This Saturday, February 7, Sub Pop recording artists Fruit Bats return to Seattle to perform at the Vera Project on what happens to be the occasion of the all-ages organization’s 8th birthday. It’s been half that time since Fruit Bats put out a new album. In a full decade, the band has put out only three albums of excellent folky indie pop: Echolocation (2001), Mouthfuls (2003), and Spelled in Bones (2005). Apparently now, Eric Johnson, the band’s principle member and songwriter, is about to take some time, even while still a member of labelmates The Shins, to record a new album set to be released... soon. We hope.
KEXP was fortunate to have Eric Johnson and the rest of the Fruit Bats touring band stop by our broadcast from the Bay Area last week. Here’s a video of the new song “Canyon Girl” followed by an interview with Eric about the tour and the forthcoming album:
interview by Jim Beckmann
KEXP: It’s been how many years since Spelled in Bones came out?
Eric: It’s coming up on four years.
What was the impetus to get you into recording again?
I was really busy doing The Shins thing, and the impetus was finally having the time. It had always been there; I just had to get it out.
And ironically, you found the time while you were on tour with them, right?
Yeah, oddly enough.
So, the sound seems a little different. You have a very distinctive voice, that people will always recognize, but the new songs sound a bit different, especially those last two songs you played [during the KEXP session]. The song ” Tegucigalpa” [the capital of Honduras] tells a long story -- what was that about?
That’s kind of a song about how everywhere I go it gets cold. I just have this curse, like when we were on tour in Florida in January and it was a record cold temperature, and everywhere I go it’s like the record cold temperature. But my friend Michael Johnson was born in Miami on the only day it ever snowed there, but I changed the name to ” Tegucigalpa” just to make it exotic sounding. It’s just about weird weather.
Is this the largest group you’ve played with?
I’ve played with a five-piece before, but this is probably the longest I’ve ever had to put something together slowly and meticulously.
Do you have your next album written out already?
Yeah, it’s ready to go. This tour is kind of a test run.
Obviously, then, you’re going to play new songs when you’re at the Vera Project?
Yeah, mostly new songs, but there should be some old favorites sprinkled in there to keep everybody happy.
I know you play with The Shins these days, but is there anyone else that you’ve been working with?
I’ve been playing with Vetiver. I played on their new album, which is due like, any minute. And I did some touring with them off and on as a kind of extra guy playing mainly keyboards, but they’re just friends of mine and I love their music.
Yeah, they’d be really great touring mates also because their music has a similar, but different, sound. There was definitely a western sound to what you were playing today. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but there were some interesting melodies, like in that last song that was almost Native American sounding in a way, which is different from what I heard from Fruit Bats before.
Yeah, it’s been a long time, and Spelled in Bones came out four years ago, but I wrote it six or seven years ago, and a lot changes in a person’s life in six or seven years. Especially from the age I was then to the age I am now -- being 25 and then being 32, you’re in kind of a different place.
Did you write your new songs throughout that whole period, or did you write them in a batch?
It’s a bit of both, like some of them I’m still working on, and I probably will still be working on until the eleventh hour.
Are you still changing older songs?
Yeah, I’m kind of revising some of them. I’m really a tinkerer, which is a good and bad thing sometimes.
It’s good for fans too, so they don’t hear the same old thing every time, and I’m sure the newer band members change things up too.
Yeah, these guys are really great. I can sit back and let them sculpt things a bit.
Right now you’re working your way up the West Coast?
Down, and then back up.
And you’re going to be recording back in Chicago? Is that where you’ll end up?
Well, we’re playing a show in Chicago, but the tour ends in Seattle, and then a couple of weeks off. Then I’ll fly out to Chicago.
When can we anticipate this album coming out? Are you shooting for ’09?
(laughs) Well, you’ll have to ask Sub Pop about that one. I’m not totally sure. I’d love to get it in soon. I don’t want people to have to wait five years for a new album. Half a decade kind of seems like a long time.
Do you imagine once you get into the studio it’ll go quickly?
Yeah, and that’s kind of what this tour is for, to kind of flush everything out.
Right, so you won’t have to try to “find yourselves’”in the studio.
This is my favorite lineup. I think it’ll be really great.