Interview: Robbie Fulks, Linda Gail Lewis Benefit From Each Other’s Skills on ‘Wild! Wild! Wild!’
A good duet singer is like a good dancer: versatile, focused and able to match their partner, step for step and line for line. That's why Robbie Fulks was so thrilled when the record he was producing for Linda Gail Lewis began turning into a duo project, Wild! Wild! Wild! -- although he was initially hesitant to take away any of Lewis' spotlight.
"I'd rather hear her sing than me, so I didn't want to overdo it, but to duet with her is great," Fulks explained when the two musicians sat down to chat with The Boot during AmericanaFest 2018. "It's like being on a cloud. She gives me the leeway to do what I wanna do, and I feel like I'm the leader, but we're really looking at what the other is saying and matching each other most of the time."
Lewis' expertise as a duet partner is no accident: She spent years as part of a singing partnership with her brother, Jerry Lee Lewis, and partnered with Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison for a collaborative album, 2000's You Win Again. "I feel like her training, so to speak, from years with Jerry Lee Lewis and then Van Morrison, who's probably one of the more difficult duet partners to sing with in the world, have made her just so agile and adaptable, so easy to sing with," adds Fulks.
For her part, Lewis found it immediately comfortable slipping into a duet role with Fulks. "I love doing duets with Robbie," she admits. "It's just like doing duets with my brother. To have him be a part of the album was great, but to do it together as a duet album, I was very happy about that."
Fulks was the primary songwriter for Wild! Wild! Wild!, which dropped in August -- a decision that, Lewis says, was made because of his sheer talent.
"I think we [cut] one of mine, but it's not on the album," she explains. "I wish I would have known how to write lyrics like that, but do you know what? There's nobody today, in this time, that can write like Robbie. I couldn't even dream of writing songs like he did on this album.
"I can write a pretty good song, but Robbie is a genius," she adds. "Why would you take a pretty good song when you can take a great one?"
While Fulks may have penned the album's lyrics, the stories on Wild! Wild! Wild! are predominately inspired by Lewis' life story: growing up steeped in country music in the rural South. "I didn't feel like I needed to do much research, because I'd been drinking in this music, and through the music, the history of this family, for a long time," Fulks explains. In fact, he goes on to say, approaching the Lewis' family story may have even been easier from an outsider's perspective.
"Some of the obstacles are down when you're writing for or about something outside of yourself," he goes on to say. "If Linda was writing self-mythologizing songs, it would be uncomfortable for her, and she'd have a different and maybe even a worse perspective than somebody looking at it from the outside. So in a way, it was easier than writing a personal song, I think."
Lewis agrees that some of the songs on the album -- specifically, "Hard Luck Louisiana" and "Round Too Long" -- tell her story better than she could have written it herself. "[They are] two totally different songs, about two different times in my life," she notes. "I was amazed that Robbie figured out that I was drinking whiskey when I was 11 years old."
Fulks is quick to clarify that that particular detail was a lucky guess -- but, he adds, his connection with Lewis, and their shared sense of humor, made it easy for him to write her story without fear of offending her or mistreating her past. "Once I met Linda and saw how open and humorous she was ... it just didn't seem like there was anything I could write that would offend her," he admits.
"The point of the songs isn't to make a joke out of it," he adds, "but the point is to look at history and celebrate that we're all still alive and doing well."