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Originally hailing from Chicago, Fruit Bats featured an ever-changing lineup based around the folk-pop songwriting of bandleader Eric Johnson (not to be confused with the Eric Johnson from Archers of Loaf or the guitar virtuoso of the same name). Johnson began writing songs on his four-track in the mid-'90s before forming I Rowboat, a Velvet Underground-inspired indie rock band. He also began dabbling in folk music with two of the band's members, guitarist Dan Strack and drummer Brian Belval, thus forming the earliest incarnation of the Fruit Bats. When I Rowboat disbanded, Johnson continued to widen his network by playing guitar and banjo with Califone. Bandmates Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella (who also owned Perishable Records) urged Fruit Bats to record an album for their label, which resulted in the trio's 2001 debut, Echolocation.
Over the next two years, the group toured and refined its lineup, adding multi-instrumentalist Gillian Lisee to the fold while embracing more elements of pop and experimental rock. In 2002, Fruit Bats signed with Sub Pop and released their sophomore effort, Mouthfuls, the following spring. Two years later, having relocated to Seattle and expanded to a quartet, the band released Spelled in Bones. The album continued moving away from the folk-rock foundation of Echolocation, although elements of that rootsy sound remained.
Following the release of Spelled in Bones, Johnson took a break from Fruit Bats to serve as a sideman for several other bands, including the Shins and Vetiver. He reconvened the group in 2008, having revised the lineup to include Christopher Sherman, Ron Lewis, Graeme Gibson, and Sam Wagster. The band returned to Chicago to record at Clava, the same studio that housed the sessions for Echolocation, and emerged with 2009's The Ruminant Band.
After The Ruminant Band, Johnson began devoting more time to scoring independent films (among them Our Idiot Brother, Ceremony, and Smashed), and 2011's Tripper reflected the more stripped-down approach of his movie work, with Johnson handling most of the instruments himself. In November 2013, Johnson announced that he was retiring Fruit Bats, releasing a statement that declared in part "there is no major or dramatic reason" for his decision, and "it's been a long run and time for a change." Johnson and the final Fruit Bats lineup rang down the curtain with a handful of live dates in the Pacific Northwest.