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Fletcher Magellan channels heartache through Hank, Waits, whiskey

Cody " Fletcher Magellan" Fitzpatrick and Danny Shaheen

Cody " Fletcher Magellan" Fitzpatrick and Danny Shaheen

With a name perfect for exploring, Fletcher Magellan — the musical moniker of Cody Fitzpatrick — creates new tales under the influence of whiskey and country music forefathers Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. Known previously for his drumming in Minneapolis band El Le Faunt, this new guise sees Fitzpatrick step into the spotlight. 

His debut album, Become a Stranger, is the work of a musician who has put in the hours, gained the callouses, had the arguments, and hit the lows as well as the highs. It’s a rambling but focused collection of minor dramatics, restrained and muted. And it’s about love, of course. 

Fitzpatrick and his band will release the album at newly remodeled the Nicollet cafe on Saturday. Ahead of the show, he shared with City Pages the heartache and stories that went into the new album.

City Pages: What's the meaning behind the name Fletcher Magellan?

Fletcher Magellan: Initially, my idea for Fletcher Magellan was to be a straight-ahead honky-tonk country project  — 10-gallon hats, bolo ties, pearl-button westerns, the whole nine. The Fletcher Magellan character was a way for me to fully embrace and embellish the image of country music. I don't think anybody needs an excuse to throw on a Stetson and a nice Pendleton to go with his cowboy boots and oversized belt buckle, but I went ahead and gave myself one, just to be safe.

As I've played these songs and written new ones over the years, I have grown to appreciate more of the feeling and sentiment of country music, and less of the glitz and glamour behind it. My stage attire is a little more subdued these days than it was when I played my first shows. The saying goes that country music is "three chords and the truth," and that's a sentiment I want to uphold.

The songs I wrote when I first started thinking up Fletcher Magellan five years ago were written as a country pastiche. These days, country music is just how I've learned to express myself. I guess you could say that I used to hide behind Fletcher Magellan, and now I've realized that I am Fletcher Magellan.

CP: Besides stepping out behind the drums, how do you feel this project differs from any of the work you've done before?  

FM: This is the first project that I've worked on that has been totally under my direction. I produced a few albums with Thomas Maddux [lead singer of El Le Faunt] for our label Old Fashioned Records, and obviously played in El Le Faunt for a number of years, but none of those projects were truly mine. I have always helped to shape other people's music, either behind the board or as a musician. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, if you will.

This is the first time that I get to show not only my skills as a producer and arranger, but also as a lyricist and a songwriter. There is one song on Became a Stranger that I think El Le Faunt fans will get a kick out of. When I describe it to folks, I try to say it's what would happen if Hank Williams and Tom Waits had a musical love-child. But it might be safer to say that this could have been an El Le Faunt tune in an alternate universe.

CP: Do you see yourself as more of a drummer or a singer/guitarist?

FM: One thing that I feel I need to clarify — and something I tried to clarify to Thomas Maddux years ago — is that I am not a drummer. I realize how asinine that sounds coming from somebody that played 300-plus shows on the skins, but I have never thought of myself as a drummer.

When Thomas played me the first demos of El Le Faunt back in 2010, I told him that I needed to be a part of it. He handed me a pair of mallets and told me to get to work. We tracked drums for the first EP five days later, on my fifth day behind the kit. Paradiddles, drum rolls, that cool stick-twirling trick drummers do when they're bored? Never learned 'em.

I have been playing guitar since I was 12 and have been writing songs for about that long. I wouldn't want you to hear any songs that I wrote when I was 12, but they're on a mini-cassette somewhere at my folks' house if you're really curious.

CP: Why did you think now was the time to tell your story? What do you feel you were able to tell on this album that you haven't been able to to before?

FM: I've spent the better part of the past two years traveling. I spent the past two summers in a lodge in Denali National Park, Alaska, and have spent a lot of time on the road. There are some songs on the record written in Alaska, and there are some that were written years ago, before I had really left home at all.

