Eric Johnson (Fruit Bats) is back and ready to give his fans what they’ve been hankering after for a long time: a new Fruit Bats album and plenty of live dates. (photo courtesy of artist management)

Talking Catharsis With Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats

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After several years hiatus and a string of personal tragedies, including his wife’s miscarriage in 2014 and a cancer scare, Eric D. Johnson (a.k.a. Fruit Bats), is back. Fresh off the release of his most recent work Absolute Loser, Johnson took some time out of his busy touring schedule to talk to WOUB’s Emily Votaw about catharsis after crisis, how radio people are just the coolest and what he’s looking forward to about playing the Nelsonville Music Festival this year. Fruit Bats will play at 6 p.m. on the porch stage on June 3 and at 4 p.m. on the main stage on June 4. They’ll also take part in a Gladden House Session on June 4 at 6:15 p.m.

WOUB: How’s the tour treating you?

Eric D. Johnson: The tour is going so well — one of the best ones we’ve done in a while, so it’s going great.

WOUB: What do you think is contributing to that? The new material?

EJ: Well, hopefully the new material is good but I also think that absence makes the heart grow fonder so I think that since we’ve been gone for a while people might have thought that we were gone forever, so there’s been a really good feeling at the shows. And, honestly, a lot of people sort of discovered us after the fact and are seeing us for the first time, so it’s just been a strong turn out and a really good vibe everywhere that we’ve been, which is cool.

WOUB: Are audiences reacting pretty well to the material off of Absolute Loser? It’s great stuff, I know that I’ve been enjoying it.

EJ: Yeah, the radio stuff has been really, really strong. We’ve been getting a lot of love from radio people. I think radio people are really cool, they know what’s up.

WOUB: True! Could you tell me a little bit about the recording process for Absolute Loser?

EJ: Yeah, I mean, it’s not really that exciting. (laughs) I come from a four track recording background so it’s never like the big story that we went into a Civil War barn with 20 Nashville musicians or something like that. I just started at home. Demoing and really starting things in the studio is kind of a part of my writing process, some of that usually becomes a sort of jumping off point. Then I went down to Los Angeles and worked with Thom Monahan and some of the guys in my band came out and played. So it was pretty much just that. It’s usually it’s like starting with a hunk of clay and winnowing it down. I always compare it to walking down hallways the wrong way a couple of times, it’s just the way that I like to record. Starting off with an idea and coming out the other side with something completely different, surprising yourself a little bit.

(Photo courtesy of artist management)
(Photo courtesy of artist management)

WOUB: I wanted to ask you: what was your headspace going into recording Absolute Loser? As compared to 2014’s EDJ?

EJ: I actually think that my headspace was pretty clear and pretty happy. And in a lot of ways, the EDJ record was a response to tragedy and Absolute Loser is the story of that process, so sort of a story about a story. My headspace was good, it was clear. In 2014 I was feeling terrible and I wanted to shut everything down and make a huge change, but then I realized that whether I like it or not, this is me. And it’s cool, and it’s been great having people get on board right away. I always say that I’m attracted to these sort of “lost classics,” to the album where the guy goes in the wilderness and makes this kind of cathartic record and then nobody listens to it. And I’m like “Alright, well, I made one of those, so I’ll make one that everybody gets to hear this time.” It was very cool, I thought that I was out of inspiration but then I realized that I wasn’t.

WOUB: I’m curious: where did the title come from?

EJ: The title is really in a way a bit of a play on words, it’s not really about someone that is a loser, it’s more about feeling absolutely lost or feeling an absolute loss; like someone who was absolutely lost would be the “absolute loser.” (laughs) but it also kind of sounds funny and I thought that it had a little bit of a timeless quality to it. But I think that I actually got it by misreading a sign for a range rover dealership in Los Angeles called “Absolute Rover.” There were a couple of letter obscured, so I thought that it was just this big sign that said “Absolute Loser” on it, which I thought was really kind of awesome. I like titles that are little bit evocative and don’t really mean anything, but this one actually means a lot.

WOUB: Does what you listen to on your own time effect what you create in the studio? Were you listening to anything in particular when you were working on the new record?

EJ: I always think about that. Sometimes there’s a very clear cut correlation. Like when I made EDJ I was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and the band Talk Talk. I was sort of taking the Joni Mitchell very raw, very laid bare confessional style of writing and I was obsessing over her a lot and then the production of Talk Talk. And I think with Absolute Loser I didn’t quite have as much of a production and songwriting concept going on. It was more of a production mandate of simplicity and sort of trying to strip down what “Fruit Bats” is to people, stripping it down to those bare essentials. A couple of years ago, I made “The Ruminant Band” album, which was a really stripped down acoustic album that I really think people connected with, and then when I made Tripper and EDJ, which were a little bit more like production concept albums — I don’t think that people disliked them or anything but I wanted to get back to what I thought that people liked on the bare essentials level about this band.

WOUB: Alrighty, I’m calling in particular about the Fruit Bats performance at the Nelsonville Music Festival, so I was curious as to whether you’d been to the Southeast Ohio region before and if you had any feelings about playing Nelsonville.

EJ: It’s our first time in the area and I’m from the Midwest originally so it’s not like a foreign land to me or anything. I do know that Southeast Ohio is really beautiful, but no I’ve never played in Athens. But I have a lot of friends who have played Nelsonville, and everybody speaks very highly of it, I’m really excited, it looks like our kind of festival.