If Willy Vlautin were a nostalgic man, he might be starting to get emotional about now. If Vlautin strolled down memory lane he might prepare for Richmond Fontaine’s final ever live shows thinking about their first. But if Vlautin were the kind of chap to spend his time living in the past, he’d forget to get excited about one last roll of the dice with his beloved band.
“It’s like Willie Nelson said,” he tells us. “It’s only once you start looking back shit falls apart. One of my ways of dealing with life is just putting one foot in front of the other. I try not to look back. I do it just enough to figure out why I’m looking back. I’m not a real nostalgic guy. I’m just happy to be in the band with these guys.” Being in a band with these guys is what Vlautin has done for more than two decades, even if the line-up has changed since he and the since-departed Dave Harding first began exploring their mutual love of country and punk in the mid-1990s. Eleven albums and a lot of laughs later has come the difficult decision to call it a day.
“I always feel like bands implode or fall apart,” Vlautin says. “Somehow they always end badly. We’re coming off a record we’re really proud of. It’s hard to quit when we’re doing so good but I wanted the memory to be a good one. We’re a mom and pop band now. As you get older it’s harder to get these guys in the van. We didn’t want to have the conversation where sooner or later someone can’t make it. Everyone has put so much effort in, sacrificed so much, we wanted to tattoo a good memory of the band rather than having the wheels coming off.”
Vlautin’s pretty sure he’s enjoyed almost every minute of being in this band, but literally tattooing some memories of this final tour might not be a bad idea if he wants to have some more stories to tell about life on the road. “Honestly, I can’t remember too much from the tours,” he says. “Usually I’m half drunk and too nervous. You don’t remember anything when you’re nervous. Then you throw a few beers in there. I just try to look forward.”
Even if Vlautin is trying his hardest not to think about it in these terms, this won’t be just any tour. It’s only six months since the critically acclaimed You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – destined to be the final Richmond Fontaine album – was released, but the setlist will span the band’s entire career – with the help of an online poll of fans for suggestions.
“There’ll be a bunch of obscure ones,” he says. “Some of them I’m pretty hesitant about. There are songs we’ve not played for years, songs we’ve never played. When I look back at an old song, I always think, ‘I should have cut that, I should have changed this’. I guess I can be really hard on myself like that. But there are some songs I’ve not thought about in a long time, and you just think, ‘Jesus, why did I put that line in there?’ On the flip side, there’s some where I think, ‘Holy hell, I like this, I can’t believe I wrote this!’ It’s a mix. But it’s been really fun for the band to go back to some of these songs that we’ve not played in 20 years. We could be a little shaky on some of them.”
The end of Richmond Fontaine does not, however, mean that Vlautin is going anywhere. He’s just finished his fourth novel and is looking forward to seeing his third, Lean On Pete, follow on from debut The Motel Life in being turned into a full-length film – giving him a chance to spend time hanging out on movie sets. Listening to him talk about it, you feel he has a healthy sense of detachment from seeing his work reinterpreted, but also a fascination.
“I’m really excited,” he says. “It’s been shot in Portland and eastern Oregon and I think it’s really cool. I hope it does what those guys want it to, they sure worked hard at it. A kid named Charlie Plummer is the main actor, he was great, and Steve Buscemi…it’s really exciting to hear him say a couple of lines I wrote. But really I had nothing to do with it. I just watched and kept my mouth shut.
“I was there for maybe a week, maybe more and it was just fun for me. It’s like covering a song. It’s their project now, their vision. As the writer, you either have to run the other way or embrace it. But Andrew Haigh, the director, he’s seriously smart and I just had a good time seeing what he was doing. But it made me think of the characters again. The way I write characters, they can be like good luck charms to me. So it was great to think about Charley Thompson again. I hope to God the story holds up and that it will be a good movie for those guys.”
That fourth book is due out in 2018, as long as Vlautin can come up with a new title. “Nobody likes my titles,” he says, declining to spell out the rejected suggestion. “My titles are always too long. In Fontaine, the guys just gave up after a while, like the last record, You Can’t Go Back…that was a great victory for me. I’m not there yet with the publishers.”
The return of Vlautin’s other band the Delines is also due with the second album “almost done”, but it was put on hold by a serious and seriously frightening accident for singer Amy Boone back in March. “It was brutal,” Vlautin explains. “She was walking on a sidewalk and some woman, driving with a cast on her foot, got her foot caught on the pedal and rammed her into the side of a building. It was heartbreaking. I can’t begin to describe it for her, and for her whole family, they were worried sick. She’s so damned cool. To think of her in any pain is horrible. It’s looking like she’s getting better now, the rehab is starting to pay its due and all her hard work is starting to pay off.”
Vlautin wasn’t joking about being a man with no time for nostalgia though, and it’s talking about the projects to come as much as the one about to end that puts the animation in his voice. “There’s a handful of novels I still want to write,” he says. “I’m not getting old but I kind of am getting old. Novels take a long time. This one I just finished, I thought it was be easy and it took three and a half years so if I’ve got a handful I want to write before I kick the bucket I need to get on. I also really want to be in a late-night country-soul band (see the Delines) so I’d better get on and do it. I also really want to write one really good instrumental record before I die. I’m just starting to figure out instrumental music.”
All that is not only down the road, but on another road. First, Vlautin must drive the band he has likened to ‘an old van waiting for the wheels to fall off’ to the end of its own road. As long as he’s not fixating on the finality of it all, Vlautin has no need to prepare any differently. He’s just not sure how long he can keep it up. “I do the same thing every tour,” he says. “I try not to get too wound up and I try not to fuck up. My goal is to be the guy who isn’t fucking up as much as the next guy. Any time you get to go out and play guitar every day and travel every day is a real lucky day. I’m sure I’ll get bummed out somewhere along the way, but really it’s just about trying to show up at every gig in once piece. If we manage that maybe I’ll have some time to think about it.”
Richmond Fontaine’s Farewell European Tour dates – see the band’s website for more details
Oct 14 – Cork – Cyprus Avenue
Oct 15 – Dublin – Whelans
Oct 16 – Cardiff – Clwb Ifor Bach
Oct 17 – Manchester – Deaf Institute
Oct 18 – Edinburgh – The Caves
Oct 19 – Hebden Bridge – The Trades Club
Oct 20 – Nottingham – The Maze
Oct 21 – London – Electric Ballroom
Oct 22 – Utrecht – Ramblin Roots Festival
Oct 23 – Groningen – Vera
Oct 24 – Copenhagen – Beta/Amager
Oct 25 – Goteborg – Pustervik
Oct 26 – Malmo – Folk & Rock
Oct 28 – Bilbao, ES – BIME Festival
Oct 29 – Waterford, IE – Imagine Arts Festival
Oct 30 – St Gallen, CH – Palace
Oct 31 – Zurich, CH – El Lokal
Nov 1 – Zagreb, HR – Mocvara
Nov 2 – Belgrade, RS – Elektropionir
Nov 3 – Vienna, AT – Haus der Musik
Nov 4 – Katowice, PL – Ars Cameralis Festival