Joe Fletcher and All the Right Reasons For Listening to The Wrong Reasons
As far as my music fan status is concerned, I’ve always been a bit of a “late bloomer.” Unlike my brother, I’ll never be able to talk about the night I saw pre-fame Nirvana at the tiny club in Detroit. In college I gave up trying to engage in conversations with my friends about the latest indie bands because, well, I was still trying to digest Darkside of the Moon. I suppose while most people view their musical tastes in terms of constant progression, I would have to describe my own as a perpetual regression. That rite-of-passage high school Dylan obsession led me to Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. Hank Williams led me to Blind Willie Johnson. And Blind Willie Johnson led me to the realization that all American musical tributaries flow back to the blues. Like any good roots music fan, I can safely say that I’ve done my homework over the years. Unfortunately, educating myself on the past hasn’t always been conducive to the discovery of noteworthy new bands. However, stepping back from my old timey research in recent years has led me to some of the best aspiring acts within the Americana music world today: Justin Townes Earle, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Joe Pug…and most recently, Joe Fletcher and The Wrong Reasons. Getting to know Joe Fletcher and his band The Wrong Reasons over the past month has, I believe, finally supplied me with a future “I remember them when” story.
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island The Wrong Reasons may just be the greatest little band, from the littlest state, that you’ve yet to hear. Their self released debut album, 2007’s Bury Your Problems, garnered a good deal of critical praise due in part to Fletcher’s unique voice (which one critic describes as “Johnny Cash meets the Violent Femmes”) and the band’s melding of classic, down and dirty rock n roll with lyrics steeped in the singer-songwriter tradition. From the album’s opening track “Port of Seven Vices,” to the driving blues of “Who Makes the Knives,” Bury Your Problems is one part Stones swagger to two parts table thumping outlaw song. Earlier this year, the band began work on their sophomore release, White Lighter, with the help of the increasingly popular telethon-for-the-digital-age website, Kickstarter.com. For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a web based fundraising tool for artists of all kinds who are in need of the inevitable extra cash it takes to get their work out and into the world. With five days to go, White Lighter: The Finishing Touches has already exceeded its goal of $5,500 and is still climbing. In response to their fans overwhelming support, the band is offering rewards based on each individual pledge amount. A mere ten dollars gets you a digital copy of White Lighter before its official release, twenty five will get you an autographed copy of the album, and anything over twenty five? Well, let’s just say there’s a man in a boat killing a whale involved, an old pair of Levi’s, and oh yeah, private concerts.
Americana and roots music fans will most likely always have to endure “bad white boy blues.” You know the type. Five guys from Wisconsin in pearl snaps singing about cotton fields they’ve never seen. As horrifying as it may be to deal with the existence of such bands, for me it makes finding a band like Joe Fletcher and The Wrong Reasons feel like sweet redemption. No old fashioned posing here, just rock n roll with a tip of the hat to tradition. With White Lighter Fletcher will no doubt continue to showcase a style that has become all his own: story driven songs that never shy away from a little grit. In anticipation of White Lighter’s release in mid-November, I decided to have an email “sit down” with the ever gracious Mr. Fletcher and discuss, among other things, collaborating with Deer Tick, the changing face of the music business, and the special bond of four guys on tour in a pickup truck…
-How/when did The Wrong Reasons first get together?
The band played its first show in 2005, but the current line-up has only been together since May of this year. It’s hands down the best one I’ve ever heard, and I haven’t missed a Wrong Reasons show yet. It took a while to find the right people, but we’ve got ’em now and things are going really well. When you find the other three guys that are willing to tour the country with you in your pickup truck, you know you’ve struck gold. Since the live band is so new, they were not around when we when recorded in April. Our guitarist, Damien Puerini, is the only current band member on “White Lighter.” None of the others on the record were ever even technically in the Wrong Reasons. They’re just my friends. When it’s time to make a record, you gotta make a record. I have some very good people on my side, and the rest just fell into place.
-Who would you consider to be your major influences musically?
Oh, man. When I first started the band I was thinking a lot about early George Jones, the Harry Smith anthology, “Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones, The Basement Tapes, Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads,” The Gun Club, Willie McTell, The Carter Family, the ocean, and a lot of books. Since then, all the lists and interests just keep getting longer, and we try to draw something from them all. I just wanted a band where I could play a honky tonk song before a ragtime song before a rock n’ roll song, and nothing would ever sound out of place in the little atmosphere we created for ourselves. I think we’ve done that. I also think it can get wider in every direction.
-Is White Lighter a big departure from your first album? If so, how? What can people expect?
I don’t know it if it’s a big departure, but it is surely quite different. It is quite live sounding. There are very few overdubs. The folk, blues, country, and rock n’ roll of “Bury Your Problems” are all still well-represented here. I don’t think I would call the first record “angry,” but I would call the new one “less angry.” I would not call it any more content. Also, we’ve got a lot of pretty distinct sounding guests on this one that bring in some interesting new colors to the party. John McCauley, Scott Boutier, Dave Lamb, Lily Costner, and Alec Redfearn don’t come play and sing on your record without leaving a lasting mark that raises the whole thing to another level.
