Photo Courtesy of the Artist
By: Thomas D. Mooney
Jacob Furr, like many singer-songwriters didn’t know he was good to seek a career as a troubadour until friends finally convinced him of it. Luckily, he took their advice and pursued.
The Fort Worth native, who spent four years here in Lubbock, as well as 18-months in San Francisco, recently returned to Fort Worth. And with a handful of songs which make up his latest EP, “Farther Shores,” a five-song collection of lo-fi alt-country sea and shore ballads.
“Farther Shores” opener, “Voices On The Sea,” quickly sets the mood with some chilling echos. And rightfully so, the song is about a time when Furr and his wife, Christina, were “exploring the hills around the lighthouse” in Point Reyes, Calif, and is dedicated and about the men lying in the Lifesaving Station Graveyard.
It’s the subtleties in Furr’s songs that both make you listen carefully, as well as paint you a chilling (yes chilling, but not horrifying. He’s not Glenn Danzig) portrait of words and sound.
To hear Furr’s latest, “Farther Shores EP,” head over to http://jacobfurr.bandcamp.com/. While there, check out his other EP, The “To Kill a Mockingbird” influenced “Finches,” as well as his first full-length, “The Only Road.”
New Slang: When you hear your songs, there’s definitely a familiarity with them. I think you hear this very traditional storyteller kind of sound. In many ways, I think they’re very traditional Texas alt-country (such as Kris Kristofferson, Butch Hancock, and even Lyle Lovett) but, there’s also instances in which they sound like they could have been written elsewhere with an entirely different set of influences. I think everyone (especially music critics) wants to categorize bands and musicians, but what do you think about your songs and what do they remind you of?
Jacob Furr: I have definitely been heavily influenced by the Texas Songwriter tradition. I’m always trying to explore the limits of that style because I feel like it is my personal folk-music. I mean, we’re from the same place and have a similar set of images that we are working with. Those guys are a huge part of the traditional music of Texas now and, being a history nerd, I try as hard as I can to connect with that past.
I love the songs I’ve gotten to know. They’ve become good friends. I always hear different aspects of my own musical listening history in them. I grew up listening to lots of the 70’s songwriters like Jim Croce, James Taylor, and Carol King, so there is a part of that in them.
They remind me of where I’ve been. I can attach a location or specific memory to each one of them. They are not all auto-biographical, and they often tell other people’s stories, but still retain these little parts that connect them to me. Sometimes I don’t realize it till after they’ve come though, which is a wild experience.
NS: It seems that you typically like to group songs and you like to find a single influence and subject to write about, whether it’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the sea and shorelines, etc. Why is that? And what draws you into writing about them? When do you know you’ve “finished” writing about that subject?
JF: I’m not exactly sure why that is. I like the challenge of trying to center or aim my energy at a particular subject. Mostly, they just come grouped like that. I can’t take full credit for my songs, they all have their own personalities and energies and I like going along for the ride and seeing where they want to go. I usually feel pretty dried up creatively after I’ve written a group of songs and that’s when I know they are done with me.
NS: You did a Townes Van Zandt tribute where you covered a few songs. How hard was it choosing songs? What are your overall thoughts on Townes? Will there ever be another [insert artist name here ] Tribute you do?
JF: It wasn’t hard at all to pick those songs. That project started as just recording “If I Needed You” as a gift for a friend that had just adopted a child. I was recording “Farther Shores” at the same time and really liked the electric guitar tone and simplicity of it and the vocals so I just recorded the other Townes songs that I know by heart.
Thoughts on Townes Van Zandt? That’s hard. I think good songwriters should know who he was and what he did. He was just simply the best. He should be studied in writing classes as one of the best American writers. I think a lot of people like to mythologize him and claim him though and I think that really does a dis-service to him as a man and a writer. I just love his songs. He had something special and he conveyed it passionately.
I’d probably like to do an album of really dark folk songs like “Tecumseh Valley”, “Pretty Polly” etc… just to explore that side of things that my writing so far hasn’t really dealt with. those kinds of issues that have been informing American folk writing for hundreds of years and I’d like to see where that could go.
NS: So far, all of your material has been primarily vocals and acoustic guitar. Do you think you’ll ever be going full band or will that be a different project all together? Is it important to keep these songs in the style they are?
JF: I would like to try them out in a band format just to see if they have more to say. I really like playing with just guitar and vocal though. They feel like old friends now and I like being with them one-on-one. The songs I’ve been working on recently have more of a full band bent to them, but we’ll see what happens, they have to decide for themselves.
I do think it’s kind of a shame that there is so much focus put on the band format these days both with booking, air-time, and just for sheer entertainment value. I think the guy with a guitar has been so overdone that it has gotten a bad rap, but it has so much value as such an American style. There is nothing more raw and pure to me than one talented, honest, and clever individual with a guitar that can fill a room or pull everybody in that room into his orbit. I saw David Bazan do that one time at Jake’s in Lubbock and it revolutionized the way I thought about music. And one of my other favorite writers, Josh Ritter did “Girl in The War” live in San Francisco all alone, just him and his guitar. That one song brought the place to its knees.
NS: You’re now in Ft. Worth and have your own recording studio. Tell me a little about how that’s going. And you say that the studio is built around a workbench of your grandfather’s. How important is that to you and why?
JF: I’m enjoying my little studio. It’s in my house right now and I’ve been working with a few fellow songwriters here in town. I like the intimacy and relaxed environment a house can provide that a studio can’t. We’re just sitting down, exploring and sharing our songs together.
The studio is centered around my Grand-dads old workbench. That means more to me than I think I can really say. He was a craftsman of the highest degree and built/machined engines for Ford Model A’s from scratch in his shop here in Fort Worth. He supported a whole family like that for years, working with his hands and gifts and creating these incredible machines out of hunks of metal. Sadly, he had a stroke before I got to see him in full form in his shop, so I’m trying to connect with his memory by approaching songwriting from the same angle he would have approached building an engine. This is more to me than just a hobby. My writing guitar was bought for me with money he left after he passed away. There is a lot of meaning for me in my little studio.
NS: You just finished up the “Farther Shores EP.” What’s next in store for you?
JF: Lots of playing now. I just want to get out there and play, play, play. I felt like “Farther Shores” marked the beginning of the road for me as a songwriter and I’m ready to do this thing with all I have. Hopefully I’ll have enough songs written soon to work on a full-length album, but once again, I’m giving them their space and just letting them come as they like.