Willy Vlautin
Singer for Richmond Fontaine.
EVENT: Richmond Fontaine plays Fri June 1 at the Sunset Tavern.

In addition to songs, you write fiction, too. Which came first, songs or fiction? "Oh, songs first. I wrote songs from when I was 13. It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that I read Raymond Carver, and then he made me feel that a guy like myself could write stories. I always thought you had to be a Rhodes scholar to write stories, and he was the first guy I read that I felt on the same plane with.

"So the day I bought his book, I read it and then I started writing stories. And it helped my songwriting a lot. I was always trying to write quick, one-liner songs, and then I started writing 12-minute folk songs after that. I'll bring a song in once in a while and it's six verses, no chorus, and it's really depressing... [the guys in the band are] really cool, and they're like, 'Jesus, this is fucking depressing, and it's three times as long as it should be.'"

Your songs are like short stories set to music. When you write lyrics, do you write longer, fleshed-out narratives first and then condense them into song form, or is the finished song pretty much how it looked in the beginning? "It depends on the song. The poppier, more punk-rock songs usually start out as an idea of a story that I didn't have much time to play with. But '15-Year-Old Kid in Nogales, Mexico' was a short story I had written a while ago--it was kind of different as a short story, but the kid in it was the kid in the song. I was playing around with the tune and it seemed like that kid's song, and then I just wrote a similar story as lyrics."

You get lumped in with the No Depression movement. Has that been helpful or a hindrance to you? "[When playing] live, since we have a pedal steel player, we'll always be thought of as a country band. We could play six or seven punk or really fast songs and then play a country song, and then people would say we're a country band. Which is all right. I mean, the pedal steel is my favorite instrument, and it always makes the songs so much better because it's such a sad instrument, and that will make us a country band no matter what.

"We do get a lot of people who follow us because of that, and that's cool. But then again the No Depression kind of people also think we're too hard. So they're not huge supporters of us because they think we're too punk rock.

"It's that same old thing: We're not country, we're not punk enough. We're kind of just in the middle, but that's all right."