John Fullbright interview: Happiness, Okies and Grammys
Americana singer/songwriter John Fullbright got a lot of attention for his debut album, with great reviews and nominations. Now he is back with follow-up Songs, and The Upcoming had the chance to chat with him about it and his life surrounding music.
Hi John! Tell us a little bit about you new album Songs. What kind of an album is it and how is it different from your earlier releases?
It’s a lot of more truthful – not that the last record was a lie, but it’s less vague. I’d say it’s more of a well-crafted record. And as far as the song writing, it’s a lot more economical, recording-wise. The last record had a couple of seven-minute songs on it, but on this one it’s all three minutes per song and I feel like they are better. That’s really what we’re going for, songwriters and sound crafters – taking less of someone’s time and saying more in that space. And I think I’m getting there!
Your last album From the Ground Up was well-received by the audience and critics, even getting a Grammy nomination. Did you feel the pressure to match that kind of success with this album?
Of course! But it’s a pressure that is only in my head, no one else feels that pressure except me. If I can always keep that in mind then I realize that the pressure doesn’t actually exist at all. It’s just a figment of my imagination really. But it creeps up every once in a while. It scares me a little bit, but it doesn’t exist.
Happy, the opening track of the album, allegedly critiques the way musicians often use unhappiness in their work.
Happy was kind of a joke. There’s this theory that you have to be down in the dumps to write songs that are interesting, that have a meaning. Because there are some of us out there who don’t like happy pop songs, where people tell us that everything is going to be okay. It’s not all going to be okay. But at the same time, if all you do is write about yourself, and you don’t have any conflict and are just happy, you have a thing to either find it or create it in order to have something to write about. That’s a really silly way to go about doing this, especially if you want to keep doing this for any amount of time. So that’s kind of what this song was, a little joke about “what’s so bad about happy? Why do you have to be unhappy? Maybe try to write a happy song every once in a while. Maybe it won’t hurt as bad as you think.”
Do you think there is a difference in the audience and scene here in the UK compared with what you’re used to back in the states?
Yeah, there is a difference; People expect more over here, as far as quality goes. They listen harder, I know that! They don’t react the same way, and that’s not a bad thing but just something I’ve noticed. If I were to play a hardcore harmonica solo in the states people would hoop and holler and it’s not really the same way over here. It’s a lot more reserved, but nothing wrong with that for sure. People do appreciate it I would say, maybe even a little more! When there’s good lyrics and if there’s good quality of writing you don’t have to go out there and do backflips and pyrotechnics and stuff to impress people. They listen.
What would you say are the biggest influences in your music? What other musicians have inspired you?
Oh, I have a list that goes out the door! I’m a bigger music fan than I am a music writer. I don’t wake up and feel the need to tell the whole world how I think and feel, but I do have a need to wake up and hear something good. I hate those guys that say that they don’t listen to music because they think it’s going to influence their art, I think that that’s a stupid argument. You have to always be listening to everything in order to do anything that’s going to be worth something. But specific influences: I like Okies, Oklahoma songwriters! I’m very proud of our musical heritage. You’ve got Leon Russell, JJ Cale, Roger Miller and Bob Wills. The list goes on and on. We’re very proud of ourselves.
And finally, if there were no limits, what would your dream goal in music be?
My dream goal would be to wake up and walk outside to my mail box and for there to be money there. And I didn’t even have to do anything to get it. That’s my goal. I don’t know if it works like that anymore – it used to!
Photo: Melissa Harper
For further information and future events visit John Fullbright’s website here.
Read our review of John Fullbright’s concert at Islington Assembly Hall here.