Just Plain Fulks

Fed up with industry demands, Robbie Fulks releases his unusual new album on his own label

Fulks has been known to apply his sardonic wit in the service of putting even his fans in place -- not for their drunken loutishness but for their elitism, their artificiality. Drawing crowds from the pools of National Public Radio listeners, alt-country cowpokes and Nashville aficionados, Fulks likes the array of personalities in his audience: "Sometimes there's a really odd and interesting mix, a human version of the Couples in Trouble record, which always pleases me because I hate to think that I'm going out playing for scenesters, representatives of this or that little movement. There are a lot of people who are really dedicated music fans in a superficial way, but they listen to music and evaluate it by entirely nonmusical criteria. With those scenesters, there's always an element of 'If it's too popular, if too many people connect to it, then it's not authentic anymore.'"

Undeniably, Robbie Fulks has a way with words. When this lit-geek asks whether he takes inspiration from literature, he discloses a penchant for Emily Dickinson: "In Nashville, nonrhymes mean a failure of imagination, but Emily Dickinson shows that it can be a deliberate gesture." The bottom line for Fulks is as simple as evolving as a songwriter, which, of course, requires diversification. "I just try to get better in every way as a writer," Fulks says. "If I didn't think I was improving, I would probably give up and do something else, and I think one aspect of that is cliché avoidance. When you're writing music, there has to be an element of cliché to it; the lyrics go by the listener at the tempo of the song, and you have to absorb it as you go by -- and you just can't do Emily Dickinson-style, thick writing when you're writing pop music. So there has to be some cliché, but I think my cliché bell goes off a lot quicker then it used to when I'm writing." Emily Dickinson aside, Fulks wouldn't mind scoring with an inadvertent market-pleaser: "I'd like to write a hit at some point and have it be on my résumé: 'One Diane Warren-type song.'"

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