Gambling, whiskey, cheap hotels and cheaper women, the songs of Richmond Fontaine tell the tales of being down and out in Reno, stoned and alone in a trailer park, stagnant lives in Mid-West US of A and some personal anguish as told by the often wounded, sometimes trashy and always larger than life characters met along the way. Lead songwriter and lyricist for the band Willy Vlautin captures a quixotic Americana. As a novelist, Vlautin covers similar territory. His first novel The Motel Life draws comparisons to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, a deeply romantic and tragic story of two brothers, Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan. Hollywood has picked up on it, the Polsky Brothers to be exact, and there’s a feature film in post-production starring Dakota Fanning (who Willy mis-pronounces as Fayning and guesses, “she’s kind of famous I’m told.”), Stephen Dorff, Emile Hirschand and Kris Kristofferson. Vlautin appears in the film, sitting at a bar during a fight scene.
In a Dublin bar State asks Willy about his career as big screen writer: “Ah gee”, he drawls (if he were wearing a ten gallon hat, he’d push it back and scratch his head), “I’m just doing my thing”. Vlautin is that modest, and every bit as charismatic as the characters from his books, who often find themselves in a Richmond Fontaine song. Sometimes they’re born there – Lonnie Dixon stems from ‘Motorcycle for a Horse‘ and pops up in Lean On Pete. Sometimes a Richmond Fontaine song features in a story.
The High Country is a concept song-novel from Richmond Fontaine, a kind of country punk opera .There are fleshed out scenes and character introductions, steel guitar soundscapes and dialogue, spoken word passages and frenzied rock instrumentals. The story is set in a logging community in Oregan, where Vlautin now lives on a ranch with his girlfriend; “I’m a location writer, I’m very much influenced by my environment and surroundings.” Giving a synopsis of The High Country, Willy explains: “Arlene works in an autoparts store and she likes to takes walks by herself along the roads. There’s a guy works in a bar called The Chainsaw Sea and he sees her and he starts falling in love with her. He doesn’t know who she is. Throughout the whole story, she doesn’t even know he exists. So he, starts kind of stalking her and becomes obsessed with her husband. During this time she falls in love with a mechanic from the auto parts store. It’s a messed up situation, and Arlene takes these walks every evening before going to home to deal with her home life and this ends up being …” Let’s leave that there.
The record is streaming below, a gothic love story set in the dramatic backdrop of forest countryside brutalised by logging. There are wordless narratives in the music, ‘The Girl On The Logging Road’ invokes a feeling of bleak doom but there’s hope shining through. “I’m a huge fan of instrumental music, because it is so cinematic. If you like this record, and you get it, the instrumentals breathe with it and you can create your own images of how it should picture out in your mind,” he adds, “I live near hundreds of acres of forest and there’s logging roads everywhere. They are beautiful in one way, and destructive, lonely and creepy all at the same time. That’s what I was trying to do with that song.”
Bar worker, and manic psychopath, Claude Murray listens to KSAW Logging Radio. One night as he is driving along these logging roads a Richmond Fontaine song is aired. ‘Lost In The Trees’ is about “losing your shit on acid” – the band wrote the song by comparing tripping stories, “you know how it is, everyone has a story more exaggerated than the next” – Murray hears the track at a crucial point and it sends him, further, over the edge.
Richmond Fontaine are touring Ireland with The High Country staring with The Workman’s in Dublin tomorrow night – full tour details below – tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster of your local box office.
Irish tour dates:
November 4th – Workman’s Club, Dublin
November 5th – Cyprus Ave, Cork
November 6th – Cleere’s, Kilkenny
November 7th – Empire, Belfast
November 8th – Roisin Dubh, Galway