Interview: Fruit Bats
Published on October 3rd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Fruit Bats are back with their fifth album Tripper, the introspective follow-up to 2009’s widely praised The Ruminant Band and a thing of such sheer melodic beauty and beguiling, occasionally otherworldly arrangements that it is already certain to figure prominently amongst Rocksucker’s favourite albums of 2011.
Loosely based on a train journey from Chicago to Olympia that he made ten years ago alongside a hobo named Tony, who apparently offered him acid and threatened to kill him, Tripper was a more personal project for chief Fruit Bat Eric D. Johnson than the relatively collaborative Ruminant Band, an approach entirely evident in its peaks and troughs of emotions so dreamily conveyed that it all winds up life-affirming either way.
Rocksucker was thrilled to get the chance to fire over some questions to Eric about his glittering new album, life on the road, his forthcoming children’s shows and what we can expect from not just the next Fruit Bats record but also that of the band for whom he plays bass in his spare time (some chancers known as The Shins, apparently)…
Firstly, congratulations on a beautiful new album. It sounds like you’re in a good place right now – is that an accurate supposition to make?
I’d like to think so. Five albums in is an interesting spot to be in, I suppose. Oh, and thanks – glad you like it!
Were all of the songs on Tripper written close together, or do any of their origins date back a few years?
This was the closest I’ve ever written anything together. Generally writing is a long, slow process and I draw from a huge deep pool of fragments from over the years. Tripper is a bit more immediate. There was even some stuff I wrote in the studio as we were going.
There’s a very distinct effect on your voice across the album. What is it, and what attracted you to it?
What you’re likely hearing is doubling. I doubled my lead vocals on almost everything which weirdly can give things a haunted, inorganic quality that I like. Plus there’s likely liberal amounts of reverb and slapback delay on it as well. It was just something that seemed to work.
On The Ruminant Band, you talked about how you let the rest of the band assume more responsibility on the recordings. Was that the case this time around too?
The band came in and hung out for the first couple of weeks, but then I went into the studio wormhole by myself for the rest of the time. So it was a bit of both – a band process and very much me in a cave by my lonesome.
Who made the artwork for Tripper (see image at the end)?
My wife Annie Beedy took the photos and came up with the triangle idea. Sasha Barr from Sub Pop came up with the awesome die-cut concept. It’s my favourite Fruit Bats album cover, I’m pretty sure.
Whose idea was the video for “You’re Too Weird”? Is that song dedicated to anyone in particular?
It’s not about anyone in particular. The idea behind the lyrics is actually kind of based on “Drive” by The Cars, which is a devastating song if you’ve ever listened close. Basically it’s a love song from the perspective of someone who loves another person who is incredibly damaged – and is telling them that there is literally no one else who could ever put up with them. It’s a pretty sad song. The video is not sad – it was made by the directing team The General Assembly. The concept was more or less a result of having a small budget and deciding to make something that was very lo-fi and crazy-looking. Those dudes are genius.
Who or what is your particular “Wild Honey”? Is the song in any way a tribute to The Beatles and The Beach Boys’ respective dalliances with wild honey (in the case of the former, in pie form)?
“Wild Honey” is actually a cover, written by my friend Diane Izzo. Diane passed away from brain cancer the day we started recording Tripper. So this is a tribute to her… its more or less a Buddhist hymn.
How’s the tour going? Do you get much time to enjoy yourself while out on the road?
No time at all! Seriously, this tour has been crazy busy. Its been like a bus-tour schedule but in a couple of vans. We used to run around like we were on vacation but it’s become all business this time around…
What kind of a set will you play at your forthcoming kids’ shows? Are you working on some infant-friendly stage banter?
I’m not too sure, but I am terrified about this prospect, you know? We actually have to write a kids song. I think we’re gonna do one about juice boxes. Or blankies.
This might be a very premature question but do you have material in mind for the next album?
Very premature. But maybe orchestral. Don’t quote me on that. Or quote me…
How was the boat ride with Captain Johnny?
Amazing! Captain Johnny walked on to the boat from the street with no shoes. I don’t think he ever has owned shoes. Everyone on the boat ride puked the whole way out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a blast.
What can we expect from the next Shins record? What have been your contributions to it so far?
It’s gonna be great, I think. I’ve been working on the record but won’t be in the touring line-up as I’m pretty crazed with my own stuff. The new record is both poppier and weirder all at once, that’s all I can divulge at this time…
Are there any up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend?
Finally, if I asked you right now to name your top three albums of all time, off the top of your head, which would you pick?
Jeez – that’s tough! Basically impossible. As far as the utmost pervasiveness to my universe, ones that never ever get old: The Kinks – The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, The Byrds – Notorious Byrd Brothers and Neil Young – After the Gold Rush. But again, that is an absolutely impossible question. This is simply the “gun to my head” answer.
Eric, thank you.