"Caroline" was the first song I wrote for Fletch, she's about five years old now. The first line of that one is "I left my home/Became a stranger." At that time, the furthest from home I'd ever been without my folks was Hudson, Wisconsin. Both the songs I'm writing these days as well as the songs I wrote before I became an "enlightened" traveler have taken on a greater meaning to me since I've opened myself up to new places. 

CP: How do you write about "rejecting the familiar and embracing the unknown" — something that's been done before — and make it your own?

FM: It might be impossible to write a new chord progression but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new to be said. I feel the same way about ideas and themes. Embracing the unknown is a theme that's been explored before, sure, but not by me.

I don't mean for that to sound like a cop-out answer, what I mean is: This is something I believe in. It took me almost 25 years to finally collect my cajones and expand my horizons past the Twin Cities, but now that I have, I am so glad that I did. New experiences are rarely easy, and I feel that I touch on lots of different emotions that folks feel when they are in unfamiliar territory.

Musically, I made a choice when I started recording to not use any other country musicians. I wanted to see what kind of record we could make by blending a bunch of people's different styles. One of my favorite country artists is Gram Parsons, but I knew that I could never make another Gilded Palace of Sin. To me, Gram's idea of Cosmic American Music is the creation of something new by mixing lots of disparate genres together.

That said, it was really hard letting go of some of that control and giving my friends the freedom to express themselves through this country lens. Overall, the struggle was well worth it. The record wouldn't be nearly as varied if I had pedal steel and chicken-pickin' Teles all over every track.

CP: Tell me about the song "Stagecoach."

FM: I wrote "Stagecoach" over the course of a week in a house off of Cedar Avenue. I was nursing a broken heart, and was in that sorry, post-breakup state where even the so-called easy things, like tying your shoes or putting milk in your cereal, aren't so easy. The time where every breakup song on the radio is about you, and all you can do is ask "why?" to your whiskey as your pour yourself another.

CP: What other songs are special to you on this album?

FM: "Bicentennial Celebration" holds a dear place in my heart because it's the one song that was recorded live. Back in 2013, I had a band together that had Cole Pulice on tenor sax. We were rehearsing at the Old Fashioned Records studio, and that day, I decided to record the rehearsal. I was playing electric guitar at the time, and it must have been a full moon or something, because Cole and I locked in.

"Oh, No!" is one of the tracks that features Danny Shaheen on lead guitar. Danny and I have been best friends for over 20 years, and we've been playing music together for about 12. Our taste in music hasn't always had a lot of overlap. When he was into Zeppelin, I dug Metallica. When he was listening to Bowie, I was on the Elton John train. When I traded in my metal CDs for Ernest Tubb and Louvin Brothers 45s, he was getting into the Cocteau Twins and Dosh.

Please don't take that to mean that I don't like David Bowie, I don't need to torpedo my music career into oblivion before it's really had a chance. What I'm getting at is that we approach music from completely different angles, and that this works out beautifully on the record. Danny helped turn this simple little folk tune on it's side and become something new. I also love Marc and Emmalyn Kayser's backing vocals on this track. To me, the end sounds like the choir from "Circle of Life" from the Lion King.

CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?

FM: I'm really excited to play these songs in a full-band context for the first time in years. Since I've been doing so much traveling, I haven't had a chance to put a band together until now, and I'm honored to be working with such talented musicians. When I write music, I usually write with a whole band in mind.

I sometimes get frustrated performing solo, because what I'm hearing in my head is so much more than what I can pull off with just one body. It's been a dream come true hearing these songs come to life in rehearsal, and I can't wait to show off this shiny ensemble to the public!

Fletcher Magellan album-release party

With: Fairfax, AK, the Nathan Scott Phillips Band

Where: The Nicollet

When: 8 p.m. Sat., January 30

Tickets: $5