Ronnie Fauss: The Man You Want to Know
Back when Ronnie Fauss was releasing a series of well-regarded EPs on his own, he got used to promoting his own music and building up a sizable mailing list. Now that he’s signed to a record label and has a brand new full-length album out… well, old habits are hard to break.
“It’s very exciting to put something out that has some distribution and promotion behind it beyond me just e-mailing people and asking blogs for reviews. The funny thing is, I haven’t quite sat back like I might have thought,” Fauss says, adding that while he’s been busy stirring up publicity for the new album, the promotion team at Normaltown Records, an imprint of New West Records, has been busy as well. “They’re out there opening new doors for me I never would have had a shot at on my own,” he says.
Of course, it’s much easier to promote an album when it’s a good one, and Fauss’ I Am the Man You Know I’m Not is one of 2012’s best. The deft songwriting that Fauss has shown in his earlier work is in full force here – not surprising from someone who lists Steve Earle and John Prine as his songwriting heroes. The album is well-balanced with louder roots rockers tempered by some slower, softer pieces. Given the variety of songs, it’s clear he took full advantage of the full-length album format. “I was excited about the opportunity to make a fully fleshed-out Americana album, with more up-tempo rock songs versus the slower country ballads,” he says. “That’s the kind of music I listen to for the most part, so when I got this opportunity I was excited about using that whole palette, with 11 songs.”
In the past, Fauss recorded his EPs locally in Dallas, Texas, with friends who were musicians or had home recording studios. This time around, he recorded mostly in Nashville with producer/drummer Sigurdur Birkis and Birkis’ network of musicians. Working with an outside group of musicians helped give Fauss’ songs a fresh take – even the ones that had been previously recorded, such as “The Night Before the War” and “With Love.”
Fauss wrote the entire album, aside from a cover of the Chris Hillman/Gram Parsons classic “Sin City.” His knack for capturing the feelings of sadness or regret serve him very well with “I Can’t Remember What You Can’t Forget” and “A Pretty Nice Night for Houston,” respectively. “This Year,” set around New Year’s Eve, nicely blends the mixed emotions that come with a new year. “I was hanging out at a friend’s lakehouse, and I got this vision of a big holiday family gathering,” Fauss explains. “It’s basically a big family hanging out, and they’re dysfunctional but looking forward to the new year anyway.”
Other songs are much more whimsical. “Pistols in the Air,” for instance, kicks off a series of paradoxes. (You’re a Republican who recycles, I’m a cowboy without a saddle, You’re a dentist in Tennessee – “I hope I don’t offend anyone with that one,” he says.) The idea came together from playing with his daughter.
“We were messing around and calling each other names. I said, ‘You’re a monkey,’ and she said, ‘But I don’t like bananas Daddy!’” he says. “I said, ‘Well, you’re a monkey who doesn’t like bananas’ and then I just stopped and thought that sounded like a good line in a song.”
“Most of my songs start with the very first line you hear, and then it goes from there,” he adds.
The most emotionally gripping song on the album – and maybe any album in recent memory – is the closing “With Love,” written for and dedicated to Ron Fauss, Sr. With a simple organ and accordion background, Fauss sings about the traumatic death of a loved one and the affect it could have on someone years after the fact: “Those are the days that I do not wake up/My lips may be moving but the words are made up/I wish that my friends could trade up for a much better deal.”
“Someone asked me if that was a true story. How could you come up with that without having lived it?” he says of the song, adding that writing it was more of a cathartic exercise than it was a songwriting exercise.
“I got started around 10 or 11 at night and stuck with it late into the night,” he recalls. “I went until 2AM, and I remember at the end of that being so much more drained than if I had run five miles. I let out years of emotion that poured out into that song.”
Despite the tragedy, the song has a hopeful ending, as Fauss references his family in the lyrics. “But who would have thought such a wondrous life/Would follow the cut of the autopsy knife/Two gorgeous daughters, a beautiful wife and a son.” Fauss originally recorded “With Love” on his first EP, New Songs for the Old Frontier. At the time, that line ended with “a beautiful wife, oh the luck.” With this new version, he quickly rewrote the line in the vocal booth to reflect that fact that he had a son since the song was first written. “I didn’t want him to grow up and read the lyrics and say, ‘Thanks a lot Dad. I appreciate you including me in there,’” he says, laughing.
Fauss has been writing songs since he was a child taking piano and guitar lessons. Over the years, as he grew up, started working and had a family, songwriting became less of a focus. It came roaring back, however, after listening to alt-country band Slobberbone’s Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today.
“It just blew me away so much,” Fauss says. “I heard it, and my natural response to that album was to write music.”
After his first daughter was born, Fauss wrote a batch of songs that somehow seemed different than the things he had done in the past, and he decided to do something with them. He got Brent Best, lead singer of Slobberbone, to produce his first EP in the standard way – he ran into Best in a bar in Dallas, said he was a fan and asked him to produce the album.
“And he said sure. That was it. That was the negotiation,” Fauss said.
With I Am the Man You Know I’m Not getting strong reviews, Fauss is well on his way to becoming an important voice in Americana music. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine the tables being turned someday, where a young up-and-coming writer sees Fauss at a bar and asks for a little help.
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