Award-winning singer-songwriter makes Ark Valley debut

In 2012 John Fullbright released his debut studio album, From The Ground Up to a swarm of critical acclaim, including a Grammy nomination. On NPR Fullbright was hailed as one of the 10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012: “It’s not every day a new artist … earns comparisons to great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman, but Fullbright’s music makes sense in such lofty company.” The album also earned him the ASCAP Foundation’s Harold Adamson Lyric Award.

“I never came into this with a whole lot of expectations,” says Fullbright. “I just wanted to write really good songs, and with that outlook, everything else is a perk. The fact that we went to LA and played “Gawd Above” in front of a star-studded audience, never in my life would I have imagined that.”

But for Fullbright, it hasn’t been the acclaim that means the most to him but his entrance into a community of songwriters whose work he admires.

“When I started out, I was all by myself in a little town in Oklahoma where whatever you wanted, you just made it yourself,” he explains. “I didn’t grow up around musicians or like-minded songwriters, but I grew up around records. One of the most fulfilling things … is that now I’m surrounded by like-minded people in a community of peers. You don’t feel so alone anymore.”

On Fullbright’s most recent release, Songs, the recurring motif is the act of writing, which Fullbright treats with the utmost respect. “When I discovered Townes Van Zandt, that’s when I went, ‘You know, this is something to be taken pretty damn seriously,’” says Fullbright. “‘This is nothing to do with business, it has to do with art and identity.’ You can write something that’s going to outlast you, and immortality through song is a big draw.”

But just as important to Fullbright as writing is careful editing. “I can write a first verse and a chorus fairly easily, and it’s important just to document it at the time and come back to it later,” he explains. “That’s the labor, when you really get your tools out and figure out how to craft something that’s worthwhile.”

Fullbright inhabits his songs’ narrators completely, his old-soul voice fleshing out complex characters and subtle narratives with a gifted sense of understatement.

“My songwriting is a lot more economical now,” he explains. “I like to say as much as I can in two minutes 50 seconds, and that’s kind of a point of pride for me.”

The arrangements on Songs are stripped down to their cores and free of ornamentation. Fullbright’s guitar and piano anchor the record, while a minimalist rhythm section weaves in and out throughout the album. That’s not to say these are simple songs; Fullbright possesses a keen ear for memorable melody and a unique approach to harmony, moving through chord progressions far outside the expected confines of traditional folk or Americana.

“I’m a better performer and writer and musician now, and I wanted a record that would reflect that,” he says. “We tracked a lot of it live, just me and a bass player in a room with a few microphones. The basis is a live performance and everything else supports that. I think you just get as much energy and skill as you can into a take, and then start building from there. And what we found is that you don’t have to add too much to that.”

Fullbright will take the stage at Salida SteamPlant at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5. Tickets are available at SalidaSteamPlant.com and at the SteamPlant box office. Cost is $20 in advance and $25 at the door.