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The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Writer
He is the singer and songwriter with one of America’s most highly rated cult bands. He is also one of the most acclaimed US novelists to have emerged in recent times. But it would be hard to find anyone less driven by ego or a desire for celebrity than Willy Vlautin, frontman with Richmond Fontaine. In fact what he hankers after is the opportunity to slip off into the woods alone – and write.
Olaf Tyaransen, 17 Oct 2011
“I thought the guys would think I was fuckin’ nuts – and they did, you know,” he says, with a wry smile. “So I wrote every single song out and recorded ‘em, just by myself. We go out once in a while and we’ll go to a bar and just talk about what we wanna do. So everybody got really drunk and then someone said, ‘What are you working on, man?’ And I told them the whole story. They were all just shaking their heads, going, ‘Christ, I’m not gonna be able to buy a bicycle after this record comes out. Let alone a used car!’”
Produced by John Askew (The Dodos, Karl Blau) and recorded at Type Foundry and Scenic Burrows in Portland, the album hasn’t been released yet so nobody knows what form of transport they’ll ultimately be able to afford on the back of its sales. However, while its chances of becoming Richmond Fontaine’s commercial breakthrough are slight, there’s no doubting that the band have made a very bold artistic statement.
An operatically tragic tale of drugs, violence, infidelity, loneliness, and desperation, set against a backdrop of permanent rainfall, endless logging roads and the remains of a forest brutalised by logging, The High Country features fully fleshed-out characters, changing scenes, snippets of radio, and spoken-word passages.
“I was really interested in light versus dark, of romance versus violence and destruction and psychosis,” he says. “And I was interested in trying to make the love songs really romantic, and the dark songs crazy. The guys had their doubts at first, but once we started doing it, they all got into it. I think it’s safe to say it’s our funnest record, and our most ambitious record.”
They had a little help from their friends. Fontaine regulars Paul Brainard (pedal steel), Ralph Huntley (keyboards, accordion) and Collin Oldham (cello, cellomobo) all feature. Playing the auto-parts store girl, The Damnations’ Deborah Kelley – who also guested on breakthrough album Post To Wire – sings lead vocals on four of the songs.