That’s it . . . in one sentence! As a music fan and as someone who helps to produce a concert series and is very involved with promoting independent musicians, I have to say that there is not much more that one can ask from a musician. Rod Picott has it all. He delivers his songs to each and every audience with sincerity in a humble and often self-deprecating manner. His songs resonate in one’s heart long after the last chord has been strummed.
To find out more about Rod, visit his website. Here’s a video of Rod singing his song “You’re Not Missing Anything” from his latest recording, “Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail.” It’s a great example of how he digs deep and lays his emotions on the line. Worth a viewing for sure!
- Your music is often labeled as “Americana.” What does that term me to you?
- “Americana is a tricky term. It’s useful in that it’s given a home and a landing place to a lot of musicians who otherwise wouldn’t have a way to describe what they do. It’s tricky though because “Americana” covers so many styles that it doesn’t really describe a genre. People use the term as a genre but I believe it was coined to cover all the American roots music that was sitting outside the mainstream. To me “Americana” means all the roots music that can climb inside that clown car.
- You’ve been living in Nashville since the mid-1990s. Have you seen the music scene change much since you arrived there?
- Oh yes, it’s changed drastically. I arrived in Nashville at the end of what Steve Earle famously called “The Great Credibility Scare” of the 90’s. Country music had embraced Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rodney Crowell and other authentic artists. It’s unimaginable now to think of any of those artists on country radio. There was a brief moment when great smart songwriters were really encouraged and embraced by the mainstream country music industry. I watched that moment pass and blew around in the tail wind of it myself. I was thought to be a very good young writer back in the day and I’m grateful that I caught the last couple years of that time because the song really was the thing when I moved to town. I don’t think that’s the case anymore but I was lucky to breathe some of that air when I arrived in Nashville. It set me on a righteous path so to speak.
- According to your biography, one of your earliest breaks was co-writing a song called “Getting to Me” with Fred Eaglesmith. How did that co-write come about?
- I was being courted by BlueWater Publishing so they were having me write with some of their staff writers. Fred was writing for them at that time. I learned more from Fred in that first co-write than I learned from anyone else. It was nerve wracking but exciting. Fred said, “Do you mind being the guy with the pencil?” then walked around my house being brilliant for about 4 hours while I wrote down all the ideas, then we went to lunch and when we came back we had a song. Brilliant guy.
- I’ve seen a video of you talking about your first encounter with Fred and your experience driving a 1966 Falcon Futura. Your latest recording, “Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail” includes a song called “65 Falcon.” What’s the story with Falcons? ;-)
- I use my own life constantly in my writing. I had a 66 Falcon. This is how writers work. You use pieces of yourself and the world you walk through in your work. It’s all fair game. We all deny the songs being autobiographical to protect ourselves and because people often don’t understand what a delicate dance it is to explore these things in the sunlight but of course it’s autobiographical . . . and not. . . .
- You spent many years working in the construction business. I understand that sheetrock and drywall were your specialties. You’ve got a song called “Sheetrock Hanger” . . . do you have any other Rod Picott work-related songs?
- Not as specifically as “Sheetrock Hanger” no. That one is right out of my life. Work appears in a lot of the songs though. “Rust Belt Fields,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Welding Burns” all have work as a pivot in the song. Work is such a big part of our lives that I’m drawn to explore it. The work you do is a huge part of how you see yourself, isn’t it? I’m fascinated by how people see themselves and how your environment and choices and history play a part in how a person feels walking through the world. My father comes from a fairly rough background though he doesn’t see it that way, it was just his experience you know? I’ve watched how his experiences play out for him for years. We never get far from where you come from, do we? You can move across the globe but you are still that kid with dirty knees and a black eye if that’s who you were. You can put on a suit but it doesn’t change you really, does it?
- You toured for a while as the opening act for Alison Krauss and Union Station. Did you learn a lot from that experience?
- I learned how things work at that level. The whole band was very relaxed and confident and they were all honestly very kind to me. I didn’t even have a record out at the time. Alison gave me great advice about my voice and singing that I still think about today. Not that she sat me down and gave me lessons but when a singer with that kind of talent says something to you about your voice you listen. They worked. They warmed up. They were aware of each other. There was no one upping each other. They were a wonderful smart bunch of people and more fun than you would expect from how somber most the music is.
- You’ve known Slaid Cleaves for most of your life. You played music together as kids. He’s been living a full-time music life for a lot longer than you have. Did he encourage you to take the plunge and get out on the road to share your music?
- No, to be honest he told me for a long time that I shouldn’t sing. Slaid’s a very good singer just naturally. He could sing sort of effortlessly even as a kid and I’m the other guy. I worked very, very hard to find how my voice could work for me. I don’t have that natural skill in my blood. Back when we were younger we were quite close at times and not as close at times, like any friendship goes over many years. All along the friendship, however, we’ve been very honest with each other and that has helped the co-writing to be very effective over the years. Most, though not all, of our strongest songs have been written together. I think that comes from the level of honesty and also that we have slightly different skills as writers that seem to fit like puzzle pieces. So, no Slaid was not a champion of my career as a performer as I started. Having said that, he was very gracious when he saw I wasn’t going away. He used to have me open shows for him quite a lot in the early days which was very helpful to me in finding my footing.
- Your songs definitely reveal a depth of insight about the human condition. Are you inspired to write by everyday moments that resonate within you? You have such an eye for detail, I can’t help but think that you are an accomplished people-watcher!
- That’s a very kind thing to say. Finding the greater resonance in the common is my reason for writing. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a when a writer finds a way to say something big using something small. This is the true love of my work life. Yes, I’m a people watcher and I love a well-placed detail. I’m also interested in how words feel if you know what I mean. Words have moods. . . .
- You’ve admitted that most of your songs are not the happiest of songs. Do you think that typical acoustic music fans are drawn to introspective lyrics?
- I think there is a huge range there. I’m not sure Bela Fleck’s biggest fan would be drawn to introspective lyrics but maybe. . . . I do think that people rolling around in this scene tend to be very bright and curious. I’m always amazed at the interesting and incredibly bright people I meet at shows. I love seeing people’s passion for music, it’s a thing I understand. I’ve been obsessed with songs and songwriting for most of my life. I’m drawn to art that has a certain weight to it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of humor, that’s there as well. But as a rule I’m interested in thoughtful explorations of life and how we walk through our lives, how we see ourselves and what that feels like.
- What’s next on the horizon?
- Hopefully I’ll be recording a new album in January and then I’ll change the tires and go again . . . I love this work. I hung sheetrock for 18 years and I’m grateful every day I get to do this for a living. I fought hard for a long time to get here, to find my voice as a singer and a writer and I feel incredibly lucky. . . .