Hello Jonny Fritz, aka Jonny Corndawg, aka Jonathan Russell Fritz from the great state of Montana, aka the member of Traveller not called Robert Ellis or Cory Chisel, just how good are you at pain and humiliation?
“Well, I am a musician,” he says. “So pretty good.”
Which is fair enough. After all, if you’re going to write any kind of decent country/alternative country/Americana/what are we calling it this week? song you should understand pain and humiliation like you understand your mother’s pumpkin pie.
“That’s absolutely true. So I must be pretty good at it then.”
Actually, Fritz, like his bandmates in the “supergroup” Traveller, is pretty good at it, if by “it” you mean writing a damn fine rootsy song: think equal measures country ballads, folk tales and blended voices on the plains.
While Chisel is the least known of them, and not as frequent a visitor to Australia, his contributions to Western Movies, their slow-arriving first album as Traveller, more than hold up against the wit of Fritz and the classicism of Ellis.
Mind you, as good as they are individually and collectively calling them a “supergroup” – as their publicity sheets have it - feels out of place with their low-key egos and sense of humour. Not to mention the general absence of globe-bestriding fame.
(And if you’re wondering why the Americans have spelt the band in the English/Australian spelling? “Um, maybe because it looks more official, more regal.”)
I suspect that if they had their druthers they’d probably let loose and call Traveller a Super Mega Ultra Group.
“I’ve been calling it a stupid group,” says Fritz. “Especially my style.”
Hardly. As funny as Fritz can be, there’s a strong strand of quality in his writing. But what may be stupid is why it’s taken so long to get this album given their first song, Nobody Makes It Out, was released more than two years ago.
“The main reason is we got our own careers and we each had our own records lined up before we even started making this,” says Fritz, who will admit to frustration though. “It’s one of the things that really bugs me about the music business: it just crawls. It moves at a despicable rate.”
Knowing this, when they finally got together to write things moved at double speed: they wrote and recorded Western Movies at the one time to forestall other commitments getting in the way.
However, they still had to wait some more months before touring and a release could be scheduled and even now it’s coming out in Australia well before its American release so as to coincide with their tour.
You have to really, really want to do this supergroup thing.
“Robert and I have been writing together for years and he has always played with me, so we already collaborate a lot,” says Fritz. “This time we wanted to do something that makes it more interesting, and we figured the two of us alone are okay, but you know what, we need somebody really beautiful, just a gorgeous man. So of course, Cory Chisel came to mind.”
Chisel, the man Fritz describes as “like a male model”, is particularly a favourite of “women from late 40s up who go wild for him” apparently. With that demographic covered, what does Fritz offer, or attract?
“Jeez, I guess, the 60s and up,” he laughs. “No, really, Cory is a melody man, he churns out these melodies, but he’ll tell you ‘I hate writing words’ while that’s the only part of the process I enjoy. So I was like, I’ll write the words, Cory you write the melody and Robert is my favourite producer and constructor of songs.”
These trio songs touch on their individual styles but are, says Fritz, the kind of thing they would never have written on their own. They’re funny and silly at times, but also happy to be straight with emotion.
“I’m really impressed with a have to say: we’re perfectly able to bring equal parts to the project so what could be stressful is just so much fun. It’s such a good time.”
Humour is not the only thing that Fritz does but it is one thing it can confuse the more earnest audiences of Americana/roots etc who sometimes bail him up and ask him variations of “are you serious?”
“I feel like I invite those questions, which may be to do with my personality,” says Fritz, amiably. “When I worked under the name Johnny Corndawg I had to explain it all the time and I’d say ‘would you ask 50 Cent or Dr Dre where they got their name?’
It’s the same with humour. If I was a depressed Elliott Smith character nobody would ask me ‘why do you write sad songs? Why don’t you write funny songs?’
“It’s just the scope that I see the world. I have always preferred humour as my scope because I think the world is pretty funny.”
Hey, could be worse Mr Fritz: imagine being Randy Newman and having to answer those questions for 50 years now.
“I’d love to imagine being Randy Newman,” he sighs.
Well, give Super Mega Ultra group Traveller a chance and who knows Mr Fritz, who knows.
Traveller play the Out On The Weekend festival in Williamstown on Saturday, October 14, then Northcote Social Club, October 17, Caravan Music Club, October 18, Coogee Diggers on October 19, and Marrickville Bowlo on October 20.
Western Movies is out on October 13.