The acclaimed singer-songwriter plays Grand Rapids’ Listening Room on Saturday as he returns to the road. The Local Spins interview, plus see how you can win tickets to the show.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Email email@example.com with “FULKS” in the message field and you could win a pair of tickets to Saturday night’s Listening Room concert. Scroll down for a Fulks video and a playlist of albums/artists he’s currently embracing.
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For Robbie Fulks, the idea of sticking with a formula or genre, or making similar records “over and over is to me the definition of hackery and boredom.”
Consequently, the singer-songwriter and celebrated guitarist has consistently pushed the boundaries of country, folk, alt-country, bluegrass and rock, while exploring both humor and gravity in his lyrics.
Blame that, in part, on the music he first embraced as a kid.
“I go back to a lot of the things I loved as a 10-year-old,” Folks told Local Spins.
“It’s partly a conscious strategy, because I feel as an older person, I can more powerfully embody those sounds and styles. The originals are mostly dead and it hits younger people as simultaneously lost-world and fresh – a great combination.”
So, his inspiration hasn’t wavered from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson and John Hartford.
“The Beatles set the example in pop music for constant growth and experiment. So did Bob Dylan,” he said of his penchant for serial experimentalism.
“Downwind of those two, that made for plenty of mediocre and forgettable — or unforgettable in the worst sense — music, which I think is one reason the idea has obsolesced. But I’ve never been able to lose it.”
Fulks, 58, who brings his tour to Grand Rapids’ Listening Room at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, has covered a lot of territory geographically and musically over the past 35 years, earning a couple of Grammy nominations and plenty of critical kudos along the way.
He’s released more than a dozen albums, including 2019’s “16” (his interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Street Legal”), 2016’s “Upland Stories (which earned him a Grammy nomination for “Alabama at Night” as best American roots song), 2019’s “Wild! Wild! Wild!” (a collaboration with retro-rock singer Linda Gail Lewis) and 2009’s “50 Vc: Doberman” (a 50-song, alphabetically organized digital release).
In 2010, he even unfurled “Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson.”
Add to that a 2014 trip to an island in Scotland with members of the band Mekons, a journey that produced original and traditional songs for the album, “Jura.”
‘A CONVERSION EXPERIENCE’ THAT DREW HIM TO COUNTRY
Still, Fulks – who relocated a couple of years ago from Chicago to Los Angeles – remains grounded in his country and folk roots.
“I grew up in little towns in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, which was probably part of it, even though I didn’t pay that much attention to country music then,” he said. “I had parents that were bluegrass and folk aficionados, definitely part of it.
“As a young adult, it started dawning on me that people like Doc Watson and Tony Rice and John Hartford and the Country Gentlemen were going to sound great to me unto death, and the arena of mainstream popular music appealed to me only in limited doses.”
When Fulks was 26, he said the fiddler in a bluegrass band turned him onto The Louvins, Hank Thompson, Keith Whitley and Lefty Frizzell and “it was a little like a conversion experience for me.”
Fulks has started work on a new studio album with a “bluegrass, original songs, old-school tilt” featuring “a number of well-known hotshots from that world.”
But for now, he’s back on the road, touring for the first time since mid-March 2020 when the COVID pandemic shut things down. He’ll perform in Grand Rapids with fellow musician Robbie Gjersoe; Fulks said Gjersoe has “a manic Rodney Dangerfield energy and plays with a lot of butt-shaking groove.” (Fulks also plays Acorn Theater in Three Oaks on Friday.)
“Playing again felt surprisingly ordinary — felt joyous and comfortable and slightly on-edge in the same way it always has,” Fulks said of the first few shows he’s played on the road this fall.
“I made sure to practice for about four hours daily for a month or so beforehand, so I wouldn’t be too rusty. Also, we were lucky in moving to L.A. a year before lockdown. With the weather like it is, I can play in people’s backyards through most of the months. There was a nice steady diet of outdoor communal playing, which made all the difference in the world to me.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Local Spins often asks musicians that it interviews for their current playlist of artists and albums they’re embracing. Here’s Fulks’ list.
Robbie Fulks: A Top 5 Playlist for Local Spins
VIDEO: Robbie Fulks, “Parlor Room Home Sessions”
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