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Lindsay Fuller: One can only hope

“It’s me trying to convince myself to stick around and have hope and find the beauty in life,” says singer-songwriter Lindsay Fuller of her music and how finding a reason for optimism in the face of death is often a running theme throughout it.

Fuller is releasing her latest album, called You, Anniversary, on March 27 on ATO Records, the independent label co-founded by Dave Matthews. It’s a gorgeous and profound folk-leaning album whose songs are difficult to forget once you hear them. There is an honesty and directness in her lyrics. On that album, Fuller sings with a voice that communicates a weariness as she’s navigating life through her songs. You, Anniversary should be remembered at end of year time as one of the finest releases to come from a northwest artist in 2012.

Fuller found her way to the northwest with the promise of a home and job with a college friend’s parents in Oregon. She fell in love with the region and eventually moved to Seattle in 2003, a place where she had previously never been before.

The title track, she tells me at an interview at a north Seattle bar, “The whole concept of You, Anniversary was inspired by W.S. Merwin, who is an amazing poet. He has a poem called ‘For the Anniversary of my Death.’ It’s all about how we pass the day we’re going to die every year and we have no idea that that’s when we’re going to die. That day doesn’t have any significance to us.” In the first line she sings, “I’ve passed you, anniversary, when my body will pale.”

A great deal of Fuller’s music is inspired by literature or poetry. The comparison that often is attached to her name came from the website Twang Nation, who called Fuller “Flannery O’Connor with a telecaster.” It’s an apt comparison, and something of a deliberate one as Fuller named a song on her first album “Good Country People” after one of O’Connor’s most famous short stories. She tells me, “Obviously, I based a song on ‘Good Country People’ where a phony bible salesman steals a woman’s prosthetic limb. It’s a daughter who thinks she knows better than her mother, then she’s been had by this phony bible salesman.” While acknowledging that her song takes some poetic license with O’Connor’s story, it remains an obvious influence. However, O’Connor called herself a “thirteenth century Roman Catholic,” so it’s difficult to imagine her ever talking about her work over a few drinks.

There’s a video to her song “Coal Mine Canary” that turned into one of the most unforgettable videos in my recent memory, and it started as an idea she called “knock and rock”: knock on a stranger’s door and ask to come inside and play some music while it’s filmed. Of the experience, Fuller told me:

We went to eleven houses before someone let us in. The woman who let us in, is an older woman and Holocaust survivor. To me, it was one of those moments in your life where you feel like it puts everything into perspective. You meet someone who has seen the darkest side of life and who is still alive and has all of this beautiful art in her home. When she said, “my mother used to fuck soldiers for food,” I was tuning my guitar and was like “oh my god.” There’s a part of me that felt bad about singing such a sad song, but “Coal Mine Canary” is about survival. That’s what it’s about. The canary drops dead in the coal mine and the miners have to run out to survive. I don’t know how that came about, whether it was fate or the universe or what, but I’ll never forget it.

Another song she filmed a video for, which includes Long Winters frontman John Roderick as a minister and Fuller in a bathtub of blood, is “One More Song.” Fuller explained that it was about the suicide of one of her closest friends. She told me, “It had a huge impact on my life. Basically, I felt, when this friend died, like one of the tethers I had to the earth snapped. I was really afraid after that. I had to write a song about it because I could lose someone I loved so much in that way. It just made me think about death a lot. I had my own struggles with wanting to disappear because life is just strange, difficult at times. I wrote it in 2006, it’s been with me for a long time, but I’m really proud of how it turned on this record.”

You, Anniversary was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Paul Bryan, on the recommendation of singer-songwriter Ian Moore. She recorded the album over three days in LA with a band Bryan chosen and not with her excellent backing band, The Cheap Dates. Fuller said that she felt reassured by Bryan’s approach to recording. She said, “He just kept saying ‘the songs will tell us what to do’ and I really liked that approach. I wrote these songs and if they truly are good songs, they should translate with a full band onto a record. We recorded the record live, except for a few overdubs. All of my vocals are live. I think it captures that raw emotion.”

The raw emotion of her music is likely what interested figures like Dave Matthews, whose ATO Records signed Fuller and who invited her to perform on his caravan tour in 2011 at the Gorge, and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, who is currently touring with Fuller as her opening act. If one thing came through in our interview, it’s how appreciative she is for the support of those influential figures. “They don’t owe me anything at all,” she told me. When talking about her label, she added, “They have been great to me. Look, in this age, labels can tell who is doing well and who isn’t. ATO had the courage to sign someone who had under a thousand Facebook fans and I think that’s really cool because it gives hope to the situation. I always felt like you had to be a buzz band to get some help, but that’s not necessarily true. I’m not a big name. I’m the opposite of that. I’m writing songs about death. I think it’s a testament to the type of label they are because they took a chance on someone because they liked the music.”

When listening to You, Anniversary, the listener and artist are on a similar journey confronting life and/or death. Yet for the gothic darkness in lyrical themes and tones, Fuller’s songs are life-affirming, not overtly joyous, but uplifting and optimistic. She put it best when she told me, “There’s gotta be some hope out there, otherwise it’s too depressing.”

{Lindsay Fuller and the Cheap Dates play at the Tractor Tavern on Wednesday, March 28 with Amy Ray and Her Band, 21+, 8pm, $15 tickets available here.}


Chris Burlingame is the editor of Another Rainy Saturday.