Catching up with Fulks recently via phone finds Robbie in a world far removed from smoky barrooms. His "little tiny kids" are raising a cabin-fever-inspired ruckus in the background and Dad clearly has his hands full. But Fulks is gracious as he talks about his passion for all things musical and his independent career.
"I've been really lucky to build this grassroots thing that wasn't utterly dependent on the machinations of one company," Fulks says. "I've managed to cobble together a modest living."
Call it luck, call it inspired, authentic talent, but Fulks has found some success playing a range of music that moves easily through many genres. His two most recent releases, "Couples in Trouble" and "13 Hillbilly Giants," aptly showcase this diversity. With "13," Fulks exposes listeners to lesser-known songs by some of traditional country's best songwriters. "Couples" takes a different tack, delivering an original set of dark songs based loosely on themes of love and loss. The set takes Fulks' songwriting and performing talents down divergent paths, allowing him to play bluegrass, rock 'n' roll and out-of-the-mainstream pop. After recording the country CD, Fulks says it was time to stretch out with "Couples."
"I wanted to write an album. I wanted to open musical boundaries, and I felt more emboldened to speak in my own voice. Midway through two or three [songs] I realized it was too far-flung. I needed some cohesion with a very general theme. Something to hang it on. It's easier to mine darker material, or at least conflicted situations."
Fulks is no newcomer to writing. A former Waynesboro resident, Robbie grew up listening to his parents' folk records in the early '70s and got the performing and writing bug at 15. When college called, Fulks went to Columbia University in New York with vague notions of being an English major. But he spent more time hanging out in Greenwich Village playing clubs, and after three years, he quit college to perform full time.
In the ensuing years, Fulks has put together a career marked by critical success and highly original, cross-genre, live shows. He's most comfortable on a stage, and Fulks says his choice of career wasn't really a decision as much as it was a forgone conclusion. "'Decided,'" he says, "doesn't even come into it." S
Robbie Fulks plays Poe's Pub, Wednesday, March 20. Old Number 8 opens. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7. Call 648-2120 for information.