Jonny Fritz opens for I’m With Her at the Wilma Sun., April 8, at 8 PM. $27.50 – $37.50 advance. All ages.
So what finally drove country music artist Jonny Fritz from Nashville? Was it the hammerlock of Music Row on the songwriting opportunities? The proliferation of dimwitted bro country hits? The endless lunch meetings with smarmy label hacks? Actually, it was none of that.
“It’s just a small southern town and everybody knows everything you’re doing. I just got tired of not having any privacy,” says Fritz, whom we spoke with just after he’d done a guest DJ stint on KBGA. The once and future Missoula resident put Music City in the rearview three years ago after 15 years based there and moved to Los Angeles.
“L.A. is the opposite,” he says. “You can live a thousand lives in L.A. and nobody cares. Small-town gossip has no place in the big city.”
What the 34-year-old Fritz doesn’t mention is the possibility that in Nashville, he was probably a square peg in a town full of round, radio-friendly holes. His music is not easily categorized. Is he a Jonathan Richman with a higher voice? A 12 Country Greats-era Ween without the psychosis? Lucinda Williams with a sense of humor? To our ear, he’s all that and more. There’s his distinct voice: a reedy, half-swallowed tenor that exudes honesty and vulnerability without a speck of irony. The music is straight-up country that breaks little new ground, but that puts the focus where it should be, squarely on the lyrics and Fritz’s plaintive delivery. Over the course of four solo albums, he’s shared his micro observations with seemingly offhanded phrases that approach brilliance. Lines like, “I’m only happy in hindsight/ I only want what’s not in store” and “I’m gettin’ to the age where turnin’ a page/ Is easier than learnin’ my lines,” are instantly relatable to those of us trying to navigate middle age in a rapidly changing world.
“What really inspires music to me is everyday people,” he says, “like just going to the post office is the most inspiring thing I can do, or going to a Walmart. Just the way a person will look at another person or say something.”
His move to California bore fruit almost immediately. He befriended Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and James expressed interest in making a record. With the help of Fritz’s “hot shit L.A. band of young bucks,” Sweet Creep was recorded entirely outdoors in just three days on a hilltop in Montecito Heights. “It was such a special thing,” says Fritz. “You’d hear planes going overhead, there was an ATV off in the corner … there’s tons of stuff in this record that we didn’t cut out. We were like, just leave it, man, it sounds cool.”
Released in 2016, Sweet Creep touches on some bigger themes as well. “Are You Thirsty” is a blunt offer of help to someone who’s quit the bottle: “Did you take a break from drinking, and found out you had no friends? Do you eat a lot more candy now, and smoke more cigarettes?” Fritz says he has no use for hazy metaphors or trite bromides. “I can get really critical of other people’s music, especially if there’s too much of the standard lyrics and filler,” he says. “Or if there’s too many clichés. I’m never going to say, like, ‘I’m drinking beer at a tavern.’ I just want to sing the songs that have never been sung before.”
Although enamored of his new L.A. digs, Fritz is working on returning part-time to Missoula, his city of birth. “Los Angeles is wonderful, but in the summer, it’s brutal,” he says. “Missoula is wonderful, but in the winter, it’s brutal.”
He’s currently refurbishing a house he bought on Missoula’s southside, with an eye to becoming a snowbird. It’s a logical move, as he’s already established relationships with several Missoula musicians, such as the Best Westerns, with whom he has recorded, and Izaak Opatz. “I’m obsessed with Izaak Opatz,” he says. “He’s got a record called Mariachi Static. It’s such a fucking great record.”
As with the KBGA appearance, he’s already begun inserting himself into the community in typically unconventional ways. Just last month, he dropped by Western Cider’s inaugural “Drink and Draw” session, where he posed for a few cider-slurping sketchers. With the lean body of a runner, expressive brown eyes and puffy drag chute of unruly brown hair, Fritz makes for a pretty enticing sketch subject. He’s quite a willing model, even baring it all for the deck of nudie playing cards he sells on his website. When it comes to keeping Missoula weird, Jonny Fritz will soon be moving the needle in the right direction with both his refreshingly original music and his delightfully deviant personality.
“Honestly, I feel like if people are gonna reach out and say, ‘Man, I listened to your music and I get it,’ then I’d love to reach out and talk to you, because if you get it, then you get it.”