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Bloodshot Briefing: The Fulks File

By Matt Harness

Happy 10, Bloodshot Briefing fans. Hope everybody enjoyed the tunes to end the Naughties.

The first music report from the Beachwood Music Desk in 10 is a big catch. After some consideration and handy connections, I reeled in Robbie Fulks, formerly of Bloodshot Records and now a self-releasing singer-songwriter who lives in the North Shore 'burb Wilmette. Fulks, a Pennsylvania native who spent most of early years in the South, was one of Bloodshot's first artists when he released Country Love Songs in 1996. He later left the label and began a journey that led to him putting out his own records with the help of his Web site ( and the various digital outlets. We talked about everything from his latest recordings to how to give a best man's speech. The best news? Robbie is scheduled for a Hideout residency every Monday in February. Don't forget to tip.

Beachwood Music: I must say I was confused. I know you're a longtime Chicago resident, but I read where you moved to the hipster-haven Brooklyn last year. Skinny jeans?

Fulks: We lived there for part of last year as my wife took a job up there. I was more of a caretaker of the kids than a musician. I got enough music played, though. I lived there when I was young. It was more fun then, but it's richer and safer now.

Beachwood Music: So you're back in Chicago?

Fulks: We live in Wilmette, the rough section near the ice cream shop. It's where all the ruffians hang out. I've lived in and around Chicago since 1983. Other than New York, Los Angeles, Austin and maybe Nashville, Chicago is next in terms of a good music scene.

Beachwood Music: I read where you said The Space in Evanston was one of the your favorite venues to play last year. Where are some others that you enjoy to play around town?

Fulks: The Space is great for quiet intimate shows. I thought it was really cool. It's weird to me there's not better to place to play near where I live. That's why The Space fills a need really well.

As far as Chicago places, Martyrs', FitzGeralds, although I guess that's not Chicago, Old Town School, Hideout.

Beachwood Music: The Old Town School of Folk Music seems to suit you perfectly as you are a genre-bending artist who doesn't mind taking chances.

Fulks: The Old Town works for many ways. It's a clean place where people aren't comfortable pissing on the floor. But they really make themselves flexible and wide open to lots of music. I started working there in 1984, and it was a distinctly different vibe back then. Lot of grungy people taking classes. It wasn't much of a business. But the people running it now really it turned it around and expanded the brand to include all types of music.

Beachwood Music: When did you first pick up a guitar? What was the inspiration?

Fulks: My dad played. In fact, everybody in my family played. I started with the banjo at seven years old.

Beachwood Music: Where did the country influence come from?

Fulks: I moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia and North Carolina when I was young. I spent more time in those states than in Pennsylvania. I didn't listen to much country when I was younger, but I later joined Special Consensus.

Beachwood Music: Your songwriting and storytelling ability are legendary. What's your process?

Fulks: I do quite a bit of it at home in a quiet, isolated place. There's not one particular place. I just have to have a blank mind, something I don't seem to have on the road. I have trouble writing on the road, even if I have two to three hours to kills in a hotel room.

For Georgia Hard I rented a hotel room. It was a Hampton Inn in Gurnee. Kind of an expensive proposition, but it was quiet and a removal from the world.

Beachwood Music: What are you working on these days?

Fulks: I was doing one today [Wednesday]. It's about a guy who escapes from jail. He's the one signing the song. He's in the process of killing a guy. In the meantime, he's a telling a story about his version of why there's no God. I am working on a record with songs like this for a project that hopefully with come out in the next year. It's a conceptual deal.

Beachwood Music: You're also, finally, releasing your tribute to Michael Jackson.

Fulks: He's an influence you can't get away from, like carbon. It's not a conscious influence, though. The record came about because I was doing some of his material years ago at shows. It was fun, and people started liking it. I recorded some stuff and then did a whole record. Then he was accused of child molestation, so it became a bad idea given that perception and probable reality.

When he died, I recorded a few more songs and got it mastered. We're almost done, just working on art. Should be out in a few months.

Beachwood Music: Perhaps for anybody but you that might seem strange, a country singer covering King of Pop tunes. But it fits your daredevil approach to music.

Fulks: I wanted to take a concept familiar to people and rework it and make it personal. I want to see if I can bring it around to what I do without making a mockery of it.

Any musician doesn't want to stick to one format. You want to strike a balance. Of course, you do what you do best and concentrate on that. You don't do heavy metal if you're Pat Boone, although he did. It's just about growing and keeping it interesting. For me, that's essential.

Beachwood Music: On your Web site, you mentioned that Bloodshot's Nora O'Connor has the best iPod you've ever seen. Why?

Fulks: Partly because it's got so much stuff I've never heard of in my life. Every time I feel like I am knee deep in music to the point of nerd, I hear something like her iPod. She has a whole record by Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney that I never heard of and most people don't know about either. She was doing a show and heard it over the soundcheck. She asked the sound man about it and got it. She's alert to that stuff. She also has so many different genres from classical to African jungle music. She has 20,000 far-flung and obscure songs.

Beachwood Music: You're brother recently married and you gave your first best man speech. My brother Michael gets married in March, and I am the best man in his wedding. Any tips?

Fulks: My son, he's 26, gave his first one and he told me what to do. Keep it short, keep it funny and say something nice about the bride. Those were my three touchstones about the speech. I modeled it on an Al Franken delivery. I just propped up his wife, and I got scot free. I said nothing wise. I said nothing at all helpful or deep.

Beachwood Music: Finally, end of the night, belly full of beer, pocketful of quarters and two ears for tunes. Who gets the call?

Fulks: "Well you Needn't" by Thelonius Monk, "Wichita" by Gillian Welch, "Just You, Just Me" by Nat King Cole, "How Do You Like the Army?" by Jimmy Driftwood and "Joe Rey" by Fountains of Wayne.


Matt Harness brings you Bloodshot Briefing every week. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on January 8, 2010

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