Sometimes a story can take a long time to tell. Eric D. Johnson, who has recorded and performed as the Fruit Bats for a decade now, had a story like that, a chance encounter that had rattled around his head for years. He’s tried to write it as a short story, a play, a movie…yet until now couldn’t get it down just right. Finally he decided to make a song out of it, and the result is “Tony the Tripper.” It’s the song at the heart of his fifth album, Tripper, setting the tone for a bittersweet meditation on hitting the road, leaving the familiar behind and reinventing yourself.
The story goes like this. Just after turning 20, Johnson boarded a train from Chicago to see his sister in Olympia, Washington. A grizzled vagabond—Tony—took the seat next to him for the ride to Fargo, North Dakota. Over the next 12 hours the two developed a strange relationship, the cantankerous oldster alternately bullying and befriending Johnson. A decade or so later, Johnson is still bemused by the encounter, wondering what he could have learned from this broken, frightening, but fascinating character. The song “Tony the Tripper” imagines the two of them heading out on a road trip, the idealist and the outlaw cutting a swath across America.
Have you been sitting at that computer all day? You’re overdue for a break. The new Vetiver album, The Errant Charm, is a superb soundtrack for an afternoon idyll. Take a moment to load the record on your mp3 player. Hell, if you still have a Walkman, the whole thing fits neatly on one side of a C-90 cassette tape. Select your favorite pair of headphones, and go for a stroll.
This album was made for walking. Vetiver bandleader Andy Cabic spent hours wandering the streets around San Francisco’s Richmond District, listening to rough mixes, tinkering with lyrics and arrangements. You can hear his strides in the tempo of “Hard To Break,” which captures the brisk gait one might adopt while passing through a public green space: Not hurried, just excited to be heading somewhere.