Oklahoma musician and singer-songwriter John Fullbright, 26, is out with a new album called “Songs.”
All Things Considered music reviewer Meredith Ochs invites comparison to the late Townes Van Zandt, and American Songwriter compares it to Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”
Fullbright joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to talk about his music and play songs from “Songs.”
Interview Highlights: John Fullbright
On the accolades he’s received as a songwriter and musician
“It’s uncomfortable for me, but at least they’re bouquets. They’re not bricks or tomatoes yet, although it’s gonna feel nice to get that big, rotten tomato right in the face, just get it out of the way.”
“The reception has been — I don’t know, I didn’t see it coming, especially with, like, that Grammy nod. That kind of stuff isn’t supposed to happen to guys like me … You know, the guys that don’t chase the stars, the guys that just — we want to write songs and kick around and be, you know, respected.”
On writing music about life experiences
“I kind of came from the Townes Van Zandt school of throwing yourself off a cliff and then that’s what you write about, and that rule number one of creative writing is you have to have conflict. But if you write about yourself mostly, then if you don’t have conflict, then you create it. And the older I get, the more I realize that that’s not a very smart way to do this. Not to say I’m the most self destructive person on earth, but it’s easy to do.
On how his home of Oklahoma influences his songs
“I’d say proximity-wise, yeah, just because there weren’t sidewalks to skateboard on and malls to hang out in. There wasn’t anything to do. And I was too scrawny to play football, and so I decided I was just gonna sit at the piano, because it made more sense.”
“There’s Okemah, which is going to town to get groceries and to go to the bank and to stop at the post office. But then I drive home, which is Bearden, which is — I don’t know, there might be 200 people that live in Bearden. I live on a little kind of hobby farm, handful of cows, just plenty of old, rusted tractors, rusted things. It’s a lot of — when I look out the window and I try to come up with an idea, I see a lot of what used to be. I can’t write on the road for that reason. I have to be home. I have to be around all those rusted tractors and dilapidated fences and things like that, because it just grounds me in a way that I can’t find in a hotel room.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. You might be forgiven for thinking that the reviews for 26-year-old Oklahoma native John Fullbright's second album are, you know, exaggerated. American Songwriter compared the album "Songs" to Joni Mitchell's "Blue" and Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush." Wow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU'RE HERE")
YOUNG: The spotlight found John Fullbright when his 2012 debut album, "From The Ground Up," was unexpectedly nominated for a Grammy against The Avid Brothers, Mumford and Sons, Bonnie Raitt. She won but no one doubts he soon may. John Fulbright joins us in the studio to talk about his new album "Songs." So how hard is that to hear all of those bouquets thrown at you? Are you OK? (Laughing).
JOHN FULLBRIGHT: It's uncomfortable for me. But at least they're bouquets...
YOUNG: Not bricks.
FULLBRIGHT: They're not bricks or tomatoes, yet, although it's going to feel nice to get that big rotten tomato right in the face.
YOUNG: And get that out of the way?
FULLBRIGHT: Just get it out of the way.
YOUNG: Well, because it has been amazing. You had an amazing reception to the industry, and you're 26-years-old.
FULLBRIGHT: Yeah. It's - the reception has been - I don't know. I never - I didn't see it coming, especially with like that, that Grammy nod. That kind of stuff isn't supposed to happen to guys like me.
YOUNG: Well, what do you mean by guys like you?
FULLBRIGHT: You know, just the guys that don't chase the stars. The guys that just - we just want to write songs and kick around and be, you know, respected.
YOUNG: Well, maybe also the guys who don't expect the stars. They just don't expect them. Let's listen to a little of the music. The first track is called "Happy." We're presuming you named this before Pharrell did?
FULLBRIGHT: I don't think I've even heard that whole song yet.
YOUNG: Are you kidding?
FULLBRIGHT: Everybody says it's all over the place.
YOUNG: You're the only one in the world who hasn't heard the hit tune "Happy." But another from one from you with a decidedly different feel. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")
YOUNG: It's somewhat of a love song. You're singing it to someone. You know, I'd rather think of you.
