Interview: Fruit Bats

Henry Hauser and Fruit Bats’ singer-songwriter Eric Johnson shoot the breeze on his new LP Tripper, seasonal shifts, and the dichotomy between cold and warm.

One Thirty BPM (Henry Hauser): Your new song “Heart Like An Orange” has a really gorgeous ephemeral vibe – what’s the inspiration?

Fruit Bats (Eric Johnson): That song came out of a trip I took to Florida a few years ago, but the story is based on several different subjects and experiences that I’ve found fascinating. Florida is a strange place – somewhat similar to the West Coast, but much more damaged. In a lot of ways “Heart Like An Orange” channels the movie Midnight Cowboy – folks hope to escape that oppressive cold of winter for some obscure Promised Land. This is my version of that story.

A few years back I took a boat ride on the Gulf of Mexico with my wife and “Captain Johnny,” a Kirk Russell-type beach bum that walked around downtown with no shoes and a set of raccoon eyes. My song has Captain Johnny coming from someplace cold around the Great Lakes – maybe upstate New York. He heads down to Florida for a chance at the good life but ends up a vagabond. Though he finds some redemption in a girl that he believes could be the answer to all his problems, she’s actually more trouble than he bargained for.

The song is about running away, finding something you think you need, but discovering only more damage. The track is fun, danceable, and has an element of sunshine – but it ends on a suspended note as we sit tentatively in this girl’s apartment trying to figure out our next move.

The cold of winter has been a theme running through your last couple of albums – especially “Tegucigalpa” on Ruminant Band. Does it have personal significance?

Being from the Midwest and growing up with those winters, I’ve always had an obsession with the dichotomy between cold and warm. It’s something that’s came into play a lot in my life. I’d catch myself thinking: “if it was only warm, everything would be alright.”

Tripper channels this totally timeless open highway fetish, does that mean you’re rearing to hit the road?

I’m actually starting a new tour tomorrow, so I’ll need to tap into my own spirit on that one.

What do you enjoy most about cutting a new track?

I think all creative periods are a lot of fun. You start off with a blank slate and see where it goes and what’ll happen. With music, ideas and tones come out in strange ways. A lot of times you set out with something in mind and come away with something totally different.

What’ve you been listening to this summer?

Ted Lucas’ self-titled 1975 solo EP. He was a Motown session musician in the late 60s that studied sitar under Ravi Shankar and mastered a range of exotic instruments. He returned to Detroit in the early 70s and cut this beautiful folk solo record, which finally got reissued last year.

I’ve also been listening to some of my friends’ bands like Sonny and the Sunsets, who had a record out this year. Plus the new Vetiver LP [The Errant Charm] – we’ll be on tour with them this Autumn.

Speaking of seasonal change, how about all time top Fall songs? I’ll take Big Star’s “September Gurls” and The Band’s “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”

Two excellent picks! Anything by Nike Drake has to be among the major autumnal records of all time, and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Your erstwhile collaborators The Shins are releasing a new LP next year, should we expect a cameo?

Totally, James [Mercer] is still one of my closest friends and I’ve been working on the new record with him. A lot of figures from lineups past have been involved in the record, and I’ll definitely be making an appearance.