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Fullbright writes the "Songs"

By Henry Carrigan, November 2014

John Fullbright didn' grow up around musicians or like-minded songwriters in his little hometown of Bearden, Okla. You'd never know it, though, from his raw, stark, pure and honest songwriting that's drawn comparisons to Townes Van Zandt.

His debut album, "From the Ground Up," was nominated for a 2013 Grammy as the Best Americana Album, catapulting him into the company of Bonnie Raitt, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers.

Fullbright's new album, "Songs," reinforces the simple complexity of his powerful lyrical talents; much like Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" or most any of Guy Clark's albums, he captures forlornness, despair, hope and beauty in unadorned arrangements floating on the power of his guitar, piano and plainspoken voice.

Tell me story of the album.
Fulbright:
Well, I'm not so good at having a clear picture of what I want to do. I had a handful of songs, and I really just wanted to go into the studio and try to get a good performance. The more we recorded, the more we were focused on that; we wanted to do a more stripped down album, and it takes a little more concentration to take this album in. We decided to give it a simple title, too, and just call it "Songs." I think every song on this album has a feeling of immediacy.

How did you record the album?
JF: We tracked a lot of it live with just me and a bass player in a room with a few microphones. The basis is a live performance and everything else that supports that. I think you just get as much energy and skill as you can into a take, and then start building from there.

John Fullbright sings "She Knows"

How did you select the songs that would be on this album?
JF: I tried to choose the songs that have the most meaning, were most immediate to me at the time, whatever it is. Something that's driving me nuts is likely something that's driving other people nuts, too. I'm not writing these songs only for myself, for songwriting is about community. There are a few songs that didn't make the record.

Tell me a little bit about your approach to songwriting.
JF: It's a very organic process for me. Sometimes I start with lyric or an idea, and sometimes I'll start with a tune, but most of the time it all happens at once for me. You know, every time I write a song I think it's gonna be the last time I'm gonna write a song. But then I'll start to get a little dry and I'll find myself writing another song and starting the process over again.

When did you start playing?
JF: When I was 14 or 15, I acquired a guitar. I had a chart book with a bunch of country songs in it. You know, a guitar makes you want to sing while you're playing; it's not always like that with a piano. By the time I was 16, I had written a couple of songs. I always envisioned myself as a songwriter.

Who are your three greatest musical influences?
JF: Shel Silverstein was an influence before I knew he was an influence. I loved the rhymes he would come up with and his characterizations. He has a lot to teach songwriters, I think. Chopin: I had a really big crush on him when I was a teenager; even now when I'm looking to try to find a chord progression, I'll play his music, and it helps me find a way in. Roger Miller: he's an Okie like me; he showed me that you can fit the most you can say in as few lines as possible; he can break your heart and make you laugh at the same time; he's a genius. John Hiatt and Guy Clark are also big influences on me.

How have your grown as an artist over the years?
JF: I know I've grown more confident in my own abilities to write a lot without falling in love with every word I've written. I've learned to figure out what it is I want to say and to say it in the way I need to say it. I still have million miles to go, though.

What's next for you?
JF: Now that the album's out, I'm feeling as dry as bone. Once we're finished touring some with this album, I want to get back to writing more songs.