Quick Q and A with John Fullbright

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.

John high res

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.

John Fullbright

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?

Food.

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.

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One comment

  1. What I love about John is that you get the real John Fullbright every time. To hear him play in small, quiet rooms is about as good as music gets. I was privileged to hear him first at a house concert a few years ago, and I fell madly in love with his work. I’ve driven many a mile since to hear him play. So happy for his well-deserved success.

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