Song, by Toad

Posts tagged richmond fontaine

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Richmond Fontaine – Live Review & Interview With Willy Vlautin From Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Saturday 6th March 2010

[Click on the images to enlarge them, and go to Blueback Hotrod to view the full set.  I'd like to say a big thank you to Dylan for filming the interview and for letting me use his photos, both for this post and for the titles for the videos.]

It would be a total cliché to describe Willy Vlautin as a natural storyteller, but then again, sometimes the reason that things are clichés is because they are entirely and obviously true.  From the start of the  interview to the end of the gig it is obvious that Vlautin just rolls thoughts and ideas around in his head, around the conversation, just enjoying the process of building phrases and telling you things.

He is also one of the nicest, most unassuming people I have ever met – just a complete gent from start to finish.  I am far from an experienced interviewer, and his readiness to chip in, to participate, and to make the conversation worth everyone’s while turned what could potentially have been quite an awkward half hour into a genuine pleasure.  Maybe that’s why he’s such an engaging performer – he always puts enough of himself into the show to make the interaction worth his and his audience’s while.

Listening to Vlautin’s songs, they are brought vividly to life by what is an understated, but nevertheless phenomenal talent for finding the important detail which turns his broad-brush vistas into crystal-clear snapshots of people and places you can almost smell, they’re so real.

I wonder if it’s his genuine sympathy and interest which allows him to spot that kind of detail, and to communicate it so cleanly.  It’s hard to describe what’s so special about the way he does it, too.  He’s observant, and can be harsh, but never in a judgmental sense.  If ever what he describes comes across as harsh, he manages to do it in a sense that implies somehow that he still has great love for his characters, and it is simply reality which is mean-spirited.  Even describing a van he bought which clapped out five hours out of the lot he imbues the tale with a kind of pathos: “I don’t know what happened to that poor van. It liked me I think; it just didn’t want to drive any more.”

When he talks to me about how he builds his stories, he tells me that there may be a great deal of reality in there but it’s completely jumbled up, although you’d never guess it.  He doesn’t write to expose or to finger point, more as a way of imagining away the injustices and misfortunes of life either for himself or the people he writes about.

In fact, for someone whose stories can be so stark, and whose characters so intensely observational, he is at considerable pains to avoid either being voyeuristic or taking advantage of someone else’s misfortunes, explaining how he’ll exaggerate situations, extrapolate greatly from small moments to create the chains of events which provide the backbone to his plot, and break up and bury the literal observations under layers of new characters, new places and new consequences.

The catharsis, he tells me, is still the same.  Just because the feeling is caused by different circumstances and happening to a very different person, doesn’t mean that demon isn’t exorcised – as long as the heart of it is there, it’s still the same.

I was a little nervous going into this interview not to cross any lines by talking about Vlautin’s books or his music either too much or too little; preferring to try and let him define how much separation he wanted to keep between the two.  It turns out that boundary barely exists, however.

During the interview he tells me about how his latest book, Lean On Pete, was what happened when he sat down and started writing a story which had begun as a song which didn’t really work.  Songs like The Disappearance of Ray Norton from Thirteen Cities remained as songs, but ended up being spoken word because he just couldn’t get the story he wanted to tell to fit into a traditional song format.

As he chats his way through the gig it becomes increasingly clear that the clichés are perhaps still the best point of reference, at least to begin to understand Willy Vlautin.  He is, simply, a storyteller, and the medium is flexible.  What doesn’t change though, to expand on that cliché a little, is that perhaps as much as a storyteller, he comes across as a listener, and that’s probably why he’s so good.

The band have been together for fifteen years, and the obvious consonance between them as musicians seems to flow from that openness to other people, and the performance itself is full of that spirit.  I love an awful lot of Richmond Fontaine’s music, but there are definitely times when it’s not entirely my cup of tea.  Live, though, the generosity of Vlautin and his friends has so much impact that I found myself drawn in by the warmth they project and even loving the songs I hadn’t enjoyed as much on record.

It was a lovely evening in general, and the interview was so interesting that I am going to publish it in its entirety as a podcast in the next couple of weeks so you can all hear it for yourselves.  I’ll intersperse the conversation with the songs which get mentioned, and I absolutely defy anyone not to be captivated.

Richmond Fontaine – Moving Back Home #2

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Richmond Fontaine – The Boyfriends

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What’s On in Edinburgh This Week – 1st March 2010

It’s fairly quiet in Edinburgh this week, which is good for me, because I am so damn busy there’s almost no chance of me getting out of the house at all – I will be up to my neck in prints and album covers for Cold Seeds and for Trips and Falls, and stuffing promotional copies of albums into envelopes for Meursault and Loch Lomond.  My brain feels liked an over-stuffed Filofax at the moment, and I keep writing down endless lists which look just like the list I wrote a day previously, just in case at any point my head bursts and everything spills out all over the floor.

