Eric D. Johnson on the End of the Fruit Bats and His Surprising New Album
After thirteen years together, the Fruit Bats played their final shows last November. At the time, frontman Eric D. Johnson didn't have any immediate plans to write another album. He figured he'd keep composing film scores -- something he's done for the past three years -- and continue to produce other artists' albums (he's worked with Denver's Ark Life, Cardigans singer Nina Persson and Los Angeles-based act the Blank Tapes).
But within six weeks of the breakup, Johnson was writing again. "I don't know -- I just kind of got bit by something, I guess," he says. Johnson has never been a particularly quick songwriter; it wasn't unusual for him to spend a couple of years on Fruit Bats albums (or four, in the case of 2004's The Ruminant Band, though that project was interrupted by a stint touring with the Shins). In contrast, it took him just three weeks to write EDJ, and he recorded it in less than two months. The album came out last month on Easy Sound Recordings, and Johnson is now touring under the EDJ moniker -- he'll play Leon Gallery on Saturday, September 6.
"It went from November, [when I said], 'I don't know what I'm doing -- I'm probably not going to make another record for the foreseeable future,'" Johnson says, to a couple of months later, when "I was in the middle of making one -- a real one, too. I went in with a producer and label. It wasn't just me messing around in the basement -- although I do want to make a messing-around-in-the basement album at some point."
The songs on EDJ -- which Johnson wrote at home in Portland and in Joshua Tree, California -- represent what he was dreaming about and what was rattling around in his brain last January. While he wrote a few songs on guitar, a lot of the tracks began as loops. He had bits and pieces of things he'd recorded in his studio, and he'd take chords and make loops out of them.
"So I wasn't sitting down with an acoustic guitar; I was actually sort of using the studio as an instrument or as a writing tool, which is just one of the many different ways of doing things," Johnson explains. "When you're sitting and writing using an acoustic guitar, it really turns into these acoustic-guitar songs. I think this record was nice with those loops, because it's a little more cinematic, a little more composerly or something, because it was actually coming from bits and pieces of film score and just stuff I had lying around."
Johnson's affinity for AM gold is evident on all five Fruit Bats recordings. There's some of that on EDJ, as well, but the three instrumentals on the disc, especially "The Magical Parking Lot," show that more composerly side.
And while friends and colleagues say EDJ sounds completely different, Johnson concedes that much of the general reaction from strangers has been, "Cool -- it just sounds like another Fruit Bats record."
"I made this personal record and know the people that know me personally totally notice that, but not everybody else has," he says. "I don't know. You can't get caught up in the perception of what you do, either, because then it affects what you do."