Based out of Cardiff, Gavin Fitzjohn is an acclaimed musician and producer who has worked with everyone from Gruff Rhys to Paolo Nutini. Gavin Fitzjohn is also 299, the seedy underbelly of the American touring circuit, a travelling guitar-for-hire, using crockery for percussion and a quarter for a guitar pick. On his debut album, The 299 Game, Gavin set out to capture the spirit of his grand American road trip. The songs serve as, “Polaroids of a man travelling around an unfamiliar place, surrounded by surreal characters”. Recently released via PNKSLM Recording, The 299 Game is intriguing and unusual, the sound of American diners re-imagined through the eyes of David Lynch, where Tom Waits plays on the jukebox, with no regard for whether anyone requested it to or not.
Thankfully, throughout The 299 Game, Gavin doesn’t simply go straight for the Americana-melodrama. At its heart, the record is a loving portrayal, as with the Coen Brothers or Wim Wenders there’s a genuine admiration for the faded American dream that’s on show throughout the album. Musically, he dips into a variety of sounds and eras, True Blue You clatters like just-gone-electric Bob Dylan, It’s Not The Time sounds like The Velvet Underground covering Frankie Valli, while closing Watertown is a homage to Frank Sinatra that sounds more like Timber Timbre than Old Blue Eyes. Best of all is the recent single, Picking Through The Scraps, reminiscent of his label-mate Henrik Appel, the track is a perfect blend of retro rock’n’roll, with enough stompy, wild-eyed flair to keep it fresh and exciting, as Gavin searches for a redeeming quality inside himself, “I’m picking through the scraps, what’s left of me, to see what I can give to my baby”. The 299 Game paints pictures of America and in many ways, they are unflinching ones. The record doesn’t just pull influence from the seedy side of the American Dream, it revels in it, rolls around in the sleazy side and likes what it finds there. This is a world we all know, a story we’ve all heard before, yet looking at it through 299’s eyes it feels fresh, intriguing and just the right amount of dangerously unhinged.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is 299?
My name is Gavin Fitzjohn. I’ve toured and recorded with artists and bands for years as a musician and producer, people like Paolo Nutini, Manic Street Preachers and Gruff Rhys. But 299? Well he’s me… I think. We spent a long time travelling through the U.S, from Phoenix to Houston to Dallas to Tampa, out to New Orleans and way out in Joshua Tree. We slept in the desert and drank in forgotten towns, we met Colombian acrobats and Russian strong men. It was a weird time, almost unreal. There was an uneasy feeling that I just couldn’t shake, the music of 299 is that feeling, each song a snapshot just out of focus. If I didn’t have the polaroids I myself wouldn’t believe the stories.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Currently 299 is only documented on record. It’s the first 299 album so there’s been no live show to date, that’s something I’d like to change.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Various art forms were integral to the making of this record, visual imagery is really important to the 299. I like photographers who shoot the seemingly mundane, people like Stephen Shore, Wim Wenders and Martin Parr, Neil Krug’s ‘Pulp’ was also massively inspirational for me. Films too, ‘El Topo’, ‘Papillon’ and ‘Paris, Texas’ are all movies that helped me shape 299 but playing and writing music is what I do, it’s all I know. I remember being sat down by my mother as a young child and we listened to ‘Black Sabbath’ by Black Sabbath. That record terrified me, the rain, the thunder, the church bells, you are instantly pulled into their world, music has the power to do that and that is why I created 299. I want people to hear the rumble of the tyres, to not give a fuck, to feel the sweaty regret of a hangover, to confront themselves – I want them on this bizarre and wonderful journey.
FTR: What can people expect from the 299 live show?
My aim is to bring the sound and world of 299 to the stage. It will be a trip.
FTR: What’s next for 299?
The album ‘The 299 Game’ is released on May 21st via PNKSLM Recordings. I can’t wait for people to hear the whole thing start to finish, headphones on, eyes closed. After that hopefully some live stuff but in terms of another 299 record, I don’t know… when I next see him I’ll ask him.
They Listen To…
Jim Sullivan – Jerome
I like music with a story and this is quite a tragic one. Jim Sullivan was a folk singer based on the West Coast and released two albums in the late 60s. Then one day, on a road trip to Nashville he vanished without a trace. Sullivan’s first record was called UFO so some people have attributed his disappearance to an alien abduction.
Redbone – The Witch Queen Of New Orleans
The production on this track is so good it just sounds great.
Sibylle Baier – Tonight
Another amazing story, Sibylle Baier recorded all her music on a tape machine at home in the 70s. It wasn’t until years later (bizarrely via J Mascis) that the tracks surfaced. It’s haunting and beautiful.
The Velvet Underground – The Gift
The production on this track is wild and whenever I feel trapped inside a song or structure I listen to this – 8 minutes of a distorted jam with a short story narrated by John Cale.
Frank Sinatra – Michael and Peter
This song is from an album called Watertown, a really important record for me. Now, I get it, Frank Sinatra is an odd choice. The thing is it’s an amazing, crazy album written and produced by Bob Gaudio from The Four Seasons. An even better version (in my opinion) of this track exists on youtube as a demo (search “Michael & Peter Watertown demo?”). It’s a journey of a listen and it’s not a coincidence that the last song on the new 299 is called ‘Watertown’!