Gearing up for the most wonderful time of the year, we can’t wait to get back to the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia, for none other than FloydFest! To get everyone ready for this one-of-a-kind event, we’re interviewing some of our favorite FloydFest artists on the road to FloydFest 17 ~ Freedom (July 26-30).
Jay Cobb Anderson of Fruition took some time to talk with The Poke Around for the sixth installment of our FloydFest ~ Freedom Bound Q&A Series. Fruition met years ago busking on a street corner, finding an unbelievable three-part harmony between Anderson, Mimi Naja, and Kellen Asebroek that has provided the wheels to their ever-changing sound. From their roots in folk and Americana to their current soulful, rock ‘n’ roll style, the music of Fruition is always progressing.
The title theme of FloydFest 2017 is “Freedom.” Fruition definitely seems to capture that great American narrative of the wandering soul, the rambling musician. What does the concept of Freedom mean to you all as songwriters, bringing so many different creative minds together?
The concept of freedom… being able to express whatever we want, however we want to say it, however we want to do it, we really view our band as not stuck in any kind of genre or form, so the way we view our music is that the thing we care the most about is the song. Basically, just the freedom to focus and grow creatively in any direction we feel that we want to, that’s the idea of freedom for us. It is not to just look at it from an aspect of being more bluegrass, or more jam or whatever but just coming from a place of our hearts and what we’re feeling.
Fruition started out in a much grassier, folkier style, and you have since evolved into this totally fresh, unique rock ‘n’ roll band. Can you talk about allowing yourselves that collective freedom to grow into any sound you wanted as a band?
It has just been the evolution of the band. When we formed Fruition, I was playing in two other bands also, one of them was a rock ‘n’ roll band that I wrote all the songs for, and the other was more of an Americana type of thing with two other songwriters. The Americana band was called the Bell Boys; Tyler Thompson, [Fruition’s] drummer now, was drumming in that band at the time, and that was kind of like a country-Americana type of thing that I was doing with my buddy Brad Parsons, who just released an album recently. So the rock ‘n’ roll vibe has always been there. Fruition, even when we were a string band, we were basically still a folk-Americana band more than bluegrass or anything like that. So the evolution of us into a rock band is something that was always kind of there, the seeds were there in the beginning, it’s just kind of grown into what we’ve always envisioned. Once we got drums in the band it was a lot easier for me to start putting on a distortion pedal and get a little heavier with some of the solos. I played in rock bands my whole life before Fruition; I didn’t really even get into folk music until I moved to Portland. So it’s a natural thing for us to be in this sound, plus, we are influenced by so many different types of music, like Alabama Shakes, D’Angelo, even newer Indie stuff, but me, my heart has always been in rock ‘n’ roll so it’s a natural thing for all of us to be where we are at now.
Y’all still play a lot of the New Grass festivals and have become an important part of that scene, but as your sound has evolved, so has your reach, really spreading your wings to some more varied festivals, like FloydFest. Would I be right to say you guys thrive in a diverse musical landscape?
Yes. That’s something that, as we’ve come up, we have been lucky to be playing in the New Grass/bluegrass jam scene, just because the way the all the artists lift each other up. We wouldn’t be where we are without help from our buds, ya know? We are definitely looking forward to expanding that musical family to more different genres and different kind of styles.
I’m sure you get this all the time, but your guitar looks like it has some very old stories to tell. What’s the story behind the instrument itself?
So that guitar I got from a neighbor of mine, I was living in Clarkston, Washington and there was this older cat that lived right next door to me and his name was Raleigh, and Raleigh makes amps and washtub basses and things like that. He used to come over all the time and sit on my porch and one day he came over– and I had to sell the only steel-string acoustic that I had to help pay for rent one time– so I was playing on a nylon string guitar, and he saw that and was like ‘hey, you’re a blues player, and you should be playing on a steel string,’ and he says ‘hold on a sec,’ goes to his house and brings back that archtop guitar, it’s called a Biltmore Herald, and it’s from the 1930s, but all the markings on it have rubbed away so I’ve never been able to get an exact date on it. When he gave it to me it was totally acoustic, and just beautiful, before I chopped it all up. I ended up falling in love with the guitar, buying it from him before I moved to Portland, installed the pickups in it, kind of turned it into more of a stage-worthy guitar. But before that when Fruition were just starting, I had glued on a little pickup to it, but I was playing acoustically on the street all the time, so that’s where a lot of that wear and tear came from. Because playing that kind of guitar out on the street you really have to dig into it, and I literally (laughs) have been digging into it. So I’ve had the guitar for about 13 or 14 years, and she’s still holding true. I call the guitar Mariah.
I know y’all haven’t actually been to FloydFest before, but there are quite a few friends on the bill with you, Jon Stickley Trio, The Lil’ Smokies, to name just a few. As y’all have come into your own as a national touring act, how does it feel to see more and more familiar faces on the opposite coast?
Oh God yes. That’s one of the greatest joys of our job is meeting up with friends. That’s what is great about festivals, because all of our friends are touring musicians too, so it’s great to be able to meet up at a festival and see how everybody is doing and just catch up and hang out, and maybe play a few tunes together.
Yeah, definitely looking forward to seeing the Jon Stickley Trio at FloydFest, and hanging out with them. Stickley’s a guitar god. He’s one of our favorites, watching that guy is like watching John Coltrane (laughs), just absolute revolutionary music and he’s got his own sound. The whole band is amazing, Patrick [Armitage] and Lindsay [Pruitt] are amazing too, it’s just the way that they play is like nothing you’ve ever heard. I love it. I’m a huge Stickley fan.
There’s one thing I’ve noticed about Fruition that you share in common with one of our favorite people at FloydFest, Keller Williams, and that is the fact that children seem to just love your music. Is this something you’ve noticed at all? Any thoughts on why that may be?
You know I don’t know why that is, maybe because the focus of Fruition has always been songs, so we’re all about melodies and I think the more simple of a melody you can come up with, the more accessible it is to any kind of person, whether they be young or old, and we’ve just been lucky I guess, to come up with stuff that’s catchy enough that even little kids sing along to it. There’s nothing better than to see a video of a little kid singing every word to one of your songs. `
Labor of Love was a very complete body of work, and it touched a lot of people in a positive way. What’s next in the studio for Fruition?
We just got done recording and mixing an album, working with a producer named Tucker Martine, he’s done a lot of great stuff with My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Danny Barnes, the list goes on and on, he’s got an amazing resumé. Anyway, we just got done recording an album with him at Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, and we are stoked on it. We feel like it’s the best yet, of anything we’ve ever recorded. Once again, it kind of goes deeper into the rock ‘n’ roll/soul vibe, that we’ve been inching our way towards. This is the album that’s going to be a completely different thing, so we’re really stoked to get it out to everybody, we feel like it is the best thing we’ve done yet. We’re at the point right now that we are trying to shop it around and find a label that will back us, because we don’t have a label as of now anymore. Hopefully we’ll be able to release that– shooting for late-January or early-February.
Article by Richard Oakley
Photographs by TiltatWyndmills Photography