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CHAPTER AND VERSES; WHETHER WRITING SONGS OR BOOKS, THE TALENTED WILLY VLAUTIN DELIVERS ON EVERY LEVEL. BY MICHAEL SCULLY.

Byline: MICHAEL SCULLY

Richmond Fontaine frontman Willy Vlautin is blazing a trail in the literary world, and his labour of love is finally fast-tracking him to success Vlautin and guitarist Dan Cairns play two acoustic gigs in Whelans tomorrow night.

"The band is a machine in a way - plug it in and it will go whereas the two of us have done a lot of shows together and it's different," said Vlautin.

"It's enjoyable, people get it. It's more intimate, we can play smaller places and I can screw up. With the folky, acoustic thing we can have different song selections. And with a little reading, maybe."

It's only five months since Richmond Fontaine played the Sugar Club but since then Vlautin's third novel, Lean On Pete, has been published in Ireland and Britain and the reaction has been hugely positive.

So at the moment plans for a new RF album are on hold. Vlautin will be heading home to the US after a mini-tour of Ireland that has already taken in Galway and Limerick - he is in the Non Alibis bookstore in Belfast today - as a heavy book promotion schedule lies ahead, with Lean on Pete due out on April 8 in the States.

He admits to being nervous whenever a book of his is published.

"The response over here has been really good. It's seriously nice to dodge a bullet when you get a good review," he smiled.

Lean on Pete comes after This Motel Life and Northline, earlier books that had reviewers reaching for the John Steinbeck comparisons.

It follows the journey of 15-year-old Charley, who leaves behind a wretched life with his father and sets out to save a Portland Meadows racehorse - Lean on Pete - from the knacker's yard.

But Vlautin says the process doesn't get easier.

"It's hard, man," he explained. "With Lean on Pete it was a song first, a seven minute dirge but it's basically the same story that has remained.

"I spent a long time editing it, rewriting, but I knew I liked the kid and he would be alright. "It's nice not having a total trainwreck to write about.

"Sure, he makes a couple of mistakes but one of the reasons I wrote him was because I wanted to be around someone like that.

"He's a good person having to deal with the darker side of humanity."

The book paints a vulgar picture of a sport that's dying in the mid-west, where desperation drives those involved to mistreatment and abuse.

I hope they still like me at Portland Meadows," said Vlautin, who has conflicting emotions about the sport but has been a racegoer at the decaying track for 14 years now.

He speaks of the guilt he felt witnessing a horse break it's leg and collarbone racing. "I was ashamed," he remarked. "But it calls me back."

Perhaps that guilt prompted him into an act of kindness. He bought one quarter-horse - Meritable Dash - for $500 and he keeps it on his property.

At the moment he's working on a series of stories about two gamblers but he already has another novel written and he's editing that. "It's about a nurse who has been around too much death," he said.

"I really believe in the novel, it's the best art form there is. All I want to do is stay in it. I love writing novels above everything. The way I look at it is that if one does alright I might be asked to do another, and that's the most important thing."

After eight albums he still loves his band, too, and his higher profile in the States is gaining them more recognition after 14 years of grafting.

The latest record - 'We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River' - has gained Richmond Fontaine their biggest crowds yet on latest current European tour.

"We were very surprised. It's because people like the new record, when we toured a few months back it was just out but people are more aware of it now," Vlautin said.

"I've been with these guys for so many years and I want something great to happen for them".

Richmond Fontaine (Willy Vlautin and Dan Cairns) play Whelans tomorrow night.

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ON HIS WAY: Willy Vlautin will play to acoustic gigs with Dan Cairns in Whelans tomorrow night
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2010
Words:723
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