Interview: Actual Wolf

 

Eric Pollard has an interesting musical career. Keys for Low, drumming for Retribution Gospel Choir and Sun Kil Moon and body and soul devoted to Actual Wolf, his country project. With an enviable back catalogue that covers the spectrum from home made demos to fully produced, crisp tracks, the music of Actual Wolf mixes classics like Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, The Band and Red House Painters.

His music conveys that open country landscape with massive overcast skies, straight from America’s heart. Fading emotions, like freight trains howling away during the night, are spread all over Faded Days, his latest album. As the album gets a vinyl release on September 15th, we managed to get him to answer a few questions.

What can you tell us about Faded Days, your brand new record and its namesake song?

‘Faded days’ is obviously a song I wrote I just felt it was appropriate as I was writing the songs for the record. Times weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. I kinda thought of Faded Days would be a good title because it’s a look back to better times. Maybe more hopeful times.

So, it is an introspective album?

Very much so. It has to do with lot of the travels I’ve taken through the years since I’ve got off probation.

You are now based in Oakland, right? How is this new place treating you? Do you miss Minnesota at all?

I love Oakland. I love the diversity, its people, the cultural attitude to cannabis! Things I miss about Duluth and Grand Rapids, Minnesota? I really liked the cold, specially the really cold parts of the winter. I miss the people and friends I grew up with and the support from the music community. I also miss playing with Alan and Steve quite a bit, I really miss writing Retribution Gospel Choir stuff!

About Retribution Gospel Choir, any updates?

We haven’t had time. They are working on a new Low record, I’m working on Faded Days. It’s on hold, you could say, but there’s always a time a place for it. Hopefully it will be sooner than later.

I gotta get my Retribution Gospel Choir fix!

We all need our fix! I’m writing more Rock material these days to get mine.

There’s a slight 70s classic rock undercurrent in Faded Days. What were your major classic rock influences growing up?

Other than Neil Young? Stephen Stills, obviously. Jimi Hendrix. I really like Creedence, Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Allman Brothers, The Atlanta Rhythm Section. I grew up with that stuff! I gotta love the very first Boston record. It’s a very important record, so far as music production goes. Where we grew up, The Current wasn’t around. All we had was a volunteer run station, which is now pretty big, called KAXE. It was all classic rock station, so that music was always with us.

I’ve seen you behind drums, keys, guitar and singing. Which of these did you do first and what pushed you towards drumming?

It was definitely classic rock.Then surf rock, then I got into big band jazz through my grandma. I was into drums after that. I played in punk bands when I was a teenager, then bar bands and country bands. I noticed women paid more attention to the guitar player and I thought “I gotta figure how to do that!”

Was there any particular track in Faded Days that was hard to record?

I recorded them all ahead of time by myself on GarageBand. When we went to record the actual songs, they were fully demoed with all the instruments, so none of them was the hardest to record. However, the hardest one to nail down was ‘Only Man’. It started out as a 20 verse folk song, I couldn’t find a spot for it, I couldn’t find anyway to make it work, but I really liked some of the lyrics. I had a melodic idea stuck in my head, then I saw one of the lyrics of ‘Only Man’, sang it with that melody and thought it had too many words but could work. That one was the hardest and it’s a new direction in my songwriting process: combining folk and country music, with a dose of seventies rock. Definitely a new avenue for me.

You sometimes re-work a previous track and in Faded Days you’ve got two. Do you feel these songs need a reinterpretation or have your feelings towards the original recording changed?

A little bit of both. I take second chances on songs I’ve made, you know. I usually take two tracks from previous releases and remake them. We never played ‘Kerosene & Spark’ as we recorded it in Actual Wolf and I wanted to get the energy of the live performance, which is how we recorded it on Faded Days. For ‘Smother in Love’, the Itasca version was really early when we got the take, we had limited time and people liked it. I thought it could have a quicker tempo. I decided to  revisit and re-work both with the band’s input.

Regarding Itasca, your previous album, you had a whole collection of tracks that you pretty much released without warning one day. These Itasca b-sides, why did you just release them as they were?

Because of the guys in the Minessota live band, Steve and Jake. They felt a lot of those b-sides should’ve been in Itasca initially and I should’ve put a double album. I never wanted to, because I’m stubborn and I’m a big planner regarding records. They kept bugging me and any time we played any of those songs live, people liked them. So one night at a gig, they were still bugging me and I said fine, fuck it. That night I put all of them online.

Itasca and its b-sides counterpart always felt like a “night album”, a record you would listen to at night. Faded Days feels a brighter, with enough wistfulness to keep down to Earth. Do you feel there’s a certain time of day for albums, and do you think Faded Days achieves what you wanted?

I feel we finally found our sound. We captured some magic! In my opinion, it’s an everyday, any time record, for everything you’re doing. It sounds great on vinyl, by the way. It’s out September 15th, on Red House Records.

 

The vinyl edition of Faded Days will have a Minnesota release party on September 15th, then September 21st in San Francisco.

 

Words:  Sam J. Valdés López

Actual Wolf Website. Bandcamp. Twitter. Facebook.

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