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Baker's Dozen

Escape To The Country: Willy Vlautin Of Richmond Fontaine's Favourite LPs
John Freeman , April 6th, 2016 09:55

Following the release of Richmond Fontaine's tenth and final album, You Can't Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To, the singer and author talks to John Freeman about his favourite albums of storytelling escapism


Drive-By Truckers – Decoration Day
For me, when I think about Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day is their best record. The songwriting is perfect and what it has in spades is that sense of the South. The way they took rock & roll, punk rock and folk music and mix it into their own beast.

They have three amazing songwriters, writing at their peak. It is one of the only bands that I wish I could have been in. The way the ideas behind the Drive-By Truckers are generated and their ability to write about working-class people in such a real way that I can buy into makes them one of my favourite bands. Also, the songwriting trio would work with themes. They would write a song about marriage and each guy would come back with their own take on it. To have that trio approach is amazing.

Drive-By Truckers get filed under "Southern rock". As an ignorant Brit, help me understand what makes their version of rock "Southern".

Well, the South has its own way of breathing. There is a whole mystique about the South and it has a really strong identity – more than many other parts of America. It's much stronger than the identity of being from, say, Phoenix, Arizona, which basically has no identity. There is a defeatist aspect to Southern working class and a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, which makes for an endearing approach to art. Some of the best American songwriters and authors have come out of the South.

With Drive-By Truckers, it is also their ability to make the sound their own – a little bit like with The Pogues. They took traditional music and were not just using it, but becoming it – they were wearing their own clothes in the music.

When you think of the South and you put Decoration Day on, you are suddenly there. Even if you have never been or you have just heard the myth of the South. Maybe you have seen a couple of movies set there or read a Faulkner short story, and then listening to this album is really intoxicating. Decoration Day still holds up as a tremendous record.

I have become friends with Patterson Hood, as he moved to Portland. He is one of the hardest working dudes I have ever met and a songwriter who just never stops. I think he has written songs since he was eight or nine years old. He is really passionate about his craft and he is a huge champion of the arts. He is not shy or ashamed to be progressive. I couldn't admire someone more. On Decoration Day he wrote 'Heathens', which is one of my favourite ever songs. Also, Jason Isbell wrote 'Outfit'. I was a house painter for 12 years and when I heard that song, I practically broke down crying as it meant so much personally to me. Those guys were telling the truth and I believed it.