I know the Filofax was presumably named after a bit of a bastardisation of the term file, and maybe even the words facts or even telefax, but I like to think the filo part came from the pastry, because that’s frequently what they ended up looking like.

My promise to myself, however, is that whatever happens I will be at the Japanese War Effort album launch party on Friday, but as that’s a small gig indeed I am not sure how public a gig this is, you’re best getting in touch with Jamie via the band’s MySpace if you want to go along.

You’ll also be thrilled to find out that Newton Faulkner are playing the Picture House this week – Newton Faulkner the band of whom regular commenter Bart once so memorably said: “To be fair, I wasn’t judging Newton Faulkner entirely on his Wikipedia entry.  I was also taking into account his fucking ridiculous haircut.” which is one of my all-time favourite comments on this site ever in history, so much so that it has been immortalised in t-shirt form.

Friday 5th March 2010: Copy Haho, eagleowl & Debutant play This Is Music at Sneaky Pete’s.

This is Music have recently gone weekly, which is good news.  This weekend sees Aberdeen alumni Copy Haho and Debutant take the stage, with eagleowl in the middle.  The lineup is a bit all over the place in a sense, but I am pretty sure all the bands really like one another’s music, so maybe it makes sense in a different way!

Debutant – Thirst

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Saturday 6th March 2010: Richmond Fontaine & Alana Levandoski at Cabaret Voltaire.

Richmond Fontaine might be one of the most under-rated bands around.  They play Americana, but it is at once so epic in its storytelling sweep, and so small and personal in its details, that you’re left with the impression of really grand vistas made believable by the tiny details in the foreground.  It’s a gorgeous combination, and if you are vaguely interested in this kind of music I strongly recommend you get down to Cabaret Voltaire on Saturday.

Richmond Fontaine – The Boyfriends

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Friday Has a Visit to the Weeg Written All Over It

Tonight Mrs. Toad and I are going to Glasgow and I am NOT ALLOWED to take the opportunity to go to a gig, apparently.  Mean old bitch.  Still, we are staying in a posh hotel for a couple of nights, before popping up to somewherenearglasgow for a wedding on Saturday.  We are going to Rogano’s for oysters on Saturday lunchtime before pottering off in our suits and hoping that everyone else will be so smashed they won’t notice what a couple of dickheads we are when surrounded by large groups of people.

We love Rogano’s actually.  The decor is Art Deco and absolutely brilliant, and it’s full of people who look like they’ve been coming there since their glamorous youth in the seventies.  We go there, drink champagne and martini’s and eat lots of fish, and it’s brilliant.  It actually makes even me feel slightly glamorous, which is no mean feat, I promise you.  I just hope we are a little restrained and don’t turn up at the bloody wedding off our tits.

In other Hoping Not to Offend People news, my mother’s birthday is coming up, but she and my dad are off gallivanting somewhere exotic and mercifully hard to reach, so I will not be able to forget to send her a present this year, a little ritual we have which routinely results in floods of tears and plaintive cries of “Why do you hate me?”  Every single fucking year – honestly, you’d think either I’d start remembering properly or she’d just get the fuck over it, but neither of us seems to be able to sort it out, it’s ridiculous.

Anyhow, please de-lurk and say hello.  And remember to take your hipster pics of people being Incredibly Cool so you can win a vinyl copy of the Communion Compilation.  Judging will be on next Friday’s Five, so find your pics and email me at songbytoad at hotmail.co.uk.  In the meantime, Christ, please let the day be over so I can get a fucking pint.

1. What do you do which routinely causes family histrionics?
2. Apart from the Smiths, these songs are all starting to feel nostalgic now, despite only being about five years old.  Where does current stop and nostalgia begin, for you?
3. What do you wear which makes you feel distinctly Not Like You?
4. What generally disgusting foodstuff do you love.
5. Favourite childhood boardgame.

Richmond Fontaine – The Warehouse Life

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Eels – Sweet Li’l Thing

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The Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again

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Andrew Bird – Lull

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Bright Eyes – Gold Mine Gutted

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Richmond Fontaine – We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River

richfont
I love Richmond Fontaine, and I didn’t even know this was coming.  This is one of the dangers of getting your snout too deep into your inbox and not keeping an eye on news developing in the wider world around you, I guess, but I spotted it eventually.

I’ve reviewed spoken word albums recently – George Pringle and Money Can’t Buy Music – and treated them very much as song-based records, because I didn’t really see what the difference was in the use of the voice, whether or not the lyrics were being sung.  In this case, I almost find myself wanting to talk about a song-based album as if it were actually spoken word.

