Fruit Bats is the project of singer/songwriter Eric D. Johnson. Raised in Naperville, Illinois, Johnson grew up loving 70s and 80s pop radio as well as folk rock and psychedelic bands like The Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac. The band has become known for their smooth fusion of folk, pop and Americana, combining roots music, and 70s style folk rock with compelling pop melodies. Johnson first began recording as the Fruit Bats in 1997, crafting songs on a 4-track recorder. By the new millennium, Johnson filled out the Fruit Bats with two other musicians, while at the same time playing guitar and banjo with Chicago band Califone and releasing their debut album Echolocation in 2001. Over the next couple of years the band shifted their lineup further, touring with high profile indie bands like Modest Mouse and the Shins. Johnson would later go on to join the Shins as a sideman. In 2002, the Fruit Bats signed with label Sub Pop and relocated to that label's home of Seattle, Wa, then later moving south to Portland, Oregon. The band continued on to release four albums for Sub Pop, 2003's Mouthful, 2005's Spelled in Bones, 2009's The Ruminant Band and 2011's Tripper. While the Fruit Bat's lineup continued to change throughout the 2000s, they've maintained their reputation for consistently compelling Americana tinged pop.
For some musicians, writing a great song must feel like a lightning strike of inspiration that comes and goes over the years. The Fruit Bats Eric Johnson has been so consistent over the years that writing songs must be a matter of sitting down and getting started -that or the man is a lightning rod. The rotating cast around singer and songwriter Eric Johnson has been steadily pumping out breezy folk and Americana tunes since the early 2000s, inspired by everything from 70s AM radio to The Grateful Dead. On their summer 2011 album Tripper, they've cleared away some of the vintage dust of their earlier work, turning in an album of crisp, folk pop bolstered by layers of atmospherics and the odd keyboard. Tripper is a rough concept album, exploring the stories Johnson might have been able to tell had he accompanied a grizzled old traveler he met on a train in North Dakota. The songs do have a rambling motion to them, heading forward with jaunting drum beats and steady acoustic guitar strums. “Heart Like An Orange” drips easy going vibes, capturing classic folk rock vocal harmonies and sailing along on organ and sprightly piano. Fruit Bats slyly let some psychedelia slip into the mix, with quick cameos by fuzzy analog synths and effects-laden guitar, lending a warm Grateful Dead feel to the track. Sub Pop bands never forsake pop songwriting, and Fruit Bats show their chops throughout the album. “Dolly” breaks the folk rock mold, laying down a rocking mod-ish beat, danceable organ stabs, and a hook-heavy melody. In “Tony The Tripper,” Johnson takes the soul of an old British ballad with its impassioned tale and stacks layers of atmospheric keyboards, tingling pianos and big sweeping guitars over it all. The result feels big, but totally approachable and easy going at the same time.