“I despise comedy music, I gotta tell you.” This is pretty funny, especially coming from Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, whose latest album Down On The Bikini Line (set for release this fall) happens to have some of the most whip-smart and hilarious lyrics to be put on tape in Nashville in a generation, maybe two. See, the thing is that Corndawg writes songs culled from real life, and like real life things just tend to get a bit ridiculous and make a run for the weird every now and again. “I’ve never taken things very seriously – well, I do take things seriously but I also don’t take things all that seriously…I’m just not that songwriter.”
If the Virginia-native, former Nashvillian and current New Yorker were to be lumped into the “humorist” category, he would most certainly be grouped with the Zach Galifianakis’ and Louis C.K.s of the world – people that can see beyond the monotony to find the absurdity of everyday life – rather than the Hee-Haws and Homer & Jethros. Despite having one of the most killer country bands in the city backing him up – it wouldn’t be an understatement to call this band Nashville’s indie A-team – and an affection for the small town point of view, Corndawg is anything but cornpone.
Sharp and observational, Corndawg doesn’t make parody records, isn’t satirizing anything and never goes for the easy gag. His songs are conversational, crafted in a manner that’s equal parts ‘old buddy telling crazy stories’ and ‘old buddy playing word games to mess with your head.’ “When a Ford Man Turns To Chevy” could just have easily been another Music Row marketing vessel, but it takes a turn for the spititual – and hyperbolic – that you’d never see coming. “Undercover Dad” takes country music’s obsession with father-daughter songs and shines a light on how weird and creepy that sub-genre really is. All of the humor lies in the mundane nature of the subject matter, be it laser hair removal or the daily habits of bears.
“I’ve never tried to write a song where I think: this would sell or, if this fits this band, I could write a song for them. I have never in my life tried to write a song about something. People always say you should write a song about something,” says Corndawg. “If I sit down and it comes out then I’ll write it down, but I never sit down and say ‘What would be the next funniest thing to say?’”
“Most of my songs come to me when I’m running – I’m really into running – or on the motorcycle. Places where I just don’t have a pen and my mind is opened up and relaxed. When I’m not really thinking about anything, then it seems to really flow out. Then I can only hang on to or remember part of the thing, and I have to finish it another time. Right now I’m sitting on twelve unfinished songs – I got a line and a chorus or a concept and a melody. I just lose interest so quickly. If it didn’t come out all at once, I don’t really want to force it.”
“My favorite song I’ve ever written – though I don’t feel like I can take credit for writing it, even though I did – it’s called ‘Silver Panty Liners’ and it’s on the new record. I was living in West Nashville about a year and a half ago, and I had this little concrete room, this little bunker where the hot water heater sat on an old table…You had to climb up through this little square doorway and go behind the washing machine – it was the ultimate writing room. I was sitting in there for seven hours, just like forever, waiting, trying to write whatever. I said, ‘To hell with this, I’m gonna go make a sandwich or something’… and just like if somebody had turned a stereo on or an alarm clock came on blaring, this song just came pouring out of me.”
The suddenness and spontaneity of his lyrics – the way words and meaning zig and zag like a drunk preacher on a mountain – definitely captures the manic magic of our modern era, but have the out-of-space-out-of-time quality that makes Roger Millers’ “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd” such timeless advice. Down On The Bikini Line fires on all mental cylinders – many of which have been left to rust by Music Row for decades now – creating heartfelt, hyperactive country-rock that’s definitely no joke.