On the Road With the Fruit Bats

We sit down with Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats to talk about his new album, life on the road, and the best thing about home
October 20, 2019Words by Ryan SappPhotos by Fruit Bats

Eric D. Johnson, better known by his stage name, Fruit Bats, is a seasoned vet of the indie rock scene and has a keen talent for scoring films on the side. His ear for music knows no bounds and Johnson’s ability to spin a yarn is equally impressive. We caught up with him at Huckberry HQ for an acoustic set and a cup of joe following the release of his latest album, Gold Past Life.

Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats with his dog

Let’s chat about your latest album, Gold Past Life. How would you personally describe this album and the themes behind it? 

Well, we were using the phrase, “existential make-out music,” which I really like. It’s sad, reflective music that’s about mortality and stuff, but it’s kind of warm and romantic too at the same time. Maybe it’s corny to use the thing that we’ve actually been using to describe it in person, but it nails it on the head really well.

So you’re on tour again. After more than two decades of life on the road, you probably have a pretty solid routine down. What’s that look like?

Weirdly enough, it’s all about sleep and food for me. Staying at “nicer” hotels is important, so I can maximize the quality of sleep I’m getting. Our touring life definitely started off like the classic punk rock story, sleeping on floors at some stranger’s house next to their kitty litter box or whatever. I can’t do that anymore. And food is important—I don’t eat crappy food anymore. Touring’s kind of been changed too with like, the proliferation of Whole Foods and Chipotle, which is not the greatest thing in the world, but at least you can find semi-healthy vegetarian food there. But it used just be all Burger King and Denny’s and six people in a single Motel 6 room. Brutal. And when you get older, your body feels things a little bit more. 

What are some of the things you do to stay grounded on the road? Do you have a do-anywhere workout routine or a pre-show ritual?

I always bring jogging shoes that I never use. They just sit under the front bench seat of the van, taunting me. I just stay pretty sane in general by having cool people around me. It’s a little bit about the people who you surround yourself with. I have an incredible tour manager who’s one of my best friends too, and who takes care of me and takes care of the tour too.

Right before you play, you have to look at the full moon and rip your street clothes off and be a slightly different, slightly enhanced version of yourself when you get on stage. 

Fruit Bats

Tell us about how you pack for tours. Are the clothes you wear on stage planned ahead of time? What about what you wear when you’re not performing?

Yeah, I like to dress up before I go on stage. It makes you feel like a different person. I wear an outfit for stage, so I really do use a dressing room to dress when I go. So I have a stage outfit that I wear every tour. It’s usually the same thing, and I shouldn’t even be talking about this, because it’s really supposed to be a part of the “character”. An old keyboard player of mine always said, “You have to become a werewolf before you play.” Which is to say you have to become a different version of yourself. Right before you play, you have to look at the full moon and rip your street clothes off and be a slightly different, slightly enhanced version of yourself when you get on stage. 

Are there any unexpected rewards that come from the tour?

The most rewarding thing is probably the most basic thing: when people are coming to your shows. I’ve been lucky enough, especially recently, that that's been happening every time.

I just want to do normal stuff. Get an oil change, you know?

Fruit Bats

Is there anything you make a point to do when you’re not performing?

I like to go to places that are mellow and easy, like a great local restaurant and a record store. There’s so much unseen travel time where we drive upwards of 500 miles in a day and that eats away the “down” time. I just want to do normal stuff. Get an oil change, you know? I heard an interview with Kristen Wiig, and she was talking about how crazy it was working on SNL because you work six days a week for half the year. She would see somebody jogging in the morning, and she’d be like, “Wow. I want that normal feeling.”

What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a big tour?

I usually make a total mess in the living room with all my stuff, and then I give myself that day and I usually sleep the sleep of a vampire. After 13 hours of sleep with just a mess all around me, I’ll get up the next day, and meditatively clean up said mess. 

And what do you miss most about home when you’re on tour?

I miss my wife and my doggy. And boring, boring stuff like I was saying about Kristen Wiig looking at the jogger. I just listened to her say that in an interview and I was like, “I know that exact feeling.”

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