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When Fruit Bats announced its new album and signing to Merge Records late last year, singer/songwriter Eric D. Johnson did so by “Getting in a Van Again.” The 15-minute mockumentary presented a surrealist view of the music industry, while teasing the very real themes explored on Gold Past Life—due out June 21, 2019.
“I know I said I’d be around this year, but here I am getting in a van again.”
Gold Past Life marks both an end and a beginning. It’s the end of an unintentional thematic trilogy of records that began with 2014’s EDJ (a solo record by name, but a Fruit Bats release in spirit) and hit an emotional peak with 2016’s Absolute Loser. They encompassed years of loss, displacement, and the persistent, low-level anxiety of the current political climate. They were written in the wake of friends who left these earthly confines and families that could have been.
“I wrote music to comfort myself,” says Johnson of those times. “It was a soothing balm.”
But these salves, these songs on Gold Past Life, also represent new beginnings—the journeys that await after making it through troubled times.
In fact, the notion of getting in a van to move on—literally and metaphorically—is exactly what Gold Past Life is all about. It’s about rejecting notions of idealized nostalgia (“Gold Past Life”) and the process of grounding oneself in the present, both geographically (“A Lingering Love,” “Ocean”) and spiritually (“Drawn Away”).
That spiritual sense of place is particularly important to Johnson, who has always been fascinated by dreams and the subconscious stories they can tell. “Some of these songs are directed at specific people, some at amalgams of people, and lots at myself, or the subconscious version of myself— that version like how they say you’re every single character in your dreams,” he says. “Even the artwork represents the notion that we’re all the characters in our dreams. Here’s me looking at you: I’m a deer on a beach looking you dead in the eye and licking my lips.”
Even as he works through these journeys, Johnson’s falsetto still shines atop the bopping folk-rock of Gold Past Life. The new record also features more keyboard influences and a range of guests including Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore, Vampire Weekend), Neal Casal (Circles Around the Sun), Trevor Beld Jimenez and Tim Ramsey (Parting Lines), Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), and more. It also sees his working relationship with producer and engineer Thom Monahan (Neko Case, Peter Bjorn & John, Devendra Banhart) hit its stride.
According to Johnson, “Fruit Bats has been a cult band for a long time.” With Gold Past Life, he hopes to bring more immediacy to the music and share positivity, hope, and motivation to keep on keepin’ on with a wider audience.
“Fruit Bats makes existential make-out music,” he describes with a chuckle. “But you’re also welcome to dive into it deeper if you want. Good pop music should be sublime like that.”
An Introduction to the Wide World of James Wallace & Folk Futurism
“He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.”
― Project Leader, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
“If you are not a myth whose reality are you? If you are not a reality whose myth are you?”
― Sun Ra, Prophetika Book One
For the last decade, James Wallace & the Naked Light recorded and released music from the fringes of Music City USA, touring all over with a singular vision and purpose. All the while, James Wallace’s name figured in as a trusted companion to a few scenes in particular: the Spacebomb sound coming out of his hometown Richmond, Virginia alongside old friends Natalie Prass and Matthew E. White; inside the new Nashville “underground:” where his bands’ magnetic performance listed them as a favorite among Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard; producing records, occasionally filling in on keys with cult-treasured Promised Land Sound; and roaming with the Oakland collective of songwriters centered around a converted school bus who travel under the banner “Splendor All Around.” But now the name is Skyway Man. Solo tours in Japan and China, a new batch of songs intertwined with his fascination with UFO religion, signaled a shift in direction. His inner mercury nudged him toward a new role, and the name Skyway Man rose to the surface again and again. Was it the trickster of mythology, the soul of some eternally missing astronaut, or the old singing storyteller trying to get through?
Wallace possesses a knack for getting caught up in outlandish events – discovering a trove of mysterious letters written by a Ufologist to a woman, describing the New Jerusalem and the 4th dimension, or months spent playing Mahjong in a smokey trailer behind Opryland, working as a Mandarin interpreter for Chinese Ice carvers in Nashville. This knack also extends to orchestrating outlandish events, getting interesting people on board in his endeavors–sweet-talking the flow of life into altering its course. Time for a new name and new record. Seen Comin’ From a Mighty Eye is a dense undertaking, recorded in different locations, simmering influences, channeling all the correct energies, paying the people and spirits who need to be paid, finishing the work the right way over the slow course of time. He recorded the last Naked Light record in Matthew E. White’s attic, and returned to that revered spot to track this new psych opera about strange futures, haunted pasts, and the Mighty Eye in the sky. Spacebomb house bassist and composer Cameron Ralston provided the horn arrangements and Spacebomb house drummer Pinson Chanselle sat at the kit. Wallace sang, compiled and mixed back in Nashville. It’s the usual stew of B-movie scifi, cosmic American boogie, psychedelic folk and it’s apocalyptically good, focused and potent, an immersive fully realized song cycle and visionary sonic structure.
From his modest rancher in Bordeaux on the Cumberland River, the lights of downtown Nashville are visible at night, shining sweetly or casting a lurid glow depending on atmospheric conditions and the viewer’s mood. Music City is changing fast, but James Wallace is invested in its community and spirit–the true believers, auteur session aces and acid cowboys and cowgirls who need each other to survive the sweltering industrial music machine. Skyway Man transcends this landscape, tapping into an older, more spiritual commerce. Seen Comin’ From a Mighty Eye offers the kind of music you would want on the radio for a first or last kiss, the incidental music from some forgotten Spielberg adventure, a soundtrack for the later (not quite latter) days of earth. If lightning strikes and the car radio explodes, it might just be part of the track. Music for driving along the skyway, and thank god the skyway is made of music anyway.
2208 Elliston Pl
Nashville, TN, 37203