We spoke with Jonny Fritz about his new album Sweet Creep, leathersmithing, and finding inspiration in the cereal aisle.
Your music has an air of humor in the songwriting. Are you influenced by humorous things in the world for songwriting? How do you keep your songs balanced between comedy and still writing about really serious stuff like addiction and other negative concepts that happen in life?
I'm just writing it like I see it. I'm a people watcher with a very sensitive scope. I find myself incredibly overwhelmed in situations that shouldn't affect me at all. If someone's voice is too weird I have to leave the room. Little things cut through me in an intense way. They always have, too. Humor has been my way of not letting them leave a scar, I guess.
You're a leathersmith on the side making custom leather goods. Is this something you can do while on tour? How'd you get into this hobby? What's your prized creation thus far? Who is your dream client and what would you make for them?
I started working leather about ten years ago when I first officially moved to Nashville. I saved up a bunch of money to buy a Waylon-style leather-covered Telecaster but the rednecks who made them didn't like any of my ideas. They all wanted to do floral work because it's all they knew. I thought that was such a wasted talent. Floral work is fine but it can be so boring. I remember thinking that if only someone would make something more interesting than flowers in leather, they'd have a business. So, I spent all the money I had on a handful of tools, a couple hides and a Mexican Tele from Craigslist. My first project was covering that thing and it started what I hope will be a life long hobby/business.
My dream client is myself. I never make anything for myself anymore. I swear most of my leather time is spent making belts for boyfriends. I need to shift gears and start covering the things I love in leather. I'd love to redo the interior of a Geo Tracker in hand tooled leather with images of said Geo Tracker all over the place.
You're starting a world tour in February. What parts of traveling do you look forward to? What ways do you make being gone easier on your soul?
I think the trick to keeping it interesting is to saying no to more shows. It's hard to make a living touring, so a common thing is to say yes to everything but that method usually leaves you firing everyone who works for you and daydreaming of a dishwashing job. I like to book tours around swimming holes, old friends, women I'm in love with and National Parks. If you can pepper a tour of $200 guarantees with those things, you can stay in love with it.
Sweet Creep has a country lean but also utilizes some electronic equipment that you wouldn't typically hear in that style. What was the production and recording style and how did you achieve the sound you wanted for this record?
I blame it all on Jim James and Taylor Goldsmith! When we got together to record , we realized that we only had three days to make the entire record (which is not enough time). Jim didn't have a studio but he said that he had always wanted to record outside (as in just out in the yard). Taylor and Griffin had all these drum machines and since live drums would have sounded awful (outside), we decided to just run with it and not fuss about the sound. Jim is a genius cuz the record rules and it sounds so cool and weird. Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith and Josh Hedley are such talented musicians as well, I wasn't worried for one minute that it would turn out great, but I never dreamed it would sound as cool as it ended up.
You're also in a group called Traveller. What's special about this project? Who's in the band and what's the significance of the group? Is it going to lead to an album or more touring?
Yeah! We just finished a record up here in Appleton, Wisconsin! It's a group I started with Robert Ellis and Cory Chisel. Cory Chisel has the most keen sense of melody I've ever heard but he hates writing lyrics. So, I write the lyrics with Cory's melodies and then Robert tears the songs apart, arranges them, adjusts lyrics and then puts them back together. We each have our strengths and we bring what we do best to the table. It's unique because it feels like such a powerful collaboration. When we come together, we never step on each others' toes and we write songs quickly! I'm as proud as a new father for this project.
What things in life motivate your creativity and drive you to create your best work? Are there things that totally inhibit your creative processes?
Absolutely! I used to run to exercise my brain and I would find the songs hanging out at the bottom of my brain. The only way I could access them was after pounding out 10 miles and then zoning out in the cereal aisle at Kroger later on. I'd get song idea after song idea that way. I'd see some sad dad walk by on the phone with his wife and she'd be yelling at him to buy trash bags and I'd jump right into his character and say "I can't forget...oh my god..." But then I broke my femur while running a marathon and I couldn't walk right for about 3 years. I went through a horrible bout of writer's block and I got really depressed and gained about 30 pounds. But I pulled myself through it by asking my heroes for advice (namely, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch). They all helped me a lot with their own stories of getting through similar stretches. After the writer's block passed and I got a hip replacement (last year) I've been able to work out again and try to access that deep well of inspiration. But I don't need to do that anymore. I realized the songs are on the surface and they aren't very deep at all. In fact, I figured out that if you can write from the things on the surface you can cut deepest to the listener. I wrote a song the other day called Chia Pet Gote that was just exactly that. It's about a woman uninspired by all these disgusting little busy men (with "chia pet" gotes).
I hope that if anyone is going through a tough time with getting stuck that they get some help from reading this. I would also happily jump on the phone or meet with ANYONE who needs to get talked through a creative block. It's a horrible thing but luckily it's only mental.