Robbie Fulks’ 1996 debut album may have been titled Country Love Songs but the type of country music he was creating was miles away from contemporary genre fare. With songs about a drug overdose, the Pennsylvania pork mush known as scrapple and a forgotten 45 RPM record, it was a perfect country album for those listeners who felt alienated by the boot scootin’, bland pop that commercial country radio was offering (and still does, for the most part).
In the intervening decade and a half, Fulks has continued to write and record songs that challenge the listener as much as they entertain. Stylistically, he has explored rock, Bakersfield twang, smooth countrypolitan, and bluegrass all while keeping his unique songwriting voice intact.
Blessed with a high, lonesome tenor and razor-sharp fretboard skills, Fulks is a masterful entertainer who can hold an audience in rapt, pin-drop attention or make them convulse with laughter over an acerbic aside. His new album, Gone Away Backward, finds him in a quieter, more contemplative mood with sparse, mostly acoustic arrangements framing his songs. We spoke with Fulks prior to his recent set at storied Nashville bluegrass club The Station Inn, a room he hadn’t played in over twenty-five years.
I’ve been reading your blog and frequently laughing out loud. What made me chortle recently was your description of rock clubs, those “shoals of silliness,” particularly the venue where your son entered a battle of the bands. I would imagine such clubs are an occupational hazard for you.
Really, I don’t play them much anymore. I don’t know how many of them I do every year, but I would guess it’s no more than four. The rooms I tend to play are places with seats: community centers, “folk nazi” rooms, listening rooms, and places like that. Over the years, I winnowed it down and I know where I like to play. I don’t play a ton of new rooms, in other words.
Good rooms like The Station Inn?
Yes. I haven’t played there since the ‘80s but I have attended several shows there in the interim.