Willy Vlautin is a novelist, which I suppose I am probably allowing to influence my relationship with this record, but it shows through in the approach to the music as well.  Several of the songs on this verge on spoken word delivery, and the lovely Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses actually goes all the way.  His lyrical style suits this delivery – unhurried and with a eye for the small details which bring a slowly unfolding story to life.

He certainly doesn’t rush the setting of his scene, which I really like, and the music on a lot of this album is designed to match.  Where they have been at various times quite folky, touched on horn-heavy Americana and hit their electric guitars quite hard, in this case the pace of the album is generally not so much slow as unhurried.  Even the rock ‘n’ roll songs, which is where this album tends to go when it ups the urgency, have a kind of easy gait, even as the pace picks up.

I think it’s that rock ‘n’ roll style which I don’t much like about some of the music.  Generally I really enjoy this, but some of the music is a little bit on the squidgy side – nice enough, but no real edge to it.  That doesn’t happen all that often though, and Vlautin’s storytelling is so satisfying that I can’t help but enjoy the album anyway.  It may not be my favourite Richmond Fontaine record, but I am definitely enjoying it.

Richmond Fontaine – The Boyfriends

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Richmond Fontaine – A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses

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Website | More mp3s | Buy from Decor Records

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Five Ruthless Demonstrations of Efficiency

jhf
Righty-ho people, another week draws to a close and by Christ have I been productive. The only person suffering this week has once again been the unimaginably tolerant Mrs. Toad, who has been criminally neglected at the expense of early conference calls a Proper Job, gigs attended, Meursault singles recorded, vinyl packaging finalised, and the pulling together of the final details of the Jesus H. Foxx EP for the launch on Saturday. Last night we finished packing and folding and stamping the last of the run at about one in the morning, and it’s looking bloody lovely. The whole thing is a really nice deep turquoise colour, and I am bloody chuffed with it. Saturday is going to be a fine, fine party, I suspect. There may just be hangovers on Sunday, just maybe.

The Honeytrap Toad Session will be up next weekend as well, which is exciting. It’s taken a while, but it was a genuinely mental session, so I reckon it’ll make for fine entertainment. The podcast might be a little garbled though, because there were four of them and everyone was pished, so trying to stop everyone talking at once was something of a challenge.

I’ve even managed to be extremely efficient at proper job during all of this, possibly related to the fact that the only drinking I have done all week was two beers last night to celebrate the completion of the EP. But there has been a lot of tricky diplomacy to negotiate and slightly panicky clients to deal with and for some reason people have been asking me a lot of advice recently, which seems to be somewhat over-estimating my talents, but hey-ho, it’s nice to feel important I suppose.

On a thread during the week Michael asked which Richmond Fontaine album to start with, and I answered him the best I could – I prefer The Fitzgerald, but it might be a little too quiet, inwhich case the rockier Post to Wire or the more Calexico-esque Thirteen Cities might be better choices. Well, to help him make his decisions I have chosen five Richmond Fontaine songs for this week’s five because they are a criminally underrated band and everyone should like them more than they do. Any fan of Smog’s gorgeous A River Ain’t Too Much to Love is highly likely to love The Fitzgerald as well, so bugger off and start listening.

De-lurking is of course the theme of the day on Friday. I know that the likes of myself and the more regular commenters talk too much and can seem a little bit like a closed shop at times, but I really appreciate it when new people take the time to come out of the woodwork and say Hi. There are more readers on this site every day than commenters by at least an order of magnitude, so it would be nice to get an idea of who some of you are. Just fill in your (stolen from GUT) Friday Five and then join in the festival of pish-talking which tends to ensue. Have fun people, hopefully see some of you on Saturday at the Bowery.

P.S.: I seem to have acquired an excellent troll – go back to some of the old podcasts and check out some comedy remarks. Pictish Session, Ruthcast and Funkcast would be good suggested places to start…

1. How long did you read Song, by Toad before making your first comment?
2. Your Friday lunch.
3. Proportion of pointless admin to time wasting to actual work in your real job, as a percentage (eg: 40:27:33).
4. Suggest a funny website for people to waste their time on this afternoon.
5. What’s the earliest you’ve ever sneaked out of work without permission?

