Jonny Fritz is used to being out of his element. The Montana-born country music performer has spent a good chunk of the past decade touring, but his stops aren’t the usual destinations for someone calling Nashville home. He has played every state in America, as well as shows across Europe, Argentina and India.
“Even though my music is pretty acutely American in its content, it’s really much more fun to bring that to the rest of the world, to see which parts of which songs resonate with which people,” he says. “It’s a lot more fun for me, knowing that my audience doesn’t understand me.”
He’ll feel right at home next week when he plays gigs around Tokyo, in intimate venues in Shimokitazawa and Golden Gai. It’s a rare chance to catch country music in the capital from an artist who recently played California’s Stagecoach festival, the country music-equivalent of Coachella.
“I couldn’t possibly be more excited about roaming the streets of Tokyo, getting lost, eating bizarre foods and scratching my head, playing tourist,” he says.
The 30-year-old Fritz started making music as a teenager, under the name Jonny Corndawg. His songs drew influence from notable country performers such as Roger Miller and Clint Black but, as his former stage name suggested, he sometimes sounded like he was poking fun at the genre, with lyrics about taking out the garbage or the superiority of Chevrolet’s trucks to Ford’s.
Those were more playful experiences rooted in real life than parody, though, as he also wrote plenty of earnest numbers about more serious topics. This sincerity was most evident on last year’s “Dad Country,” Fritz’s third album and first under his birth name. Lead single “Goodbye Summer” was an upbeat, humorous look at the touring life, including lines about needing new contact-lens solution. That full-length, though, also includes some of his bleakest material to date, written in the wake of a tough romantic breakup.
After a decade of relentless touring, Fritz has found a bit of a breakthrough as of late. He has opened for artists such as The Alabama Shakes and Wanda Jackson. For his Tokyo trip, though, he’ll be on his own.
“One of the shows I’ll be walking through a crowded gallery just singing. We’ll see how well that goes over,” he says referring to a performance at Kita-Aoyama store Bazar et Garde-Manger. After that, he’ll hit Australia before heading home to join a friend on a trip down the Mississippi River.
“But here’s the catch, we’re traveling by jet skis. The trip is over 1,800 miles (2,900 km) and we’re still working out the logistics but I think it should take about three weeks.”
Jonny Fritz plays Bazar et Garde-Manger in Kita-Aoyama on May 17 (5 p.m.; 03-5411-1230); Kangaroo Court Decision in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo on May 19 (7:30 p.m.; donation recommended; 03-3204-6086); and Fu-Chi-Ku-Chi in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, on May 20 (6 p.m.; ¥3,000 in advance; 03-5433-2191); For more information, visit www.jonnyfritz.com.