STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
In my estimation, John Fullbright is one of the greatest singer-songwriters to have emerged in the past few years. He showed the world that he’s the real deal when he released his debut album “From the Ground Up” (Blue Door Records, 2012). First National Public Radio did a feature and then everybody else started to catch on.
Before long, Fullbright was touring nonstop. He earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album in 2013 for that debut. And though he lost to the legendary Bonnie Raitt, this seemed to point to the beginning of what could become a stellar career. And the shy, country boy from Oklahoma was not at all comfortable with his newfound fame.
“I would say that my self-esteem is very high in some respects and very, very low in others,” Fullbright said during a phone interview while en route home from a family get-together in Tulsa. “I never expect that I’m going to be successful. Well, I hadn’t up to that point. It was very shocking to me that so many people would want to reach out and tell me how much they liked (my music). I didn’t have the tools to really deal with that at first and it was kind of hard to figure out how to navigate that. But I’m getting better at it.”
In fact, when Fullbright found out that he was nominated for a Grammy his initial reaction was fear.
“It was terrifying. At first I didn’t know what to do. My first question was ‘do I have to go?’ I couldn’t imagine having to pick out clothes for something like that.”
Fullbright’s shyness and humility is a refreshing change from many musical artists whose egos run amok. And even with his sudden rise in fame he remains grounded. Yet this is just his offstage persona. On stage – and on record – he doesn’t hold back. His performances are meaningful and passionate. Whether he is performing solo or with a band he commands the stage.
Of course you’ve heard about the dreaded sophomore slump. And though his follow up album “Songs” (Blue Door Records, 2014) didn’t garner as much airplay as its predecessor, Fullbright is still at the top of his game. Instead of falling victim to the potential of over-production, it is much more subtle and minimalist than the debut. And instead of tackling topics like God, it is much more personal and introspective.
“The pressure was unbelievably high. But … I thought about it long enough to figure out that all of that is nonsense – the expectations of ‘is it gonna be as good?’ … That’s just some stress factor that I came up with and it’s not even real. It has nothing to do with why you make records, it has nothing to do with why you write songs. And it has nothing to do with how you record them or any part of the process. And I could swallow that anxiety and … manage that stress and make it to where it (didn’t) even exist anymore.”
Fullbright’s thoughts about the album?
“I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of both (my) records. I think it’s a very truthful record. I think the main difference between ‘the green one’ [‘From the Ground Up’] and ‘the black one’ [‘Songs’] is that on the ‘Songs’ record I felt like I had to make a decision as to how much I was gonna admit and I basically just landed on all or nothing.
“I’m pretty confident in making something that I can stand behind, because I don’t write much. I try to pick something that’s very important to me these days and something that philosophically is satisfying to write about. And something that will still be relevant to me as an older person. That’s what I strive to do when I write, and so if you come at it from that angle, I don’t really struggle with being cool. I don’t struggle much with being relevant to a scene or a genre. I just kind of struggle to be relevant with myself, because at the end of the day that’s all there is.”
Fullbright is not on the road now and he hasn’t been in Philly since last year. We can thank David Bromberg for inviting Fullbright to perform with him in New York City, so adding this show was logistically feasible.
“I met David Bromberg (on the) Cayamo music cruise. I think what happened is we blew each other away and then we just became pals. I sat in with him and his awesome band and the next thing you know he asked me to play at his birthday party and I’m endlessly flattered to be part of that band. It’s a really stellar cast.”
As for the Philadelphia show, Fullbright will be performing with his trio – a bassist and drummer. He will perform on piano, guitar and harmonica.
“I’m thrilled that I finally get to play downstairs. It’s a really wonderful room. I went to look around there a couple of times. It’s really awesome.”
IF YOU GO
What: John Fullbright with The Suitcase Junket
When: Concert is at 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 21. Doors open at 7.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Info.: Check www.philly.worldcafelive.com or call (215) 222-1400. For more on Fullbright, check