Richmond Fontaine's Willy Vlautin tells us what to expect from new album, Thirteen Cities
UNCUT: Thirteen Cities finds you relocating from Oregon to Arizona and hooking up with Calexico and Howie Gelb. How did that come about?
VLAUTIN: We’ve always been big fans of Craig Schumacher, who runs the studio Wavelab down at Tucson, and JD Foster, who produced our albums Post To Wire and The Fitzgerald. They’re good buddies. And I’m a big Calexico fan, always have been, so we decided that it would be best to go down there to record this. I didn’t know Joey Burns or Jacob Valenzuela from Calexico, but JD introduced me to them and they’re just great, really nice guys. In Tucson you meet so many cool guys. Howe Gelb came by and he was late for dinner with his wife, but he wanted to play piano on this song, so he was like “If we can do it in a half hour…” So those guys just kind of stopped by, if you were lucky and they were in town, or they had time, they’d play on the record, so for me it was a real, real lucky break.
UNCUT: Was there something in the ambience of Tucson and the Southwest that you wanted to capture in the songs?
VLAUTIN: I wanted to capture the Southwest desert feel. To me, it’s a record of drifters. I initially wanted it to be a record about the West, its decline, and the way I see it. But it turned into a record about drifting, both literally and guys just drifting from themselves, guys falling apart or, you know, redeeming themselves.
UNCUT: Were you seeing these kinds of stories unfold in front of you while you were down there?
VLAUTIN: No. Once we decided that we wanted to record down there, I started writing specifically for that session and thinking about the Southwest and the desert.
UNCUT: It must be pretty strange to have a romanticised notion in your head of what an area is like, when there’s always the possibility that the reality is going to be completely different.
VLAUTIN: Oh shit, it seems like it always does! You know, you’ve just got to keep the romantic vision. I mean I’m a dope as it is about that kind of stuff – I kind of live in my own head, but yeah, you do get let down a lot that way. My sister got married in the Bay Area, down by Monterey where John Steinbeck lived. And I went down there and it’s this real hoity-toity place now, for the richest of the rich and so you just kind of live in your own mind when you see stuff like that. But as far as coming to Tucson, it was pretty much what I thought it would be – we toured down there a lot, and so it was a great experience on that front as far as soaking up the desert vibe and all that.
UNCUT: Have you got a favourite song on the album?
VLAUTIN: My personal favourite? Probably “Kid From Delmont Street”. There is this kid that lived down the street from me that I’d always see wandering round. He was the saddest looking kid ever, so I wrote that song for him. I never knew the guy or anything but you could tell he’d had a bad situation. I wasn’t very sure if it was a good song or anything. Then when the guys got hold of it, with the pedal steel feedback underneath it all and Jacob Valenzuela playing the great trumpet solo, that was something.
UNCUT: How do those collaborators affect the dynamic of what you’re doing?
VLAUTIN: Well it was interesting with Joey Burns. He had good little ideas and he played the piano on “Lost In This World”, we did a live duet. It makes you nervous as hell because he’s such a talented guy, but it makes you feel lucky to get to work with a guy that…obviously I’m a huge fan, so just on a personal level it’s amazing. But musically, Joey Burns is one of the great arrangers and ideas man I’ve ever met. He just has a ton of ideas for every song.
THIRTEEN CITIES IS AVAILABLE ON DÉCOR IN FEBRUARY