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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 a 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”). Musically, says Johnson, “I put myself into a lot of scary situations last year.” He curated a set at Newport Folk Festival, participated in an artist residency as part of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, and workshopped music at the PEOPLE Festival in Berlin. These experiences helped coax out new sounds and styles for Fruit Bats. Of course, Johnson’s falsetto still shines atop the bopping folk-rock of Gold Past Life.
However, 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. 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.”