Interview: Joe Fletcher

Last year this time, Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons were among the most respected acts in New England’s reinvigorated Americana movement. Deftly balancing country influenced rock over desultory narratives, albums like Bury Your Problems and White Lighter culminated in the Nashville to Newport set at 2013’s Newport Folk Festival. For Fletcher’s latest solo project, the excellent new release You’ve Got the Wrong Man StGA’s Raymond Lee caught up with the enigmatic song writer to discuss his move to Nashville, recording solo, and Hank Williams.

Can you tell our readers about your move directly into the eye of the Americana storm?

I moved to Nashville last October, though I’ve been traveling at least six months of the year since I’ve been ‘living’ here. I really love it. Eye of the Americana storm? I don’t really know if it feels that way. There’s lots to do and no shortage of live music, or people to play with and hang out. It’s a great place to live, especially if you’re a music lover. I’m a musician but very much still a music fan. But you know I had a lot of friends that already lived here before I arrived. There’s definitely a higher concentration of musicians in Nashville than in any other place I’ve ever lived. It’s very rare to meet someone in my circle that doesn’t sing or play an instrument or work in the music industry somehow. It certainly hasn’t changed my approach to anything I was doing before I arrived. I think a lot of people in Rhodes Island that don’t know me very well assumed I was trying to break into the pop-country scene or break into Nashville. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

So why did you move to Nashville?

When you travel for a living it’s kind of arbitrary where you live. You just want to pick a place where you can be happy to come home to. I spent a lot of time in Nashville before I ever moved. I always felt comfortable and never wanted to leave when I visited so that seemed like a good sign. I wanted to get away from RI for a change of pace. When you live somewhere things come relatively easy, as far as getting shows is concerned or when you know everybody, I’m not sure that’s the best thing for an artistic person who still wants to create and shake things up and dig out of their comfort zone. That’s an important thing for me to do every once in a while.

Have any working relationships or collaborations popped up that you might have missed if you would have remained in RI?

Certainly nothing official. But we do have a really nice front porch where a lot of people come over to play whenever I’m in town. On You’ve Got the Wrong Man I did recording sessions all over the states, but “I Never” included backing vocals from Patrick Sweany, John McCauley, JP Harris and Derek Hoke all in the house in Nashville. There’s something that might not have happened had I not moved here.

Did you have all the material for You’ve Got the Wrong Man together before moving south or did Nashville have an influence on it?

These songs were written over the course of the last couple years. I originally sat out to make another band record, so I was just demoing songs when I began to realize a lot of them felt done. So I came up with a batch of songs that I felt stood on their own as a solo record. Some of the recording took place in Nashville, I finished tidying up some things but it was mostly complete before I got here.

So tell us about the solo record then.

The recording was very unique. I used an old TASCAM four-track cassette machine. I actually only used two tracks of those four tracks. I set up two mics and recorded vocals and guitars live at the same time. So I’m singing while playing guitar on the record. I didn’t overdub, edit or fix anything. It allowed me to record in various places. I started in RI, but I did the bulk of it in a house outside Athens, Ga. It was a rather large house that allowed possibilities for me to change locations for nearly every song. Some if a track sounds a little close mic’d it’s probably recorded in a closet. Some of them were done in very large rooms. One was done in a double parlor with a twenty foot ceiling. You can tell while listening there’s no pre or post effects so any reverb you may hear would be my placement in the particular room of this house.

One of the best tracks is about Hank Williams. What’s your relationship to the Great Country Icon?

I found Hank shortly after really getting into Johnny Cash, and probably a little bit through Bob Dylan who always cites him as a big influence. Dylan was a conduit to a lot of old roots music. Something really struck with me in my early 20’s about Hank Williams and it’s been a life long love. He’s one of my favorite song writers, favorite singers. I love the instrumentation. The recording themselves are really incredible. I’m really drawn to old time recordings, the quality and crackle of them. How well they were mixed for not really being mixed at all. The whole mythology around it is very interesting to me.

I like a lot of American history too, especially the Civil War and the South. I like traveling around and checking out museums, monuments and battlefields, and I had a pretty profound experience my first time in the Hank Williams museum in Montgomery. That’s where the song “Haint Blue Cadillac” comes from.

And the opener “Florence, Alabama” is about the Civil War. Do you romanticize the past?

It’s about a confederate civil war deserter. I read a lot about that stuff and it’s easy to romanticize that kind of thing. I mean, I don’t wish I was in the Civil War. That’s for sure. Glad I missed that one! [Laughter] But there are certain things that attract me to the time period. It’s an amazing piece of American history. You know I’ve done this trip between Tennessee and New England so much I might complain about the five hour drive, but those people walked. When it was time to fight, they had to walk there. They slept outside in January and they died by the thousands. It’s the last example of a war fought with modern weapons but using outdated techniques. It’s no wonder almost everybody died.

The narrative on Wrong Man seems to shift to the interior more than past work.

It certainly wasn’t intentional. Something I want to make clear, just because the song takes place in the first person doesn’t mean it’s about me. I’ve had arguments with people where they think if you’re saying it in the first person it should be about you. I couldn’t disagree more. I can do whatever I want.

Yeah, that Joe Fletcher is such a phony! He never fought in the Civil War.

Yeah, I think from a very literary stance when writing songs or telling stories. Telling stories is a big part of what I do. I do that from any perspective I think best fits the story. It wasn’t a conscious decision but I do think there’s more of a first person perspective that works well for the solo record.

At Newport you said the solo record would be released early this year. Was there a delay?

Initially it was going to be an EP and I had some time blocked out for recording. But then I was offered to tour with Band of Heathens, and then another one with Devil Makes Three. Both of which were times I was supposed to be finishing this record. Now, as for the official release date, it’s been mastered for many, many months and when you get management and publicists on board you defer to the experts and they start saying things like, “What’s a couple more months?” [Laughter]

I am happy to report that I am well underway with writing on the new record. That it’s going to be a return to a band and a much more rocking affair. I got the solo acoustic thing out of my system for recording. I’m excited to be out on the road playing an entire show around this record. But I promise it’s not going to take so long to get the next record out.

We’ll hold him to that promise. Don’t miss Joe Fletcher on the road solo at Newport’s Way Out Yonder Festival at the Santa Monica Pier later in the month along with these West Coast Stops:

Sept 25 – Pappy & Harriet’s – Pioneer Town, CA *
Sept 26 – Way Over Yonder – Santa Monica, CA *
Sept 28 – Soda Bar – San Diego, CA w/ Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band *
Oct 1 – House Concert – Bakersfield, CA *
Oct 2 – Standing Sun Winery – Buellton, CA *
Oct 4 & 5 – Keepin’ It Country Festival – Bandit Town, CA *