Richmond Fontaine – How many syllables in Vlautin?
“I didn’t know there were six syllables in alcohol,” jokes Richmond Fontaine bassist Dave Harding, referring to bandmate Willy Vlautin’s singing style. “He’s exorcising his personal demons,” explains wisecracking drummer Stuart Gaston.
Alcohol seems to be one of the more predominant themes for this country-punk trio. The band came together about a year and a half ago after Vlautin relocated to Portland from the musical wasteland of Reno, Nevada. Since then they’ve played regularly around Oregon and Washington and will release their first full-length CD on Cravedog Records in April.
Their first 7-inch single, “Trailways”/”Whirlpool”, is a good indication of what we can expect. The A-side is a metaphorical tale of a fellow splitting with his girlfriend in favor of drinking in front of a closed-down bus station. The B-side is Vlautin’s semi-autobiographical account of visiting a drinking buddy in prison and the shallow relationship between the two: “But there’s nothing much to say/’cause I hope that you get out/hope that you don’t dry out/and I hope you still like me when you get out.”
“Whirlpool” is one of the songs to be included on their first CD. An early demo shows the band capable of mixing several styles at ease: blustery punk rock, dirgelike anthems and more melodic material. The band hopes to also add piano, pedal steel and banjo to a few tracks, though not so much as a means to define themselves as an experiment.
Vlautin’s lyrics tend to focus on the darker side of personal interactions. “All of my songs sound the same,” admits the humble guitarist and lyricist. Once the band gets together to jam, the songs start to take on their own direction. Gaston’s jazz-informed drum technique and Harding’s solid bass provide the foundation for the songs that Vlautin’s understated guitars and vocals build on. All of the band members agree that the music shouldn’t overwhelm the lyrics. Good thing, since Vlautin’s narratives are a good focal point for this young band.
If any of this reminds you of a certain country-punk trio from Belleville, Illinois, you’re not alone. While the band members consider the Uncle Tupelo comparisons a compliment, they don’t necessarily agree. “The [alternative-country] genre is not that common…so it’s easy for people to make those kind of comparisons,” notes Gaston. When pressed, band members cite a wide variety of influences but agree that the Replacements and early ’80s cowpunk outfits are central. In particular, Vlautin cites the Long Ryders as a personal favorite.
While the band members are all excited about the opportunity to tour and play with other bands around the country of similar ilk, they find a lot of satisfaction with their consistent schedule of gigs in Portland, including a soon-to-be-memorable gig at the Oregon State Penitentiary. “We gotta get a girl backup singer for that show,” quips Vlautin.
It’s obvious the guys are enjoying themselves, and the opportunity to make friends with similar musicians who’ve played around town for years has been particularly rewarding. Ultimately, Vlautin is happy to continue for “as long as we get to play and hang out and drink free beer.”