Kansas City born and bred, multi-instrumentalist and recording artist Fritz Hutchison recently released his debut album Wide Wild Acres. The record – inspired by the sound of the early 70s – blends indie-pop, Americana, and rock and roll into a home-spun fantasy of Midwestern life. In addition to playing almost all of the instruments on the album (with some excellent supporting musicians sprinkled in), Fritz delivers his original lyrics with a voice that fits each song as its own instrument.
I got the chance to talk to Fritz about how he first got into making and performing music, his musical influences, what it means to him for his debut album to finally be out and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I had taken some piano lessons when I was really around 8 years old, but it never really clicked. My Uncle gave me a set of drums when I turned 12 and all of a sudden I was obsessed. Before drums, I wanted to be a stuntman, so I think I needed the most high energy instrument possible to wrangle my little ADD brain. Plus (and I still feel this way), the sonic perspective from behind the kit put me in a great position to observe and absorb all the melodic and harmonic activity happening around me, and I was able to to learn a lot about the mechanics of other instruments, especially guitar, by jamming with other kids.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
It was kind of a slow realization that I didn’t like doing anything else [laughs]. I was lucky to have several mentors who were very supportive of me from the beginning, so it always felt like a viable option. I’d say also that getting fired from a frozen custard shop was a moment where I told myself, “Ok, you better get good at music because very little else seems to be working out for you.”
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music so if you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
This collection of songs is a meditation on motivation, gratitude, self-doubt, and love. Coming of age escapist rock and roll that’s inescapably midwestern.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I was definitely under the spell of Bruce Springsteen pretty hardcore while writing these songs. His first four albums are just absolute dynamite to me and I was going through a very deep period with each of those records for most of the time I was working on Wide Wild Acres. As a drummer, I absolutely love Levon Helm and The Band’s peculiar take on roots music song structures opened the door to the possibilities of where and how you can stretch familiar sounds and forms. I also would have to cite Carol King, Steve Gadd, Elvis Costello, Thin Lizzy, and Ted Lucas for starters.
You just released your debut album, Wide Wild Acres. What does it mean to you for this album to finally be out?
It feels really good to have a record out as validation for spending all that time on the songs. Whatever emotional struggles I’ve had with these tunes, now that they’re out in the world, the most important relationships they have are with those that hear them. It feels good to take my hands off the reigns so to speak and let the recordings take on their own life. Plus, it means I get to write the second record now!
What was the recording process like for it? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?
I took…. a long time. I think I wrote the main riff of “Cold Comfort” when I was about 18 years old, about a decade ago. It takes me a long time, in general, to get a song finished, and usually, I won’t declare something done until it’s already recorded and too expensive to fix [laughs]. The first recording sessions, which would’ve comprised of the tracks “Stationary”, “Powder Blue”, “Fortunate Flaws” and “Police Dogs”, got going in 2015 at Element Studios. Joel Nanos produced and recorded everything out of that studio, except for “Currach Mor”, which was recorded by Ross Brown (Shy Boys, Fullbloods) in his basement. Over the years, a few songs got added, some got cut, and the whole process was bookended with “Cold Comfort” being the last song recorded in the summer of 2019.
I think the most significant effect of the recording process was bringing in Aryana Nemati and Teddy Krulewich to put horns on “Powder Blue”. Once I heard what they added to that track, I knew they had to be an essential part of the sound of the record. Now they (and Trevor Turla on trombone) are all over the record and are a major part of how I approach writing new material.
Let’s talk about the title track, which I absolutely love. What’s the song about?
Thank you, I’m so glad you like it! It’s probably the most candid song on the record- my Dad’s name is really Pete, and I am one of seven kids. The “Wide Wild Acres” themselves literally refer to a 77-acre plot of land near Plattsburg, Missouri where my aunt and uncle – who gave me my first drums – live. I wrote the song while visiting up there and was just taking in the beauty of the landscape and I wanted to write something in the vein of John Prine that operated as a sort of love letter to my family, the strong tradition of love and care among us, and the ways that I feel ready to take on the adventure of life and explore the unknown with that love walking with me.
Something I’ve always been curious about with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed “Wide Wild Acres” or did it just come about organically once you were in the session?
That song, contrary to how I usually get things done, pretty much fell out of me in one piece. It was one of the few times I had a clear idea of the tone and subject matter going in to write the lyrics. Usually, I just have an idea of the sort of emotional tone I want to set, and some semblance of a story gradually evolves from there. I like to have a pretty strong idea of how a song goes before I do an actual recording session.
Were there any major changes made to ”Wide Wild Acres” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
The addition of the horns really helped give this song the “big sky” sort of feeling I really felt it needed. Also Kyle Little played some wonderful piano here that responds beautifully to the lyrics. I really enjoy playing as many of the instruments as I can in a studio setting, but it’s always special to bring in somebody who plays something that never would’ve come out of your own hands and deepens the emotional complexity of the track.
Did you know as soon as you recorded this song that it was going to be the title track? Why did you want this song to represent your album?
I think it won out by process of elimination. I didn’t want the record to be just called “Fritz Hutchison” and WWA has the best sounding title of any of the songs, in my opinion. I hate naming things; it’s almost always the last thing I do. I do think that it conveys well the Americana overtones throughout the record and indicates the breadth of possibilities that await in the future, now that these songs are out in the world and the creative direction to come has yet to be defined.
What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
The times being what they are, obviously, I’m itching to play live something fierce. I’ve toured before, but always as a sideman in other projects so I’m very excited to take my own material and band out on the road. More than anything I want to play shows in Europe. That’s the pipe dream right now.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Ornette Coleman! I’ve been listening to the Shape of Jazz to Come a lot lately. I really love the lack of chordal instruments, and the harmonic depth that grows in the empty spaces where a harmonic instrument would typically play. It’s as interesting as it is visceral. Really a thrilling record. I’m also really into the bite of his tone, playing a plastic Grafton sax… super punk. The harsh sparseness of his group’s sound is something I would really like to emulate in the rock and roll idiom. Time to study up!
Photo Credit: Anna Selle