After 13 years, Chicago, Ill.-rooted Fruit Bats have decided to call it a career. The band had recently scheduled gigs in Washington, British Columbia and Oregon to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their second album, Mouthfuls, which they will now perform in full alongside other classic material as a farewell. Eric D. Johnson, the band’s principle member throughout its various lineup changes over the course of five albums, told Paste in an exclusive announcement that it was simply time for a change:
Hey All. So, after 13 years, 5 albums, bunch of tours, and lots of laughs, Fruit Bats is calling it a day. There is no major or dramatic reason – I’m not gonna launch into one of those “the changing face of the music landscape in the digital age,” things. Especially since I don’t even understand any of that stuff. It’s been a long run and time for a change. I’ve been fortunate enough to start scoring movies and producing bands and I’m super excited to continue on with that. Plus I’ll still write songs and make records and play shows, which will scratch any Fruit Bats itch that you’ve got. I mean, Fruit Bats has always ostensibly been a “solo” project, so this is just the start of chapter two, really… But anyway, new music from me still! More on that soon, so please don’t lose touch. This means that these shows next week will be our last (though I think we might plan some kinda epic last gig in Chicago one of these days, but that is to be determined)... So come on out and blow us a kiss goodbye. I know artists always say this but, seriously, thanks for listening, it has been amazing sharing this stuff with you. More to come (from a different angle) soon.
Paste sat also down with Johnson to reflect on his experience with the band and his plans for the future:
Tell us what is behind the decision to end Fruit Bats?
It’s weird, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a big deal out of it or a small deal out of it. Initially I thought it would be more fun to just forget about it, but then I thought since we were playing some shows… I mean, I know it’s not like shutting down Arcade Fire, but I think there are a few people who care, so I thought maybe I should say something about it.
It’s also weird because Fruit Bats has always ostensibly been a solo project for me, and I’m still going to make records, so it really falls somewhere between a name change and a band breakup. I just didn’t know how to say it. And, I figured I should say something in case people wanted to come to those shows or at least know what was going on for those shows.
The concept of Fruit Bats started 16 years ago and I’ve been doing it in earnest for 13 years, so it just felt like time for a change, singing these songs, some of which I wrote when I was 21. I could sort of feel like I was covering someone else’s music now.
When you play under your own name in the future, do you think you will still play Fruit Bats songs, or will you now feel less responsible to have to play them?
I was a pretty big Uncle Tupelo fan and I remember seeing Wilco for the first time, and Wilco’s first record, A.M., felt like a continuation with the Uncle Tupelo-vibe to it, and Wilco played a whole bunch of Uncle Tupelo songs at those shows, and then slowly phased them out. But then there is Jonathan Richman, who totally refuses to play anything from that first Modern Lovers record. I’ll probably be somewhere in between. But, I’d like to think of it as retiring most of those songs and hopefully coming up with a new catalog, but I’ll probably play some of them, at least early on.
It gives you options where you aren’t required. Tweedy now reserves the Uncle Tupelo songs mostly for his solo tours.
You have a reissue coming out of Fruit Bats’ second album and Sub Pop debut, Mouthfuls, in celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that album. Is that coincidental or is this what led to the decision to end Fruit Bats?
It’s slightly coincidental but it is also what spurred on the process. The shows were booked to support the reissue, and that sort of made me think about things, like what those shows would mean and where they fall and when the next ones will be. So, it’s all an interwoven thread. But having the 10-year anniversary of that release come up, it just felt like time. It’s always been a small operation with a small but dedicated fan base, so this all felt like the right time to make an announcement but still be mellow about it.
There are currently three shows scheduled in the Pacific Northwest, and you are hoping to schedule a final one in Chicago?
Yeah, I’d like to. I think that would be fun. As of now it is TBD but I think we’ll probably do a final thing there when the opportunity is right. We’ve got time to do that, though. But as far as we know for sure, these are the final shows in the Pacific Northwest. Chicago is great and I consider it home, but I’ve been in the Northwest for the last eight years and it has been great to us, so it feels right for us to do those here.
Despite the fact that you are the only continual Fruit Bat, did you have to break the news to the guys who had been in the band recently?
Yeah, I spoke to them all as if it was a normal band breakup. Everyone that is in the band now, their tenure is all been different periods. One of the guys, Ron Lewis, has actually been in the band for nine years now, so that was… yeah, I mean, I describe it as a solo project, but it has been a lot of the same people for a while now, and certainly they have rearranged their life around Fruit Bats in many ways, and it is very much theirs, too. This wasn’t the sort of thing I wanted them to read about in Paste. But yeah, it was a weird thing to tell them. I had a band when I was a kid, but really, I’ve never had to do something like this before.
You’ve been producing records and pursuing other interests as of late, tell us about what people can expect from you after Fruit Bats.
I’ve produced a few records now. I just finished producing a record from Nina Persson of The Cardigans, actually co-produced Nathan Larson whom is Nina’s husband and from the band Shudder to Think. I’ve worked on a few others as well, and then scoring films. I’ve scored eight movies now. So, I’ve been fortunate enough to be doing all the dream projects you want to be doing when you are 37 and have been in an indie band of marginal success. There have been moments where I’ve had to turn down things because I’ve been going on a tour where I’ll lose money and it is the same bullshit story. But, I like all of these projects and I still like playing in front of people, too. I kind of like it all. I want to keep doing it all. But, I’m sort of looking for the whole paradigm shift.
Well, the dream of being a musician isn’t necessarily just being in a band, but doing all these things that, more often than not, are needed to make a career out of being a musician.
I’d probably need to write an essay to really get into the philosophical issues and grey areas that come along with all of this stuff, but exactly like you are saying. I actually have a little mantra that I remember when I’m feeling bummed out: You’re already there. Which just means, like, to not be concerned with where I am going or when, but knowing that I am already fine. And, I’ve actually been fortunate enough to have spent time in The Shins and have that experience of being in a huge band. So, I was lucky to at least have the chance to check that off the list. There is such a weird thing of being in the musical middle-class, which is a real thing that people don’t really talk about. It stretches pretty wide, but I think I’d have to write my own article to really get into the philosophy behind that.