If you're a fan of Dawes, Deer Tick, Andrew Combs or Shovels and Rope, you may have already heard of Jonny Fritz without realizing it. The Virginia native released an excellent album under the pseudonym Jonny Corndawg in 2011. The Corndawg album, which featured instrumental help from Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick's John McCauley and was elegantly entitled Down on the Bikini Line, only hinted at the emerging songwriter's skills to convey modern country music steeped in retro sounds. Fritz, who just released the fantastic Dad Country (produced by Goldsmith) on ATO Records (Alabama Shakes, Old Crow Medicine Show), knew it was time to hone in on simply writing tunes that would hopefully resonate with listeners for the long haul.
In fact, Fritz, who represents the spirit of a young, insurgent country artist better than almost anyone these days (he signed his current record contract with a quill dipped in brown gravy), absolutely does not want to be forgotten. He's worked hard to get folks to notice him and he's genuinely concerned about fickle feelings the music-loving public seems to have. With today's Twitter-sized attention spans and Soundcloud clicking-and-forgetting, it's hard to blame him for feeling such concern.
"I want to figure out how to avoid the whole blow up, burn out, get forgotten kind of thing," Fritz says over the phone as he tours in support of the new album. "It seems really easy these days to have something gather interest for a while, but then it seems just as easy for people to stop talking about it. It's a bummer that good music is being made and also written about only to be forgotten so quickly. I mean, in the '90's, a band would get on MTV, everyone would like the video, memorize the words to the song, and all these years later, they want to laugh at it and act embarrassed. Why be embarrassed by what you once liked? Bands are being forgotten quicker than that and I guess I'm trying to avoid that."
A major step toward creating a career that will hopefully last instead of dying a novelty act's quick death was deciding to bury the Jonny Corndawg persona in favor of Fritz being Fritz.
"It lost the fun it had to begin with," Fritz says of his white-trash former alter ego. "It's like when a little kid does something funny and then his family bugs him about it all of the time. It's like, 'Come on, do it for Pop-Pop.' The album had such a mixed reaction and it made me more guarded as a songwriter and a person. When you put yourself out there too much, you have to pull back some. I'm not as outgoing as I used to be."
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Oddly enough, Fritz confesses to not wanting much spotlight, in hopes that a lack of saturation will stoke interest in his work.
"The more press I get," he explains, "the more wary I get about drawing attention to myself. I don't want to shove myself down the media's throat -- I want people to discover my music, but in an organic, natural way."
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The hope to not be forgotten becomes more clear when Fritz discusses the story behind his new album's best song, "Ain't It Your Birthday?," a tune where it's clear that the narrator isn't being welcomed in the manner he had hoped or assumed he would be, Fritz confesses that real-life feelings of exclusion and alienation led to the writing of the heartbreaking yet smile-inducing tune. When backdropped with this scenario, Fritz's hope to be remembered by the musical masses beyond an album or two becomes clear. "I wrote that song from the perspective I had when I moved from Virginia to Philadelphia several years ago," he divulges. "I would go back home and not feel welcome after the move. It felt like I was showing up to a party that I wasn't invited to. I want to tell everyone about where I've been and what I've done, but I get told, 'Oh, there's no party here.' And no one's interested in what I have to say. It's my half-kissing song about not really being able to ever go back home."