Eric D. Johnson —who has played in The Shins, composed film scores, gone solo and returned back to the moniker that started it all, and most recently, earned two GRAMMY® nominations with Bonny Light Horseman— celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. “I’m still really excited to make records,” he says. “Lucky and happy and maybe happier that things went slower for me. I’m savoring it a lot more.” Johnson’s newest LP as Fruit Bats, The Pet Parade, was inspired by the strange and silly community events that he saw growing up outside of Chicago in La Grange, Illinois, in which people dressed up and showed off their pets. Decades later, The Pet Parade emerges in troubled times, living within what Johnson refers to as the beauty and absurdity of existence. While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and bandleading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America. Still, says Johnson, “The songs have enough intimacy that it doesn’t sound like it was made a million miles away.”
Lead radio single “The Balcony,” a song ostensibly about a particular space in his grandmother’s apartment, evolves into a metaphor on patience. Hear it now — the full LP is due March 5 from Merge.
RIYL: The Shins, Vetiver, My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, Kevin Morby, Rogue Wave, Fleet Foxes, Cass McCombs
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