Richmond Fontaine – Harold’s Club (from Obliteration by Time)

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Richmond Fontaine – Polaroid (from Post to Wire)

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Richmond Fontaine – Warehouse Life (from The Fitzgerald)

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Richmond Fontaine – Incident at Conklin Creek (from The Fitzgerald)

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Richmond Fontaine – Moving Back Home #2 (from Thirteen Cities)

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Richmond Fontaine – $87 and a Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go (from Thirteen Cities)

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Richmond Fontaine on Amazon

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Three Thursday Thespia… No, Wait

Food Lines

On Sunday I make my DJ debut at the Flying Duck in Glasgow, where I have rather foolishly agreed to play records after a Men Diamler, Animal Magic Tricks, Withered Hand and Meursault gig.  That’s some lineup, but I will probably spend most of it convinced that the simple task of playing one record after another will for some reason prove to be beyond me.  Lets face it, DJs are fucking idiots, so if they can do it then surely to fucking god I can do it.  Presumably you have to do something clever every once in a while just to prove that you are somehow better than the shuffle function on a discerningly stocked iPod, but I doubt I’ll bother.

Mrs. Toad is around this weekend for a little while, before buggering off to Australia for ten days, which is crap (the buggering off, not the being around).  Still, it should help me get the Pictish Trail Toad Session finished, which would be fun.  We’re going out for a meal tonight in a half-hearted attempt to spend some time together before she vanishes again, so there should be a late, drunken podcast and plenty of swearing by lunch time tomorrow.

On the subject of tomorrow, we will be collecting our beloved old Volvo (and by old I mean 1971, so yes, old) and putting her on sale and also checking on the state of repair of the Toad van – our fucking ludicrous Toad Mobile.  I don’t know if I’m just excited or if I think we as big a pair of fucking idiots as you probably do.  I think we’ll call her Charlene.

This week I have spent a lot of time in the workshop here at Proper Job, listening to the radio.  A lot of it has centred around the state of the banks in the UK and particluarly the spectacular chutzpah of Fred Goodwin, who had the gall to run one of the world’s largest banks into the ground, and then resign on a £650k per year pension.  It’s a bit like being caught shagging someone’s wife and asking for a cup of tea and a biscuit before they throw you out.  The problem really is that for all the discussion about all this bollocks, the whole debate really boils down to this:

Why did it happen?  Because the decisions are made by blinkered, avaricious cunts with no regard for anything other than enriching themselves in a spectacular fashion.  Why aren’t you doing anything about it?  Because they still have all the fucking money – what’s left of it anyway – so there’s really fuck all we can do because the whores still have us by the short and curlies.  End. Of.  Story.

So, on that perky little note, this is the weekly opportunity for random participation and nonsense.  Please don’t feel you have to be a comedy genius, or contribute all that much, but do take this opportunity to de-lurk and say hello, particularly if it’s for the first time.

1. Favourite excuse for the credit crunch made by some snivelling financial type.
2. Worst ‘poor meal’ you ever had.
3. Something you’re going to spend money on this weekend which you really shouldn’t.
4. Canny saving trick you recently discovered, making you all pleased with yourself.
5. Cheapest thing you’ve ever bought which should be really expensive.

Dan Bern & the IJBC – Crow (IJBC stands for International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, so it is slightly fitting!)

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Hawksley Workman – Bankrobber

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REM – What if We Give it Away

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Richmond Fontaine  – $87 and a Guilty Consience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go

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The Welcome Wagon – Sold! To the Nice Rich Man

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Toad Top 10, 2007: 6-10

6. Richmond Fontaine – Thirteen Cities

13 Cities

Willy Vlautin is one of the most gifted storytellers in modern music. I have never known anyone so effortlessly evocative. This is a desert western classic, all beauty and rambling stories about drifters and losers, the normal and the ordinary.

Richmond Fontaine – The Kid From Belmont Street

review | website | buy

7. Monkey Swallows the Universe – The Casket Letters

Casket Letters

Sometimes God is a bastard. These characters have gone on potentially permanent ‘hiatus’ just as I started to get all excited about them. The Casket Letters is one of the loveliest albums of gentle folk-pop you’re likely to hear, and then they go and pack in it. Swine!

Monkey Swallows the Universe – Down

review | website | buy

8. The Sequins – The Death of Style

Death of Style

Genuinely innovative style, boisterous and the very definition of infectious. Who’d have thought Coventry was so much bloody fun!

The Sequins – When the Flames Went Out

review | website | buy

9. Ray’s Vast Basement – Starvation Under Orange Trees

Starvation Under Orange Trees

Beautiful, wistful and very old fashioned. This is an album of dust-bowl Americana with a sprinkling of loveliness, all based on the work of John Steinbeck which, on listening to the album, is no surprise at all.

Ray’s Vast Basement – California’s Gone

review | website | buy

10. The 63 Crayons – Spoils For Survivors

Spoils For Survivors

Electronic and relentless, always travelling forwards. The band Kasabian wish they could have been.

The 63 Crayons – The Squeeze

review | website | buy

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