Hot off the Nashville to Newport tour featuring cameos by country/Americana firecrackers like Amanda Shires, Andrew Combs, Bobby Bare Jr. and John McCauley, front man for the Wrong Reasons Joe Fletcher sits down on grounds at the Newport Folk Festival to discuss with Raymond Lee his future plans, past successes, drunken debaucheries with Hayes Carll, the history of America’s preeminent folk festival and Vladimir Nabakov’s influence on songwriting.
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/79761599″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Despite the critical success of your last two albums, Bury Your Problems and White Lighter, some of our readership may not be familiar with the Wrong Reasons. Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m the songwriter and singer, front man so to speak for the Wrong Reasons, a country Americana group based in Providence, RI for the moment. Our most recent record, White Lighter, was co-produced by Keith Souza just up the road in Pawtucket. Along with Deer Tick, the Low Anthem and some others the Wrong Reasons represent the local contingent at the [Newport Folk] festival.
Your guitarist Greg Burgess told me you were from St. Louis. Your music sounds southern, almost delta, and you don’t have much of a Nor’eastern accent. How did you end up falling into the Providence scene?
Well I left St. Louis when I was four. (Laughs) I come from a military family so I didn’t have much of a choice. Providence is unique in that it’s a relatively small town but the music scene, as vibrant as it is, doesn’t give you much of a reason to leave.
Your guitarist Greg Burgess has had some past successes, can you tell us about that?
He was in a band called the Amazing Royal Crowns which was the biggest band from Providence for the longest time. They got all over the world in the early to mid nineties, which was very successful for the area. He’s an old friend, I met him before he was in that band, he played on our first record Bury Your Problems, and then just rejoined the Wrong Reasons about a year ago. He’s also got a band called the ‘Throttles,’ he sings and plays guitar for. Greg is one of the few performers, maybe the only one that actually resides in Newport.
What does playing the Newport Folk Festival mean to you?
This would be our second performance. I grew up going to this festival so it was pretty surreal when we played last year for the first time. It’s an other-worldly sort of thing. I’m big into the history of American music, and you cannot be into Americana without knowing how important the Newport Folk Festival is. And not just Bob Dylan. Newport was instrumental in introducing all these rural south artists like Skip James or Mississippi John Hurt. They brought them here so everybody in New England could get a taste of what folk was all about. This is one of the first places these people played, and it launched them onto a national agenda. Real legends you know, like Howlin’ Wolf, Sun House, and Muddy Waters. The history is insane when you really think about it.
Obviously there’s a difference between playing Newport and some club in let’s say a suburb of Cincinnati. Does that intimidate you when you get on stage here or is it just another job?
It is not just another job. It’s definitely different than any other show you could ever play. The atmosphere is so idyllic. You can sleep an hour the night before your performance and the adrenaline will just carry you through the day, floating the whole time you’re here. At least that’s the way I feel about it. And a lot of people come out here for the first time thinking it’s just another festival and then they leave knowing its more like a big family. It’s my second year here and already it feels like home. For instance, the woman out there watching the back stage entrance is the same woman who was here last year. Now she may only be checking wrist bands, but its the same situation with the organizers and musicians. So you start building this relationship with people out here and there’s no reason not to believe it won’t go on for the next forty years as it has for the last fifty.
This could be considered your backyard then. Newport gets national draws, but it seems like there’s more stage time equality amongst the groups playing…
The people behind Newport have worked really hard to keep the Rhode Island element alive. Who else would do that? It’s not going to happen anywhere else.
What’s coming up for you and the Wrong Reasons?
I’ve got a string of dates coming up. I’m opening for Jason Isbell at the Sinclair in Boston next week, then Bobby Bare Jr. at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan, and then three straight dates with Patrick Sweeney beginning in Ohio and ending in Nashville. And then vacation for a week to scout out a place to live. I’ll be moving there in October which will coincide with the release of the new record, You’ve Got the Wrong Man.
Tell us about that.
It’s a little acoustic solo album, definitely a departure from the rocking records we’ve put out previously. It’s the right approach for the new material I’ve written and doesn’t indicate any difficulty with the Wrong Reasons. They’ll be back at it with our next record slated for early 2014. We’ve got some stuff brewing as a group already and it’ll be a much shorter lag time than White Lighter. We’ve been on the road so much it can be hard to get studio time lately but it feels like everything is really starting to come together with the upcoming projects.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked in an interview that never comes up?
I would like to talk more about the lyrics sometimes. I’m an avid reader. Lyrically I’m a lot more inspired by what I read than most of the music I listen to. The approach to telling a story is really important to me, especially when you take on a universal topic and then twist it into an angle we haven’t heard before.
Why don’t you think people write song narratives anymore?
I don’t really know. That’s what a lot of my favorite song writers do. By placing the emphasis on characters and their interactions in the context of a story you can take on a topic everyone can relate to, but leave it pretty open ended. Everybody’s going to be picturing something different. It’s not super specific but comes out as a series of images that suits the point you’re trying to get across.
There’s a lot of interesting things going on in that realm. Are you familiar with Hayes Carll?
I’m a huge, huge fan! We recently met in York Pennsylvania and went out drinking together after the show. He’s a funny, funny guy. I think he and Justin Townes Earl over the last five years have been the two contemporaries I think I can relate most closely to artistically.
Well you know he collaborates often, maybe one day…
That’s true. He does a lot with Corb Lund, who is also great. He’s co-written some songs with Bobby Bare Jr. who played my show Nashville to Newport just the other day. I would love to work with him someday.
We would love to hear it.
Well, it was a hell of a night in York! It all started with this rot gut whiskey…
[To protect the personal characters of both Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Carll the debaucheries of that night’s story cannot be printed here.]
To be a fly on the wall! Anyway we pride ourselves on being a well read organization at Surviving the Golden Age. What have you been reading on?
A lot of non-fiction and biography lately. I’m a huge George Jones fan, and by proximity a huge Tammy Wynette fan. I’ve almost finished Tragic Country Queen, by Jimmy McDonough. He also wrote the biography of Neil Young, Shakey. It’s another great biography and I’ve been really into it lately because its almost like fiction. There might be a little bit of myth building going on in there, but some of these peoples lives aren’t too far from fiction.
Have you been reading any fiction?
I’m a huge Nabokov fan. He’s a big influence on what I do in the sense that on the surface people think of my songs as depressing or downhearted, but I think there’s a lot of humor in them. Nabokov was the master at telling a miserable story but making it hilarious. Fitzgerald was really good at that too. As far as song writers are concerned Leonard Cohen is a big one that pulls that off. Morrissey is a perfect example. He’s billed as the ‘Prince of Mope,’ but he’s fucking hilarious man. I’m sorry for people who miss that. And if they’re missing it in my music I encourage them to look a little closer because there’s a huge element of humor in there. I love that mix, and that’s what really gets me about Nabokov.
Well, I was a high school English teacher so I’m a big fan of Lolita. I taught it a lot.
And you weren’t fired?
(Laughs) I really love Laughter in the Dark. But it’s stupid the amount of books he’s written that I still haven’t read for how much I love his work. He’s got a number of novels published most people don’t really know about. Fitzgerald burned out on top a bit early, but Nabokov put out substantive work over the entire course of his career. Hopefully the Wrong Reasons can do the same.
And we’re quite positive Mr. Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons will as well. Currently touring the northeast in a town near you, and soon to be based out of Nashville the group shouldn’t be missed. Keep your eyes peeled for Surviving the Golden Age’s review of Joe Fletcher’s next album You’ve got the Wrong Man, in October.