The way in which Dallas singer-songwriter Ronnie Fauss was "discovered" by the folks at New West Records is pure old-school. It was an acoustic in-store gig at Houston's famed Cactus Records, which caught the right ears and led to the next chapter in Fauss' career.
Certainly the in-store performance was serendipitous, yet it would be a mistake to assume all Fauss has done in recent years is simply perform on occasion and hope the right person hears his songs. Since the release of his 2009 EP, I Can't Make You Happy, Fauss has been a regular on bills with Brent Best (Slobberbone), Danny Balis and Grant Jones. But with the arrival this week of his first full-length album, I Am The Man You Know I'm Not, which is also his debut release on Normaltown Records, an imprint of New West, Fauss will soon be taking his time-tested songs far beyond the metroplex.
Fauss has long been a savvy self-promoter, networking and rubbing virtual elbows with many of the most prominent Americana blogs in the U.S., not to mention a few popular sites from overseas. As a father with a full-time day job, he knew that for people to get to know him, he had to put himself and his catalog of four EPs out there for ears to hear.
"When you're an indie act, without the resources of a promotion staff behind you, you really have no choice but to get out there and beat on doors yourself," Fauss says. "Honestly, it's been one of the most rewarding parts of my music career, developing friendships with writers and radio programmers and so many great people who work in the music industry who are just as passionate about music as I am."
While Texas, and especially Dallas, isn't exactly hurting for another singer-songwriter, Fauss draws from his upbringing to generate his songs.
"I was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Houston," he explains. "I live in East Dallas and love the community feel of the neighborhood. My time in Texas, and the Southwest in general, has been a huge influence on my sound. Some of my earliest memories are driving around with my dad listening to his Gene Autry and Roy Rogers eight-tracks."
An affinity for music actually predates just about any memory for Fauss. While scoring a record deal and planning an extensive tour are certainly newsworthy, a life in music isn't terribly surprising for Fauss and the family he grew up with.
"Basically all my life I've been a huge music fan," he says. "It just came naturally from an early age, and it stuck with me. I think by the age of 10 I was writing songs and taking piano and guitar lessons. Then, music was something I would mess around with on occasion. I would find myself trying to write and record songs similar to the albums that I love, even. But a few years ago I started taking it more seriously as a craft, trying to get better and looking for cool performance opportunities."
Fauss does nod to his musical influences on the album, which was recorded over the summer in Nashville and produced by Sigurdur Birkus, who also handles drumming duties for roots rocker Will Hoge. He included a respectful cover of the Gram Parsons classic "Sin City," a duet with Lilly Hiatt, his labelmate and daughter of John Hiatt. But he's also quick to get material from his present-day experiences at home. As is the case with so many writers, Fauss tends to see life's normality in a more artful, expressive way than most people.
"Whatever happens to be going on for me at the time is what I naturally write about," he explains. "It's not intentional, it just happens. I could be mowing the lawn or changing the baby's diaper, and a line or a melody will just hit me. Those are usually the best songs."
Many folk artists are saddled with the label of storyteller. While Fauss includes popular subjects such as life on the road, love and loss, he digs deeper into the matter. The closing track on the new record, "With Love," is a somber ode made all the more heart-wrenching with the knowledge it's inspired by true life.
"The record is more autobiographical than I wish," Fauss says. "I've had some ups and downs over the past couple of years, and some of that is documented in the new record. 'With Love' would be the best example of a purely autobiographical song. Writing that was a way for me to deal with the death of a family member."
Pain and catharsis is as integral to the artistic life of a songwriter as touring and business. Over the next couple of months, Fauss will use the weekends to take his band on the road for shows in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and even Wyoming.
Thanks to his previous due diligence, Fauss knows that these locales are populated with folks who have already discovered his music. Of course, assuming lasting success based upon a promising start is a bit of a stretch. Thankfully for Fauss, he has a solid grip on what may or may not happen after the album is released and the touring gets rolling.
"I have plenty of aspirations, but I don't want to call them expectations. I'm hopeful this album will lead to even more opportunities, but I'm also aware of how hard that can be. There's a ton of talent out there. I feel very blessed to have had the chance to make this album and I'm hoping it's just the start."