Vlautin keeps on writing between Delines

Willy Vlautin has been busy of late. His fourth novel The Free was recently published by Faber & Faber, to widespread critical acclaim.

Vlautin keeps on writing between Delines

His debut novel The Motel Life has been made into a movie, starring Dakota Fanning, Stephen Dorf, Emile Hersch and Kris Kristofferson. Richmond Fontaine, the alt-country band Vlautin fronts, are ready to go into the studio to record their 11th album, and to add to an already hectic schedule, the Reno, Nevada native has recently put out a side-project, an album Colfax, by a new band, the Delines. Vlautin and this pristine combo begin an Irish tour in Cork on Monday.

Speaking from his home outside Portland, Oregon, the prolific and hugely talented writer of prose and song outlines the genesis of the Delines.

“Richmond Fontaine did a tour a while back with Amy Boone as part of the band. I’ve always loved her voice and always loved the Damnations, the band she was in with her sister Deborah Kelly. She’d warm up for gigs with these old kind of country-soul tunes. I really loved how she sang those songs, and as the tour dragged on she said, ‘Why don’t you go home and write me a record of those type tunes?’ So I did. After that tour I was writing the novel The Free, and every second I wasn’t working on that I was writing her songs. Then I put a band around them, of all my favourite players from Portland, and we cut the record.”

The Delines feature Amy Boone on vocals, Vlautin on guitar, drummer Sean Oldham (also of Richmond Fontaine), bassist Freddy Trujillo, Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists on keyboards and pedal steel player Tucker Jackson. Colfax has received favourable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic for Boone’s exquisite world-weary voice and Vlautin’s moody and nocturnal evoking, country-pop-soul compositions.

What was it like writing for another singer? “It was a real fun project, especially for me because I didn’t have to sing — I could just hole up and write songs for a real singer,” he replies in a somewhat self-deprecating fashion. “So much of the time I write songs geared around my own voice and what my voice can do. This time it was pretty freeing to write for somebody else. It was liberating because I would never have the courage to sing those songs, or if I did I wouldn’t sing them very well. It was fun to write, thinking as a different person.”

Vlautin admits that he listened a lot to country singer Sammi Smith who had a modicum of success in the 1970s, when he was writing for Colfax. “Sammi Smith was kind of like country with a flavour of soul,” he says. “She sang really sad songs. What I tried to do was pick the heart of those tunes and then make the lyrics more interesting and more edgy, maybe — if you like, Sammi Smith on a dark day. Or like Dusty Springfield, or a really kind of drugged out Rickie Lee Jones. That’s what I was going for.,” he claims. “After you get home and maybe you want to have one more drink, you’d sit in the kitchen and listen to this record. Maybe it’d be the kind of record that would have a groove to it and it would have a heart and a story to it. The next thing you know, it’s four in the morning or the sun’s coming up. I wanted the band and the record to have a late night feel.”

* The Delines play Cyprus Avenue Cork on Monday. For further tour dates see www.decorrecords.com

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