-When did you first hear about Kickstarter? What do you think of the overall philosophy behind the site?
We did not use this for our first record, but we spent a little more on this one. I was walking around in Brooklyn this past summer wondering how I was gonna get this record out, and I picked up some free music paper with an interview with a band who was in the middle of doing the Kickstarter thing. I don’t remember who the band was at all, but I gotta thank the guy because he explained it all very well. At first I really hated to do it. The more I mentioned it to people, the more I began to realize that I really had a lot of support. Also, I liked the idea that we were offering something for every amount. We weren’t just asking for money. I never dreamed we’d reach our goal with so much time to spare. I cannot thank everyone enough for believing in this thing. It’s a touching realization.
If I understand their philosophy correctly, I think it is a great idea because it helps people make things that other people want. The majority of our backers are people who are genuinely anxious to get their hands on “White Lighter.” If you know you’re gonna buy a band’s new cd anyway, why not help them out and give them the money up front. I’m sure the credit card companies hate it, which is just one more reason for me to love it.
-I know it’s kind of a big question, but what do you think of the current state of the music biz today? Is it harder than people think to get an album out and into the world?
As far as releasing an album today, it all depends on how you wanna do it. I don’t doubt that the next record to take the world by storm might be recorded on an iphone while waiting in line at Starbucks and uploaded to the internet before the drink is ready. You can make and release something for free if that is what you want to do. I still really love albums. Sets of songs that go together. Whether or not anybody else actually sits down and listens to them that way can’t be my concern. I just need to know my job, and how I think I can best execute it. If enough people like it, then I guess you are successful. If the word never spreads, then you are not. It is more important to me to be good and get better at what I do than to figure out how to be lucky.
-What does the money earned from Kickstarter go towards specifically?
We’re gonna finish off paying the studio where we recorded and mixed a few months back. Then we’re gonna get it mastered at a place I’ve had my heart set on. After that, it gets duplicated and packaged. All gone.
-You’ve mentioned that the guys from Deer Tick helped out with the album a bit. How so? When/how did you guys meet?
I first met John about three or four years ago now. I’d been hearing about him like crazy around Providence. Then, he and I both got asked to play the same going away party for our mutual friend, Randy. To say that I became an instant fan would be a bit of an understatement. I love the band so much, but I never pass up a chance to see John play solo. He has something very few people have. So few they don’t even have a name for it. Anyway, our bands started playing shows together and we’d join each other onstage and do a Buck Owens song or a Gun Club song. So, he and Chris Ryan came in to the studio one afternoon with Dave and Morgan Eve from Brown Bird and Alec K. Redfearn to record a song called “Too Many Doors.” We did it all live in the same room. It was a very beautiful thing to me. I still love to hear it.
-What finishing touches have to happen before the album is released and when can people expect it? Do you have any post-release plans? Tour dates?
Just the mastering and packaging. Everything is in motion. Those that pre-ordered should expect it by mid-November. Our local cd release party will be on December 10 at The 201 in Providence. We’re gonna do a short tour to Nashville and back at the end of December and another ten day tour in February. Right now, we still have to work around that pesky day job schedule. We probably won’t be able to do anything longer until the summer. Hopefully, this record gets to the right people and soon we can spend much more time on the road. That’s what we all want.
-Any exciting upcoming shows?
We have an amazing string of opening slots coming up with some of our favorite bands: Deer Tick, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Robert Earl Keen, The Low Anthem. I am so excited about all of these, but Robert Earl Keen… that one is just kind of unreal. All the dates and details are at www.facebook.com/joefletcherandthewrongreasons
-And now, just for fun: Your “Desert Island Top Five?” Top three essentials while on tour? Dream collaboration?
Top Five: “Blonde on Blonde” Bob Dylan, “Exile on Main St.” Rolling Stones, The Complete Hank Williams, “The Complete Recordings” Robert Johnson, and a late 50’s/early 60’s George Jones mix tape my friend Dennis made for me.
Top three essentials on tour: American Spirits, respectable coffee, and alone time.
Dream collaboration: There is a song on the new record called “Drunk & Single” that I wrote for George Jones. More than anything else, I’d love for him to record it someday. I think he’d really like it.
Check out Joe and The Wrong Reasons ripping it up with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Blaze’s Blues” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZMtV15WhEE
And a solo Joe playing “Who Makes The Knives” off of Bury Your Problems here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWBPcIeeF-0
There are still five days left to the White Lighter project on Kickstarter.com! If you like what you hear and are interested in supporting the album’s finishing touches, you can make a pledge here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wrongreasons/white-lighter-the-finishing-touches
For more information on the band, their live shows, and album details, you can find them on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/joefletcherandthewrongreasons