Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Escape To The Country: Willy Vlautin Of Richmond Fontaine’s Favourite LPs

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

After 22 years together, Richmond Fontaine’s tenth studio album will be their last. This news ensures that the band’s singer-songwriter (and acclaimed novelist) Willy Vlautin is in a reflective and retrospective mood when we chat about his 13 favourite albums.

"I’ve always thought that every Fontaine record would be the last record," he tells me from his home in Portland, Oregon. "We are not a band that has ever made any good money. No one is feeding their families and surviving solely through Richmond Fontaine. The only record I knew wouldn’t be our last one was [2011’s] The High Country, because I didn’t want to end on such a crazy record. However, when I wrote this album, I knew it would probably be our last, as everyone was getting on with their own lives."

The good news is that You Can’t Go Back… is a very fine album and a fitting epitaph. Its gnarled Americana nurtures Vlautin’s words that centre on the life-weary ravages of the working-class American male. "When I was writing, I was also thinking about getting older," Willy says. "This is the age where all your hard-living friends start falling apart. All these guys you grew up with and thought were great because they drank beer for breakfast or were constantly popping pills, and now their bodies are starting to give out. The songs just started pouring out because of those ideas."

However, the main focus for our discussion is the business of Willy’s Baker’s Dozen. Vlautin, as might be expected, is a glorious storyteller. His 13 album choices evoke a myriad of tales – the night Shane MacGowan kissed Willy’s hand, a bungled theft from a record store, time travel to marry Bobbie Gentry, being "scared to shit" by Tom Waits, drunken benders inspired by The Replacements and the notion that people should be flogged for not owning a certain Candi Staton album. Vlautin also reveals the Willie Nelson album that eased his personal struggle with his late mother’s right-wing mindset.

"The majority of these records are story-orientated songwriters and most of them are written through the eyes of the working class. I have always been most interested in those kind of ideas," Will says when I ask him about connecting themes. "Also, I think they all use traditional music as a springboard – from Calexico and Drive-By Truckers through to Bobbie Gentry and Willie Nelson."

As ever, when interviewing Willy, there is a quick check on his other projects. A fifth novel is "nearly done" and the week’s breaking news is that his brilliant third book, Lean On Pete, is the second of his stories to be made into a movie by Andrew Haigh of 45 Years fame.

Inevitably, we finish by returning to You Can’t Go Back…. "We felt like this is one of our best records and was a place to put a stop to Richmond Fontaine," Willy tells me when I mention the forthcoming – and final – UK tour. "We are practising for the shows and it is hard to think I won’t be around the guys, as they are the best family I have ever had. But, it seems like the right time to end."

You Can’t Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To is out now on Décor Records. Richmond Fontaine play Telakka in Tampere, Finland tonight and begin the UK leg of their tour on April 15 at Bleach in Brighton; for full details and tickets, head here

First Record

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today