Eric Johnson outside Ottos
  • photo by Matthew Caldwell
  • Eric Johnson outside Otto's
We recently caught up with newby Portlander Eric Johnson who's in between touring with his band Fruit Bats, and his other band, what's their name? Oh yeah, the Shins. And his other band, Vetiver. On Eric's suggestion, we met at the classic butcher/deli joint—Otto's in Southeast 41st and Woodstock.

Where do you live?

In Southeast. I live at the convergence of the Woodstock and Reed neighborhoods... about a block away, behind Traders Joe's. I heard someone refer to this neighborhood as "the lower east side" (laughs). I like it a lot.

How long have you lived here?
We just moved here. This is my second time moving to Portland. We arrived here in August. My girlfriend and I have been living in LA, we've moved around alot. We also lived in Seattle and I'm from Chicago (Naperville). I feel like I've lived here for a couple of years though. That's because I play in the Shins (since 2007) and even though I lived in LA, I was here every month.

What brought you to Portland?
I've always loved it... since I was a kid in high school. My sister went to Evergreen State College in Olympia, and I took the train out once. I had a five hour layover. I walked all over downtown and I was smitten, I knew I wanted to live here at some point. It was a rainy day, exactly like this.

What's your favorite venue to play?
Doug Fir is the obvious choice... their sound... man you can't beat it. I'm really excited about playing the Mission (Saturday Jan 23), for a band like us it's perfect. But I asked them to take the seats out (laughs) because I don't like people to sit when we play.

The venue I've played here the most is the Blackbird. That was Portland to me for years and years. We always played there. Sandy and 28th [actually it's Sandy and 37th, but he's new here. We'll cut him some slack.—Ed.], that was Portland to me for like seven years, it's all I knew, as we'd tour through.

Do you bike? What do you ride?
Absolutely. I ride a crappy, fake mountain bike that I bought from Sears in Chicago, circa 1996. Ya know how Portland bike shop people are always so snobby? I'm always embarrassed bringing it in (laughs). I love to ride the Springwater Corridor. The last record (The Ruminant Band) was written, in my head, while biking the Springwater Corridor. The title track ("Ruminant Band") is about the Portland hobos I'd see while riding. The companion piece, "Primitive Band," is also about... having nightmares about hobos and feral people... wilderness homeless types who live along the river.

Did you write and record the Ruminant Band here?
I wrote most of it here... in a rented house on SE 30th and Hawthorne.. and some of it on the road with the Shins. I recorded it in Chicago, however. I wanted to recorded at the Oregon coast. I have a fantasy of renting a beach house and recording an album out there... do a Big Pink in Oregon kind of thing.

Do you collaborate with anyone in town?
Just the Shins. We just got together and played last night. James (Mercer), Joe Plummer, and myself, at our rehearsal studio in in the SE industrial area.

What's your favorite place to eat?
Nicholas' of course. I love Best Baguette! It's this rehashed drive-through place on Powell and 82nd... I think it was an old Jack-in-the-Box. It's an amazing Vietnamese Sandwich place, and it really is the best baguette. So if you're out there getting a hooker, or going to Home Depot, ya gotta hit Best Baguette. I like the Delta Cafe and I really like this place (Otto's).

What's your favorite Portland band beside the Shins?
I love the new Tu Fawning record. I don't think it's even out yet.

What was your favorite live show you've seen in Portland?
The most amazing show I've ever seen in Portland was the Fleet Foxes when they opened for us (the Shins) at the Crystal Ballroom a few years back. It was before the Fleet Foxes were popular... before they had a record, or had even been signed (SubPop). I'm not trying to say I'm cool or anything but... I loved them and was 99% of the reason they opened for us. Robin (Pecknold) is a friend. I've never seen an opener like it. There was a palpable gasp (from the crowd) after the first song. They blew us off the stage, in a beautiful way. It's one of the best shows I've ever seen. It felt historic. Robin and I met working on a film set in Seattle.

Eric Johnson outside Ottos
  • photo by Matthew Caldwell
  • Eric Johnson outside Otto's

The Fruit Bats play a special early (6 pm) all ages show this Sat, Jan 23 at the Mission Theater.