When singer-songwriter Jeff Fetterman was growing up, he wanted his first musical instrument drums. “I loved the beat and rhythm,” he recalls. “But my parents would have never given me a drum set. So I went with guitar after watching and hanging out with the guy up the street who played in a band. He was my first influence to learn from.”
A couple of decades of practice, three albums and countless shows later, Fetterman will be tuning his guitar for a Wilmington audience at The Rusty Nail on August 12, and preparing to release his full-length album, “9 Miles to Nowhere.” He recently finished listening to the final mixes and mastering a week prior to our interview. Though, it’s doubtful it will be available for purchase at his ILM show, the projected release date is August 23-25. Still, fans will hear a lot off the record. Fetterman’s freshly laid tracks will be available as digital downloads and CDs upon release. Among them are “Something Just Ain’t Right,” which leans heavily on upbeat rock ’n’ roll sounds, and “These Arms of Mine” that slowly sinks back into warmer bluesy waters.
We asked Fetterman to tell us more about his influences and how they’ve shaped his latest record.
encore: Tell us how rock, blues and guitar have impacted your approach and work today?
Jeff Fetterman (JF): I started learning to play by watching anybody and everybody, and going to see every band I could; I tried to copy what I saw them playing. That’s how I learned chords and how to put them together. I am all self-taught. I fought for every note I’ve ever played. [laughs]
Then I discovered people like Hendrix, Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sam Cooke, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin … the list just goes on and on. I try to be as professional with my live shows and my recordings as much as those people were or are. They influence me in every way.
e: What’s the origin of “9 Miles to Nowhere”?
JF: We were driving to a gig, and we were in the middle of nowhere, literally. We were going through a very rural area in farm country, where civilization was pretty scarce in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. I saw a sign that said it was 25 more miles [to town], so I said out loud, “25 miles to nowhere.” I started thinking on that during the drive, and for some reason the miles to go kept sticking with me. It seemed kinda catchy when it came out during the miles countdown and I hit number nine. Hence the name “9 Miles to Nowhere.”
The cover also is symbolic to heading out to nowhere. Sometimes I feel in this business I’m heading nowhere; it’s hard and can seem like you’ll never get ahead. Originally, there was supposed to be nine songs only on the album, each song representing 1 mile, nine songs equals 9 miles. But I felt it wasn’t complete until I added just one more song.
e: How are all the songs together shaping the album?
JF: I wanted this album to be a strong follow up to my previous album “Bottle Full of Blues” [(2015)] and “These Arms of Mine” is actually an older song I wrote a long time ago. It always received good attention, so I thought I would include it in on this new album. I’ve always been into classic rock and blues styles, including Motown, soul, R&B. Most people refer to me as a blues guitarist; although, a lot of my roots are in rock as well, so that’s where the rock edge comes from. I combine the two styles of my rock and blues influences, and that’s how I tend to write music. It just kind of comes out naturally that way.
e: Can you tell us a bit more about your songwriting? Are there emerging themes?
JF: The process for me comes mostly from an idea or a random line that comes into my head at any given time. It’s like a puzzle piece. If I am at home just playing, I may come up with some catchy riff, and it grabs my attention, so I try to build off of it; it’s a piece of a new puzzle that I want to try and put together. Same with lyrics: I may come up with a line, and write a song off of just one line that may set the theme for a whole new song. When I write, I try to put myself into the position of the character, and feel what he is feeling and say what he is thinking. I visualize a lot when I write; I try to imagine a scene as if it were in a movie and how would the music fit that scene. It really helps me out a lot with imagery.
e: How does the project seem to compare, in sound or process, to previous work so far?
JF: I feel as each album comes out, it grows and matures musically. The playing keeps getting better. I’m using more musicians on my projects that have experience and are highly regarded. I feel my songwriting is getting better; although, I will always be the first to say I will try to be better. I am never satisfied with my own self, musically. I always try to be the best I can.
The last two albums were recorded to a click track, and this new release was recorded live in studio, so it gave me the freedom to do what I love to do, which is just play. The newest release is probably the best-sounding so far out of the three, in that this one was recorded in the Goo Goo Dolls Studio in Buffalo, NY, and I had a great producer/engineer working with me. Being in a top-notch studio certainly helped.
e: Any new soundscapes or instrumentals explored here?
JF: Not really. I pretty much stay with what comes out of me naturally, which is blues and blues-rock. Although, I would eventually like to release an album that features a nice horn section. I think that would be powerful—like a big slam to the listener. Nothing like the sound of a powerful horn section doing soul/blues rock music.
e: Have you been playing these songs at live shows leading up to the release?
JF: Yes, we are now playing the new songs at our shows. They are getting great response, and it gives further excitement to have it available soon to the public.
e: Tell us more about their evolution from stage to studio and vice versa?
JF: The songs are much longer and more exciting live in my opinion, as nothing can capture that energy of doing things live. The feedback from the audience, their energy, the spontaneity of the band, it all adds up.