Heartstrings Interview Review

The Big Catch: An Interview with Ronnie Fauss

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

We met Ronnie Fauss last week at the Mercury Lounge, where he was opening for fellow Texan, Hayes Carll. Ronnie had already been on quite the journey before getting to the first stop on his short trip to the Northeast, with flight delays in Dallas just hours before his set in New York City, and running on just an empanada that he grabbed minutes before his set. To top it off, he was leaving the next day to support Hayes on a second show in Cambridge, Mass., for which he would arrive by $20 bus fare from NYC to Boston, and catch the 2 AM bus back to New York, immediately after their performances. We spoke to each other at the merch booth following his set, as Ronnie juggled the trades of both interviewee and persuasive merch seller. Amidst the music, bar chatter, occasional approach of prospective buyer and the compliments of audience members who caught Ronnie’s set, I found myself in the company of a musician, family man and die hard Americana fan — a true country gentlemen.

Lauren Jahoda: What attracted you about New West Records?

Ronnie Fauss: Mainly that they are passionate about the same music I’m passionate about. I’ve also been a fan for years and years through Steve Earle, John Hiatt, the Old 97s, and people like that. So when our paths aligned it was really cool.

How did your paths align?

It was one of those really weird stories where I just met the owner at a show in Houston. He was there, we met, and that was it. It was an old school thing. If I could have picked one label to work with, New West would have been the label. I just happened to meet the guy.

What are some of your earliest memories of music?

I grew up mainly in Texas. I was born in Oklahoma, but went to elementary school in Texas. I’m from Houston originally and I started playing music in the 5th grade. I started with piano and took 2-3 months of lessons and then stopped, and then took guitar lessons for 2-3 months and stopped. Then I began playing the drums (laughs). I was building a bit, but never had commitment or discipline. As far as my exposure to music, my dad was really into the classic country stuff — Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Willie Nelson. All while growing up, it was just off and on playing. It wasn’t until I had my first kid…she’s 10 now…that there was something about being a dad that made me want to start writing songs. I think it was partially because so many people, when they become parents, lose themselves. Their whole identity is their kids and a large part of me did not want to do that. I wanted to have something that was my own.

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Is music your full-time job?

No, I’ve kept my day job. I have no interest in being a full-time touring musician. I have young kids. I just couldn’t do it. So, I’m pursuing the life of both.

I’ve found with many of the musicians I’ve interviewed that there comes a point when you have to commit fully to your music career in order to be successful. Although you don’t plan to do so, in terms of occupation, do you agree?

It depends on what your goals are. If you’re okay with it, with not blowing up, then you don’t have to.

When will you feel fully content with the stage of your music career?

Exactly this. I’ve got it all balanced out. I go on the road when I can. A weekend here, a weekend there. I jump on bills with people. I’ve got a great little thing going. The only way I could see possibly wanting to do music full time would be slowly but surely growing…10-15 years from now…maybe then.

What is the inspiration for “The Big Catch”? I want to know anything you’re willing to tell me about the evolution of that song.

I’m glad you picked up on it because when we did the pre-release press for the album, that was the answer every time I was asked what is the focus track. It’s that song. I think the way I put it was that it’s the emotional anchor of the album. To me, it’s the song that is the heart of the record. That song is not tied to any particular story. It’s pulled from different people I’ve seen go through different things. I pulled them together to make this composite sketch of a troubled childhood and I was careful not to get specific as to what causes the troubled childhood. It’s not a divorce song. It’s not an abuse song. It’s not a cancer song. It’s vague. I wanted to created this eerie story about growing up and dealing with something very heavy while you’re growing up. Something was coming that doesn’t sit well. The ending of the song is that the character who’s growing up was a parent and now repeating the cycle of what was done to them.

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Who did you produce Built to Break with?

Siggy — his name is Sigurder Birkis. I met him because he used to play drums for Will Hoge. He was Will’s drummer for 7 or 8 years, and I met Siggy when I opened up for Will at a show in Dallas. I was just getting ready to go into the studio for my first album, so about 3 years ago. We just really hit it off that night. Really clicked, personally and musically. So when it came time to do it, we did it together. We co-produced both this album and the one before.

I know you recorded your previous album in both Nashville and Texas, wanting to catch the different flavors of those places. What does choosing a recording location mean to you? What does the atmosphere mean to the songwriter?

For me, the primary thing is whenever I record, I don’t want to be in my comfort zone. I don’t want it to be in my town, near my house, in my neighborhood, where it can mesh with my daily routine. I don’t want it to mesh with my daily routine. When I record, I want to be in a silo. I want to be completely away from everything, just focusing on that. Nashville in particular, when I made the first one 3 years ago, my main reason for wanting to go there was to play with all brand new people who didn’t know my stuff so they wouldn’t have any preconceived notions of what my songs are. These old albums, I made in Dallas. I wanted a fresh start with people who had never heard my stuff, and see what they come up with in the studio. I was really pleased with it. For the second album, I just wanted to go back and work with the same people because I really liked what they did. I always put a lot of thought into where I’m going to go for the next one. It’s very important to me.

Why did you choose Built to Break for the album title?

I have this notebook where I keep ideas, or write out a whole song if I’m lucky. Whenever I have my idea, I’ll jot it down in there and come back to it later. When I was trying to come up with an album title for this, I was flipping through one of those notebooks and it was a song that I had started to write, but all I did was write the title “Built to Break” up at the top. I never wrote any lyrics. So, I thought, this is never going to turn into a song because I never came back to it, but it kind of fit for an album title…So I thought, oh, I wrote it down for an album title (laughs). It’s meant to be the album title. Most of the songs tell stories about people or relationships that are broken, so it’s perfect. What I didn’t realize was the last song on the album, “Come On Down,” kind of has a line similar to this in it: “This work will break our bodies, but it doesn’t break our souls.” (laughs) Actually, it wasn’t until after the album came out that someone pointed it out. I just never put two and two together. Someone was like he obviously pulled the title from this line…(laughs). Oh yeah, sure, that’s what I did (laughs).

Why did you decide to cover “Song for Zula”?

I was so addicted to the Phosphorescent version of that song. I would just listen to it over and over and over. After awhile, I jsut heard all these different things you can do with it that would be interesting because it was presented in a very unique way by Phosphorescent and I was like, you can easily take the bones of that song and do it in a way that is completely different. I was thrilled with how it came out.

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