FULLBRIGHT: Yeah. I kind of came from the Town Van Zandt school of throwing yourself off a cliff. And then that's what you write about. And, you know, that rule number one in creative writing is you have to have conflict. But if you write about yourself mostly, then you if don't have conflict, you create it. And the older I get, the more I realize that that's not a very smart way to do this. Not to say I'm the most self-destructive person on earth. But it's easy to do.
YOUNG: Well, I mean, if you're sending out a message to, let's say people you want to date - come date me so I can get a song out of this. That's not going to be... (laughing).
FULLBRIGHT: That's the joke. I mean, the song itself was a little bit in jest of that because it's like, you know, if that's why you're living life is to be wounded and to go write songs about it then that's not a very good reason to do it.
YOUNG: Well, how do you feel about the word happy? We were joking before we came on air and I said to you, come on, smile. And you said I am. (Laughing).
FULLBRIGHT: I get that a lot.
YOUNG: You smiling now?
FULLBRIGHT: I'm smiling now. That's what I mean. I mean, I smiled when I wrote the song. And it's about, you know, it's just going what's so bad about happy? I'm not that sad. You know, when I am sad, I - it's a big feeling. And it's a - and I write about, you know, big feelings.
YOUNG: Yeah. How much does where you're from influence your songwriting? Oklahoma, red dirt, music scene, Woody Guthrie.
FULLBRIGHT: I'd proximity wise, yeah. Just because there weren't sidewalks to skateboard on and malls to hang out in. There wasn't anything to do. And I was too scrawny to play football. And so I decided I was just going to sit at the piano 'cause it made more sense.
YOUNG: Can you paint the picture of your - what was your hometown?
FULLBRIGHT: There's Okemah, which is going to town to get groceries and to go to the bank and to stop at the post office. But then I drive home, which is Bearden, which is, I don't know, there might be 200 people that live in Bearden. I live on a little kind of hobby farm - handful of cows - just plenty of old, rusted tractors, rusted things. It's a lot of - when I look out the window and I try to come up with an idea, I see a lot of what used to be. I can't write on the road for that reason. I have to be home. I have to be around all those rusted tractors and dilapidated fences and things like that because it just grounds me in a way that I - that I can't find in a hotel room in the middle of, you know, Denver.
YOUNG: Well, especially since they all look alike.
FULLBRIGHT: And they all look exactly the same.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, actually you've got the song "Going Home." I know you're going to play a little bit for us. Is there anything more you want to say more about home that we hear the song?
FULLBRIGHT: Well, I love it. And it's not going anywhere. But I am trying to figure out how to write songs outside of it. That seems to be the new challenge because I'm not home very often. Going to play some "Going Home."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOING HOME")
YOUNG: John Fullbright and his new album "Songs" - the song "Going Home." He's talking about Oklahoma. And yeah, it's a jaunty little tune. Happy, I heard you say. This is happy. And yet, you're talking about losing my voice and the sidewalks running out and there's always my soles falling out the hole in my shoe.
FULLBRIGHT: The sidewalk ended that was a - for Shel, for Shel Silverstein. Big influence on me.
YOUNG: How so?
FULLBRIGHT: Well, my mom used to read me those - you know, all of Shel's children's books, which were, you know, satire. And then I get older, and find out that he wrote, you know, some of my favorite songs for, like, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook - and, you know, you name it.
YOUNG: You know, you reminded me of that. I don't think a lot of people know that.
FULLBRIGHT: Oh, Shel, yeah. Oh man. Come on it's like, what did he write? "A Boy Named Sue."
YOUNG: Yeah. That's right.
FULLBRIGHT: "One's On The Way," that Loretta Lynn song. I mean, a cover of a Rolling Stone.
YOUNG: Well, you just never know what someone's influence is going to be. John Fulbright - oh, boy. Your future all ahead of you. We want to go out with another song, "Never Cry Again." Real standout on the new album. Thank you so much.
FULLBRIGHT: Pleasure, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER CRY AGAIN")
YOUNG: Yes, Jeremy we're a little smitten. John Fulbright's new album is called "Songs." For extended versions of a couple of them, go to hereandnow.org.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
And it's go great to be reminded of Shel Silverstein. Takes me back.
YOUNG: HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.