Joshua Fleming is at a crossroads. The 30-year-old has been playing music for more than half his life. Looking back on all the time he’s invested –– the early years spent hopping from genre to genre, trying to find the type of artist he wanted to be, to the countless nights writing, performing, and (perhaps most importantly) networking – he feels reaffirmed by those “trials of perseverance,” as he put it.
“I started playing music on New Year’s Eve of the year 2000, and [in that time] I heard a lot of ‘no’s, ” he said with a laugh during a phone interview. “Vandoliers is the first band I’ve ever had where people said, ‘Yeah!’ ”
The most significant of those “yeah”s came from Bloodshot Records, the vaunted Chicago-based indie/alt-country label that scooped up Vandoliers during South by Southwest last year. The raucous six-piece is releasing its first album for that label on Friday.
Forever, Vandoliers’ third full-length, contains 10 hard-charging tracks about life on the road and bad-boy shenanigans draped over fuzzy guitars, a flighty fiddle, and punchy horns, all with Fleming’s signature gravelly, wink-eyed vocal swagger.
Fleming wrote most of the album’s material while the band was in the middle of an uncharacteristic lull. Vandoliers had a lot of momentum after the release of 2017’s The Native, but he said that behind the scenes, things were a little uncertain.
“It was a really weird time for me,” he said. “Everything was kind of changing – we changed labels, we changed management, we changed booking. And when that stuff happens, everything just kind of stops. I went from touring all the time to not touring at all. I tried to write as many songs as I could in the off time. We wrote probably 50 songs.”
Now entering a relationship with a national label, Fleming initially put a lot of pressure on himself to produce material befitting of the band’s new labelmates – heavy hitters like Neko Case, Firewater, and Andrew Bird. But as the time to record drew closer, the amicable relationship that developed with the Bloodshot team relaxed him and gave him the confidence to just continue to do what got him and the band to that point in the first place.
“Bloodshot is so artist friendly,” he said. “They just want you to make the record that you want to make. The pressure just kind of melted away. They don’t give a shit about radio. They just want you to make your art because they like your art.”
The backlog of material that Fleming wrote afforded Vandoliers the opportunity to cull the best songs. A pair of those tunes have been released as singles – the misfit anthem “Troublemaker” and the raspy ballad “Cigarettes in the Rain,” which was co-written by John Pedigo of The O’s (who produced Vandoliers’ two previous albums) and Nashville songwriter Arlis Albritton (David Allen Byrnes, Luke Bryan).
“It was different writing with him,” Fleming said of Albritton. “It was really cool. I was comfortable with [Pedigo], but I didn’t know Arlis. But he’s just so personable. He just started diving into my life – where I’d been, what I’d done. It was kind of like a counseling session.”
To track the album, Vandoliers headed to Memphis to record in American Recording Studios, the famed spot known for Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, to name a few. Adam Hill (Low Cut Connie, Deer Tick) helmed the eight-day sessions, egging the band to stay behind the beat and keep the tempos up as they tracked mostly all together in the studio’s one big room to best capture a live feel. Fleming said he couldn’t be happier with the results.
“We just wanted to make a record we’re proud of,” he said. “And, honestly, I played my best on this – everybody played their best. There wasn’t a lot of overdubbing, it was just, ‘Play it fucking right.’ Most of the songs were done in a take or two.”
Fittingly, the cover of Forever features a perspective of train tracks leading into the distance, evoking the countless miles the band has put behind them in four short years and the many more they’ll log over the next couple. They head out on the road to support the album the day after their release show at the Granada Theater in Dallas on Friday, and they won’t be home for a while.
“We’re heading out to Oklahoma, then the through the Midwest,” Fleming said. “Then we go to the West Coast, then back east, then Europe. The next few years are shot.”
Vandoliers album release show
Fri at 7pm w/Ottoman Turks and Bryce Bangs at The Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Av, Dallas. $12-20. 214-824-9933.