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Thursday 23 November 2017

Q&A: Writer and musician Willy Vlautin

on juggling literature and rock'n'roll, and having the bejaysus scared out of him

Ed Power

Ed Power

You're doing a reading with Roddy Doyle at Galway Arts Festival. It's a long way from the north side of Dublin to the Pacific Northwest, the setting of your most recent novel. Sounds like a strange pairing.

The socio-economic thing transports from America to Ireland -- or anywhere really. The working life is the working life. Roddy Doyle's ability to drop you into the middle of a family's life and break your heart and make you laugh is what I've always admired about him. He says a lot of important things and at the same time he's really fun to read.

Of course, you also front the alt country outfit Richmond Fontaine. Not that we've ever tried, but juggling a literary career and rock band must be a nightmare?

I do have a difficult time juggling. If you have a hard night out at a bar and come home and are a bit frazzled the next morning, then music sounds really beautiful. I write my best songs when I'm a bit wrecked. When I'm writing fiction, I get up in the morning and go running and live the life of a monk. I have to get my mind really sharp.

It sounds like a tall order.

Yeah, plus we're a mom and pop band. Everyone has to work hard to keep it going. Running the business side of the group is basically a third element to juggle. I love the band and my favourite thing in the world is telling stories. I just keep tryin' to do 'em both.

Your first novel, The Motel Life, is being turned into a movie. Some writers are incredibly protective of their works, others cease to care the moment they've cashed the studio's cheque. Where do you stand?

It's hard to be on both sides of that one. I've always been a big movie buff. When someone adapts your novel, it's like they are covering a song of yours or riffing on something you've done. They've paid me for it, they were really nice -- their hearts are in the right place. You have to kind of let it go -- either don't sell it, or, if you do sell, make sure it's to people who, if they fail, well at least they'll fail honourably.

Speaking of cinema, you are 'presenting' a screening of David Lynch's Blue Velvet in London in the autumn. What gives?

We have a record out in September. It's sort of a way of promoting that. I live in a logging community 35 miles out of Portland. I've been hanging out there a lot and realise David Lynch in many ways had the Northwest pegged pretty right. Granted, he's a maniac and his films are skewed in a certain way. However, the heart of Blue Velvet, I really feel is in the Northwest.

You're making Portland sound like the creepiest place on the planet.

When I first moved here, I dated this girl. She said, 'come over to my house, I wanna show you this movie'. I thought it was called National Velvet. I thought, 'oh great, I gotta watch a girlie horse movie'. So she showed me Blue Velvet and it just scared the shit out of me. So I moved right in with her.

Willy Vlautin reads from his novel Lean On Pete at Hotel Meyrick on July 19. He performs an acoustic show at the Roisin Dubh that night, www.galwayartsfestival.com

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