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Fruit Bats are back together and hitting the road this fall on My Morning Jacket’s latest U.S. tour

Fruit BatsPhotos by Annie Beedy // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Since their early beginnings in Louisville, My Morning Jacket have toed the line between the indie and jam worlds better than any other rock ‘n’ roll band out there. But they’re also now partially responsible for reviving an early pioneer of the post-millennial, folk-rock boom that stormed the U.S. music industry more than a decade ago.

Conceived by Eric Johnson while working as an instructor at The Old Town School of Folk Music in his native Chicago, Fruit Bats first served as an outlet for the 39-year-old singer-songwriter to experiment writing songs with his 4-track recording device.

“My ultimate goal was to play the local club on a Tuesday night,” Johnson tells me by phone. “I was coming from this very shrewd indie-rock era. My goal was just to have a couple people hear it, and I didn’t even think that would happen.”

Johnson, nevertheless, would go on to befriend James Mercer of The Shins and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse while touring as a member of Califone, gaining the support of both bands before signing Fruit Bats to Sub Pop Records in 2002 and releasing a new LP on the Seattle label the following year.

“It took going on tour and seeing those guys do well to realize it doesn’t take magic,” Johnson says with regard to the role The Shins and Modest Mouse played in helping Fruit Bats reach a wider audience during the early 2000’s. “You get to see how the wheels start to turn and how it can work.”

Fruit Bats subsequently released three more studio albums on Sub Pop, with Johnson joining The Shins during part of that time as a multi-instrumentalist. But more than two years after putting the final touches on the band’s last full length Tripper, Johnson announced that Fruit Bats would be no more. He was set on taking his career solo, and if that meant calling it quits on the band he founded and led for more than 15 years, then that’s what he had to do.

It was a decision that Johnson still doesn’t regret making now almost two years later, largely because it has completely flipped his perspective on playing in a band, something he started to miss as a solo artist. And after much thought, he came up with a “new” concept for a band, only to realize that it was exactly what Fruit Bats had been all along.

“I formulated this whole plan in my head that seemed like such a great idea, and when I looked at it all on paper, I said, ‘I did that already,'” he says.

Around this same time, My Morning Jacket came calling, asking Johnson if he wanted to open for them as a solo act over a two-week stretch — starting on Sunday at the Santa Barbara Bowl and continuing Tuesday in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium before hitting San Francisco for three straight nights at The Masonic a couple days later — on their current U.S. tour.

“My Morning Jacket asked if I wanted to do the tour and open solo,” he says. “I thought, ‘That would suck to open solo for those guys.’ I felt like I would be swallowed up by those rooms.”

Fruit Bats

So, rather than turning them down, Johnson proposed another idea.

“I asked them, ‘What if I reunited Fruit Bats for these shows?'” he says. “And they were like, ‘That would rule! That would be awesome!’ So, I got the My Morning Jacket seal of approval.”

Shortly thereafter, Johnson wrote on the band’s Twitter page that he would be performing as Fruit Bats again, but the accomplished film scorer (his credentials include working on “Our Idiot Brother” in 2011 and “Smashed” in 2012) would also reveal two months later that he had begun writing the band’s next album, which is slated for release in early 2016.

Still, after 16 years fronting Fruit Bats, he never expected that he would be taking the band on the road as an opener.

“I don’t do opening tours ever,” says Johnson, who splits his time between Portland, where he now calls home, and LA, where he’s currently recording the latest Fruit Bats album. “I’ve said ‘No’ to a lot of them because it’s hard. It’s a bus-chasing tour as they call it.”

But opening for My Morning Jacket, even with the prospect of doing it while traveling from state to state on a bus, was an opportunity that Johnson, whom has been friends with Jim James for a number of years now, couldn’t pass up when the offer was presented to him.

“My Morning Jacket would be on the very short list of people I would chase around because talk about one of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands of our time that is making super relevant and timeless music,” he says. “It seemed like a no-brainer. If you want to talk about a big band with that reach that I would want to get in front of, they’re definitely one of them.”

From California to Arizona to Texas, Fruit Bats will take on some fairly large venues this month, even if it means doing it as an opener despite having been around the block like Johnson has by now.

“It can be a pretty thankless gig,” he says when it comes to opening shows.

If there’s one thing Johnson can be thankful for though, it’s that phone call he got earlier this year from My Morning Jacket.

Fruit Bats

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