Fritz Hutchison thinks the universe is trying to tell him something.
Getting his first solo record out has taken years. Back in 2015, when the Kansas City singer and songwriter started writing most of his debut, he got sidetracked making music with his other band She’s a Keeper. At the time, he was still figuring out how he wanted to exist as a musician and took every gig he could get, joined a few jazz bands, a New Orleans blues band and went all in being a drummer—and even took a landscaping side hustle.
“I sort of ended up detouring away from my own material for a couple of years because of that,” Hutchison tells American Songwriter. “In that time, I like didn’t have any creative energy leftover to write my own songs, because I was just going to gigs three times a week and playing all these covers and learning all this material and co-writing again with other band members.”
Slotting in one project after another, his album sat on the shelf a little longer, until he connected with Center Cut Records. Now motivated to revisit parts of songs he had been filing away, Hutchison hunkered down, dusted off his mostly done record, and eventually released his Wide Wild Acres on March 27, right in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
“It’s almost funny because of how long I sat on it,” says Hutchison. “It just feels like it has already taken years for this to come out, and then when it finally does, it’s like nope, there’s a pandemic. And you’re like, ‘is the universe telling me something?’”
Still, he’s partly relieved to have some time off to handle some of the logistics of putting out an album. “It’s a good and bad time for this album to be coming out,” says Hutchison. “It’s bad for the obvious reasons since people can’t go to a show or anything, but it’s good because I’ve had a lot to do with regards to the album, so it helps me keep my sanity a little bit.”
Co-produced with Joel Nanos (Mumford and Sons, Yungblud), Hutchison played all the instruments on Wide Wild Acres, with the exception of a few chosen musicians. In the end, Hutchison was left with eight tracks—some of which were held over from his She’s a Keeper sessions.
A self-titled album was not on the radar for Hutchison’s debut. Wide Wild Acres was his favorite track on the album, so he decided to use it as the album’s title. More personal for Hutchison, the slowed tempo title track, is an homage to his family, something Wide Wild Acres approaches in poignant and nostalgic lyrics on growing up and finding one’s self, familial ties, and love.
For Hutchison, melody typically comes first and lyrics fall into place later, but “Wide Wild Acres” just bursted out. “It was just like boom, and everything happened at the same time, and it was very clear,” says Hutchison. ”That song, more so than the others on the record, really just fell out of my brain in a very complete way. I was always very comfortable with the identity of that song, so I felt comfortable assigning it as the identity for the record as well.”
Literally, the “acres” is about his aunt and uncle who live north of Kansas City on a 77-acre plot of land outside of Plattsburgh, MO. “It’s a song about family in an extended way,” he says. “So it’s kind of a tip of the hat to have my family and where I come from in there.”
Writing all depends on the song, but it’s generally a slower process for Hutchison. Opening track “Stationary” was written fairly quickly to get out of a funk. “I was like, ‘I need to do this today, and it needs to get done,’ but that’s a rare practice for me,” says Hutchison.
The remainder of Wide Wild Acres was pieced together over the course of a year or so from words and ideas jotted down like small sketches and songs, verses, and melodies. “It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle of ideas that are not immediately related,” says Hutchison. “They end up getting pieced together slowly over time.”
Other times, an idea can get dispersed into three different songs. Lyrics from one song and a chord progression and melody from another formed the angsty, “Schnatterling Dream,” a love song swelled in the ebb and flow of frustration and acceptance. Keeping in line with his process, the original melody for the song, Hutchison says, is being used for another song on a future album.
“I try to keep tabs on all of my mediocre ideas, because eventually some of these pieces will get applied to something better,” says Hutchison. “It takes a while, and it feels like I sit around for a year to write something in 15 minutes.”
Hutchison’s jazz roots ooze out in “Powder Blue,” a two-fold tale on the awkwardness of young love. Partly based on Hutchison’s mid-teen years, not knowing how to ask a girl out and that first kiss. Talking about it now, Hutchison feels nervous all over again. “You hear how I’m talking about it right now,” jokes Hutchison. “It’s still awkward to feel uncomfortable a little bit.”
Tying back into family, “Powder Blue” is also a reminisce of his parents’ love, and how his father wore an embarrassing powder blue outfit on their first date, the moment narrated in lyrics Covered in powdered blue and involved in a worried mind.
“It’s about those superficial factors, the anxiety that comes along with worrying about your presentation,” he says. “All of a sudden you’re thinking more about yourself and about this other person that you’re supposed to be giving your attention to, and it happens fast like that.”
Overall, Hutchison says he just went with what sounded right on Wide Wild Acres, and allowed songs and meanings to evolve over time. “That’s the thing with these lyrics,” he says. “I write them down based on what sounds good, and then later on, aside from a few obvious metaphors, I’m like ‘oh, that’s what I was saying.’ I have to feel what it’s about, but I can’t logically tell you what I’m actually saying until later.”
In sequencing, “Stationary” was the first track Hutchison recorded with Nanos, so it kicked things off, along with punchier follow up “Police Dogs.” Packed with more major chord progressions and lighter, Hutchison jokes that in sequencing the album he wanted to draw people in early on before tracks got darker.
“I think about that scene in High Fidelity when John [Cusack] is talking about making a mix tape and how it’s like an art form and has an emotional arc,” says Hutchison. “I kind of think of it the same way that I would think about writing a set list for a show. I want to do something lighter early on, and get it out of the way so everyone is welcomed in. Everyone has their foot in the door within two minutes, and then there’s that high energy, and when everybody’s on your team, you can open up and tell them something vulnerable about yourself. Then you get sympathy, and after that, it’s kind of like do whatever you want.”
Hutchison says Kansas City is an interesting music scene of sub scenes and deeper stylistic pockets of everything from hip-hop and jazz, so musicians tend to dip their hands in little bit of everything. Along with She’s a Keeper, Hutchison has served as a drummer for alt-rockers Fullbloods and a guitarist and singer for folk-rock band Lorna Kay’s One Night Stand, among other projects throughout the years.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities that I might not have in a bigger city,” says Hutchison. “There’s also kind of an ego check here. You can be a super bad ass here, but you’re still here. People are so incredibly skilled and talented and prolific, and everyone is still very open to each other’s contributions. There’s really is no reason to leave anybody out, because there’s room for everybody. I think everybody kind of share that sentiment.”
As Hutchison remains in lockdown, he’s releasing live performances and music videos around the new tracks and is even putting the pieces in place for a second album.
“I feel like I’m in a good position to tie up loose ends lyrically,” says Hutchison. “I’ve been working on arrangements, because I want the next record to be more horn oriented. “Once the horn players came in (on “Powder Blue” and “Schnatterling Dream”), I realized that can’t live without it now,” says Hutchison. “There’s such a cathartic emotion that horns bring. It feels like there’s something magical, and a presence that really taps into something for me.”
Hutchison is proud of Wide Wild Acres and feels he needed to get these songs out after so many years. “It’s a weird time because you can’t play live,” he says. “I also miss going to live shows, but I feel like it’s a test in some way. I’m going to keep the connection with this album, do what I can do once all of this goes away, then work on the next one.”
He adds, “I’m trying to get myself into a position that once businesses are open again and we can go back into the studio, I can go in and hit it hard and have a pretty clear vision. Hopefully by this time next year another record will be out, and people will think that I’m prolific.”