Music + Clubs: Smooth criminal

Facing jail time, drummer Eric Pollard got prolific as Actual Wolf.

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Lead singer Eric Pollard of Actual Wolf during after an open rehearsal at Real-Phonic Studio in Minneapolis, Minn. on Friday July 27, 2012.

Photo: Megan Tan, Dml - Special To The Star Tribune

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It's hard to imagine how Eric Pollard could call his arrest last year on five felony counts of selling marijuana "a good thing," but he'll do just that.

"I doubt I'd be in the position I'm in now," said the Retribution Gospel Choir drummer and auxiliary member of Duluth's mainstay band Low.

Between his bust (off a friend's wiretap) and his final court date this spring, Pollard wrote 70-some songs. He's about to release 13 of them on two EPs under his stage pseudonym Actual Wolf: the all-acoustic, Dylanesque "USA" and the fully electric, classic-rocky "Lightning & the Wolf."

Free now after pleading guilty to reduced charges, Pollard has formed an actual Actual Wolf band to bring the electrified tunes to the stage. It includes such reputable names as RGC/Low bandmate Steve Garrington on bass, Tapes 'n Tapes drummer Jeremy Hanson, and Jeremy's ever-present brother Jake Hanson on guitar (Halloween, Alaska, the Pines, Mason Jennings, etc.). The group played an impressive rehearsal before friends last week at the Jayhawks' old studio space in Minneapolis, where Tim O'Reagan coincidentally crafted the solo disc that also proved he's more than just a drummer.

To complete its coming-out, the group is taking up a Wednesday-night residency this month at St. Paul's Amsterdam Bar & Hall. Various projects by its members will open each week, starting with the guitar-driven Jake Hanson & the Chiefs on Wednesday. Pollard will then take his new act on the road in September.

If you think Bon Iver's fabled post-breakup trek to the woods made for an inspirational fortress of solitude, how about Pollard holing himself up as he faced the possibility of a lengthy jail term? He's like the T.I. of Minnesota indie-rock.

However, the thought of jail time is not what freaked him out the most, he said. "A friend told me that about 60 percent of the people I knew before I got busted would probably never talk to me again. That wound up being very true and very hard to deal with."

Pollard's musical compatriots stood by him, though. Garrington and Low/RGC frontman Alan Sparhawk (yep, a Mormon) helped record the new tracks, and ex-Duluthian Haley Bonar sings on two of the songs.

There was a pragmatic side to amping up his solo work, Pollard admitted: "I didn't have that extra income from selling pot to fall back on." He doesn't make any excuses about his arrest, though. Nor does he get on the stump about marijuana legalization. The fact that his pot was homegrown -- seemingly a lesser evil than smuggling -- actually added two criminal charges.

"I broke the law," he said flatly. "Whether you think the laws are right or wrong, it's still dumb to break them."

As he spells out in "Bread," the opening track on the electric EP, the life of a pot dealer was less than glamorous. An ethereal rock opus that sounds like a lost David Gilmour track for Pink Floyd, Pollard sings, "Always gonna owe you favors / I live life in the red / I can't even sell enough reefer, can't keep enough in my head / I'm the sweetest good-for-nothing / You won't miss me when I'm dead."

Other songs on "Lightning & the Wolf" carry a similar '70s sheen, from the elegant, George Harrison-echoing downer "Hydrant Eyes" to the Band-like stomper "Hollow Heel."

The acoustic EP has a far rawer quality, crafted with Peter Wolf Crier's studio-savvy drummer, Brian Moen. That's right: Two drummers made an acoustic EP.

Pollard, 32, first started gigging around the Twin Cities in the early '00s with the jam band Dukes of Hubbard, formed with his Grand Rapids schoolmate Tim Saxhaug (now Trampled by Turtles' bassist). He remains fully committed to Retribution Gospel Choir, which has been cranking out loads of new tracks for its next album. His involvement in Low is a bit sketchier, since the band plays a lot of international dates, and probation prohibits him from traveling abroad. His plea deal also landed him a hefty fine and many hours of community service.

"It was a difficult situation, but I faced it like a big boy, and I think I'm making something positive out of it," Pollard said, mentioning one more upside: "Now, the thought of starting a new solo career and stepping out from behind the drum kit is a lot less scarier."

  • ACTUAL WOLF When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 29. Where: Amsterdam Bar & Hall, 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul. Tickets: Free. 18 & older.
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