Bluegrass is only skin deep. Tony Furtado very well might seem like a perfectionist upon first inspection. But that might not be completely accurate. First he's not a jerk. Invariably, perfectionists are jerks, mostly by necessity. Striving for perfection just has that effect on people. Perhaps it's more accurate to just say that Furtado really cares about his music.
Furtado is packing his bags for a trip to Boston when I catch up with him on a Friday afternoon and he's telling me about the plans for his new record, which is the reason he's heading across the country from his home in Portland. About a year and a half ago, Furtado released Thirteen, his 13th record featuring 13 songs (not a coincidence) and while the CD enjoyed a favorable response, he nonetheless had some reservations about the product. And this is where the hints of perfectionism come through - only to be quickly and casually quelled by an air of realism that seems to have been shaped by Furtado's lengthy recording career.
"In the end you just have to let it go. Everyone around me is like 'this is great!' so you have to kind of be like, 'cool,' and let it go," Furtado says.
For this record, Furtado is taking a simpler route than he did when laying down the tracks for Thirteen in a Tucson studio. This time around, he's providing much of his own instrumentation, relying on only producer Sean Slade (known for work with Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr.) to chip in when needed.
"It's going to be less of an event," he says of the impending recording sessions with Slade, "Let's just put these songs down the way they should be and cut the bull."
While Furtado is clearly particular when it comes to his recording, the Americana multi-instrumentalist, whose tunes range from blues to rock to neo-bluegrass, is best known for the rampant tour schedule he's maintained throughout his career. For the past couple of years, however, he's logged less miles than in his younger days, focusing on writing new material and playing the occasional low-key show in Portland. Most live music heads in Bend remember Furtado's frequent Domino Room appearances, the last of which was in January of 2007. This summer we'll have Furtado in town (and near town) three times; a free headlining gig at the Bite of Bend with a newly formed trio, followed by an appearance at Angeline's in Sisters in early July, and capped off by a Munch and Music show in mid-August.
"I'm trying to be careful about [touring] and I don't feel like I have to live up to a reputation, but I do feel like I need to get back to certain markets so people don't forget," says Furtado of his philosophy behind his tour schedule.
Some old-school fans might remember Furtado as a banjo master (he was widely declared a prodigy of the instrument at the age of 19) but he doesn't pluck the 'jo as much as he once did during his show - maybe this is the evolution of perfectionism? Perhaps. "What I'm doing now is way different than what I was doing 10 or 15 years ago," he says.
And what he's listening to is also always changing. He currently credits the Wisconsin cabin-dwelling songwriter Bon Iver as a key inspiration for his new record, as well as a reason to rekindle his love for Elliott Smith and Tom Waits. We'll have to see if these influences bleed through on the forthcoming record - whether it's perfect by Furtado's standards or not.
Tony Furtado at Bite of Bend
8:30pm Saturday, June 22. Downtown Bend. Free.