The rebirth of Tony Furtado
If YOu Go...
Who: Tony Furtado Duo
When: 8:30 p.m. on Friday
Where: Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale
Tickets: Cash at door
Tony Furtado is no stranger to Steve’s Guitars, but the Steve’s community will be seeing a new, even more authentic version of the singer-songwriter on Friday when he takes that tiny stage.
That’s because Furtado’s 17th and latest album, “The Bell,” is his most personal release yet — for a variety of reasons. He funded and produced it himself using Kickstarter, and he went through two huge personal changes that led to more introspective songwriting: his father died, and his son was born.
“I think this album sounds more like me than any of them, especially since all the songs are more personal than anything I’ve ever written,” Furtado said. “The whole album is somewhat of a rebirth for me and an empowered feeling.”
Furtado started playing banjo at 12 years old after a 6th grade report on the instrument. He does not come from a musical family, and at the time, he was more interested in making things with his hands than playing music.
But that affinity for building was what made his 6th grade assignment a perfect fit: He was to give a report on an instrument and make that instrument out of household items.
“When I did the report and found out it had this rich history, I thought, ‘I don’t know anyone who plays banjo. I want to play banjo,’” he said.
Though his hand-made banjo was surely a great product of household item engineering, his parents bought him his first real banjo for his 12th birthday, and as long as he kept his grades up, he was able to play it as often as he wanted. Sometimes, that meant practicing for six or eight hours a day.
Over the years, he picked up other instruments, like cello-banjo, baritone ukulele and slide guitar.
“Guitar is almost sonically the opposite of banjo; where banjo is more plucky, slide guitar is more languid,” Furtado said. “It’s kind of supposed to be a response to vocals.”
The multi-instrumentalist started to dabble in singing and songwriting about 15 years ago, taking his music to another level and adding more of his own personality to what he plays.
“I always knew I would [become a singer-songwriter] eventually, but I think I needed to feel I had something to say,” he said. “It was like learning an instrument. Eventually, I would write from a deeper place, and my voice grew with it.”
Furtado won the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship in 1987 and again in 1991. He’s collaborated with such acclaimed musicians as Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Stuart Duncan, Kelly Joe Phelps and Mike Marshall. He has toured with Gregg Allman, David Lindley, Derek Trucks and Sonny Landreth, and he’s performed at prestigious music festivals like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Jazz Aspen, just to name a local few.
But what he may be most proud of at all is “The Bell,” his most recent album which came out this June. After decades in the music industry, Furtado was finally all on his own to create a project that sounds exactly how he wanted it to.
The writing of the album started when Furtado’s father died.
“I remember I needed to sit down and do something, and eventually a bunch of songs started coming out,” he said.
Another influence on the songs was his new marriage and baby boy.
“When something happy happens, that’s a good time to write, too,” he said.
Because Furtado was working completely independently, he was able to take his time with his writing and make sure each song said something he felt he needed to say.
With that luxury, though, came some challenges. A self-run Kickstarter campaign requires a lot of time, he said, including creating a compelling video to encourage fans to fund the project, as well as fulfilling rewards once the project is funded. Furtado offered up some of his sculptures, banjo and guitar lessons and concerts, all of which take quite a bit of time to fulfill.
In the end, though, Furtado said the independent route was the only one that made sense for this album.
“I had to do it this way,” he said. “I think it’s my best album. And the reason I could create the music on it the way it sounds is because it’s my label. I made it sound exactly how I needed it to sound.”
Furtado will play songs from “The Bell” as well as older favorites with Sam Howard on bass at Steve’s Guitars, and he’s looking forward to taking the stage there once again.
“It’s Steve’s, you know?” he said. “It’s super intimate and cozy, and the energy is undeniable because people are scrunched on your lap, and you can hear a pin drop. And the duo thing is a lot of fun because with that I’ve got someone to play off of, and it gives what I do a little bit more muscle, a little bit more depth.”
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