John Fullbright Takes the Little Record That Could to the Grammys

When the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards were announced, there was one big surprise hiding in the best Americana album category.

At age 24, John Fullbright landed his independently-produced debut album, From the Ground Up, alongside high-profile artists Bonnie Raitt, the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers.

And From the Ground Up has a strong argument for being there. The bluesy batch of songs featuring Fullbright’s high-definition lyrics and confident maturity show an artist with a clear view of what he does. Hailing from Woody Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Okla, Fullbright is no stranger to the folk tradition, and From the Ground Up explores religion, morality, class division and the American dream as seen by a thoughtful member of the millennial generation.

CMT Edge caught up with Fullbright through e-mail to find out how he feels about the honor, and it understandably seems like he’s still unsure how to handle it.

CMT: How did you find out about the Grammy nomination?

Fullbright: I was enjoying my one night home off the road when I found out. It was poetic enough — being that just about every song on the record was written in that house. Someone on my little team had told me earlier in the day that there was a small chance we could get nominated in the Americana category, but I was advised not to get my hopes up — which wasn’t hard.

Skip to me scrubbing my tub late at night when I get a text message from a business associate congratulating me and teasing me about red carpet clothes. I don’t know if it was the tub cleaner fumes or not, but I didn’t put it together immediately. I saw that I had missed a call from David Macias at my label, and he told me the news. Most young men in my position would probably have gone out to celebrate, but being that I was home in the middle of the woods, far away from the friends and the bars I would frequent, I just went back to scrubbing my tub in denial. It took a good three or four days to actually consider that it was, in fact, my reality.

How long ago were you able to make music your full-time job?

Pretty much right out of college so … six years ago? Dad always liked us around to help him, so me and my brothers never really had high school jobs. No flipping burgers or washing dishes. We hauled hay in the summer, and I spent my fair share on a tractor. By the time I came along, not as much was being done around the house, so that gave me time to learn the guitar and write a little. I had more than a few gigs leading up to college, but I wasn’t earning a living. It took dropping out of school to really get serious about it. That and failing algebra two or three times.

How does it feel to be nominated alongside Bonnie Raitt? Has she been an influence on you?

There will never be another like her.

When you think about From the Ground Up, what comes to mind?

Working alongside [co-producer] Wes Sharon for two weeks straight — days and nights without any break to speak of. We ate and breathed that record until it was done. I’m very proud of it. We didn’t have the best equipment or a lot of time, but we did have a lot of inspiration throughout the whole process. To think of it sitting up there in the same category as Bonnie Raitt, Avetts, Mumfords … is still pretty thrilling. Wes calls it the little record that could.

Many artists feel a lot of pressure to follow a successful debut. Are you experiencing that, too?

If I think about it too much, I get a little nervous, but I’m in it for the long haul. I think my writing is getting stronger, and that’s all I really care about at this point. One thing about it, I don’t feel pressured to rush this next one out. It takes time to write a decent song and a lot more time to write a good song.

Where do you think this part of your life is leading you, in terms of songwriting?

I find myself following more crooked, narrow roads writing-wise. Finding the confidence to take more chances. All my heroes are risk takers. Go listen to something like Warren Zevon‘s “Desperados Under the Eaves” and tell me that’s not a daredevil.