Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine talks with Gerry Quinn about the band’s breakup and closing gigs
AFTER 14 albums and a 22-year lifespan, Portland-based alt-country band Richmond Fontaine are in the process of calling it a day.
Currently on a European sojourn to promote their final album, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To, the quartet are due to headline the 19th annual KilkennyRoots Festival this weekend.
Frontman and songwriter with the quartet, Willy Vlautin, recalls his initial visit to the renowned music event 12 years ago: “I remember our first visit to Kilkenny like it was yesterday. We were so excited that we were in Ireland. We never had passports before that and never really gone anywhere.”
Vlautin has steered Richmond Fontaine steadily over the years with his character-driven songs about people on the margins, and the band’s newly-released album is populated with many new and some not so new personnel.
“When I was writing the record, I was thinking about when the band started — all the characters and the songs came out of where I grew up, in Reno, Nevada. Then I moved to Portland to be in a real band. So the characters and the songs kind of ventured out too.
“Now as I’ve gotten older, I’m at the age where all of my hard living friends are beginning to pay the price. The bill comes deep for those guys that lived recklessly or were ledge-walkers,” he says.
“I was interested in that — that you get so tired that you have nowhere else to go, so you just go home. Sometimes to find nothing, sometimes you’ve burned your bridges going home.
“Sometimes you are going home in defeat. I was interested in that idea of the Richmond Fontaine characters heading out in the world and now they are just going to go back home.”
Though the band will pack it in at the end of the year, Vlautin will maintain a busy career. Aside from his musical compositions and performances, he is a skilled novelist and has had four acclaimed books published, with another on the way. According to Vlautin, song-writing and prose-writing are two very different disciplines.
“When you are a novelist, it takes so much time. The work ethic of a novel is my favourite thing but it does take so much time. I have to be careful. I can’t go out.
“I don’t write when I’m touring or when I gig a lot. Yes the ideas are the same, my heart’s the same but they are different in how I write them. I usually write songs when my life’s falling apart and I write stories when I’m pretty stable and sitting on some solid ground.”
Another act on this year’s Kilkenny bill is Fernando Viciconte. Currently on the road as support to Richmond Fontaine in Europe, the Argentinian-born songwriter is promoting his new album Leave The Radio On.
“He is a legend where we come from,” claims Vlautin. “I’ve known him for 20 years. Dan (Eccles), our guitar player in Richmond Fontaine has played with him for 20 some odd years. Fernando had some health problems so he could never tour. His health is better now and everybody gets to hear what a beautiful songwriter he is. He’s one of the best rock’n’roll singers around.”
Speaking to Vlautin, one gets the impression that all his writings, once past the editing process, are special to him, and in particular, the new album is loaded with significance.
“We’ve been together for 22 years, which is a long time for a mom and pop band. We are a small-time business and we’re really proud of this record.
“We feel like we did the best we could and maybe that’s the right time to stop.
“Richmond Fontaine has given me so much, so it would be nice that all the memories of it are good.”
The Kilkenny Roots Festival takes place from Friday April 29 to Monday May 2. For info and tickets see www.kilkennyroots.com
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