Local music: Eric Pollard's arrested development

The Retribution Gospel Choir drummer steps out with a new all-star band and two discs after almost getting locked up.

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Eric Pollard wrote 70-some songs while waiting for a court date on a drug bust. "I didn't have that extra income from selling pot," he said.

Photo: Megan Tan, 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.

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 next 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 the electric EP's opening track, "Bread," 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. Among its many lyrically evocative tracks is "Minneapolis," which Pollard wrote about feeling small at a hipster party in the big city, citing "your tattooed skin, and your judging lies" and "dime store clothes and high-class words."

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, Minn., 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 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."

Random mix

At least one rock 'n' roll campout is happening this summer: The Big Wu Family Reunion lands again next weekend in a new location, Camp Maiden Rock West in Morristown (an hour south of Minneapolis). Keller Williams will play alongside the namesake headliners -- celebrating 20 years! -- and other local favorites such as Nicholas Mrozinski & the Feelin', God Johnson, Dean Magraw, Boys n' the Barrels and dozens more (www.theBigWu.com). ... Summer Set organizers are hosting their "Triple Threat" talent contests this weekend for performance slots at their Aug. 24-26 fest at Somerset Amphitheater. The MC battle was Thursday at 7th Street Entry, the DJ contest is Friday at Mill City Nights, and the band competition is Saturday at the Cabooze (all nights 9 p.m., $5). ...

Now in stores: Merge Records' expanded reissue of Sugar's "Copper Blue" and "File Under: Easy Listening" albums; the latter includes a "Live at First Avenue" bonus disc from 1994. Bob Mould will return to First Ave on Sept. 15 promoting the reissues and a new album on Merge due that week. ... Mould's peer Steve Albini will also be back at First Ave on Sept. 1 for a Shellac 20th anniversary show. ...

Martin Dosh takes over 7th Street Entry again on Friday to promote a new 7-inch Dosh charity single (9 p.m., $8). Opening act Wolflords is a new electronic project with Grant Cutler (ex-Lookbook) and Aby Wolf. Dosh then has a special 40th birthday bash planned at the Turf Club on Sept. 14, dubbed the Minnesota Drum-Off and featuring Dave King, J.T. Bates and Tim Glenn, each out to out-drum drummers half their age. ... Slug also is celebrating his 40th on Sept. 7, which happens to be the day of Atmosphere's tour kickoff gig at the Cabooze Plaza. ...

First they lost their gig at the canceled SoundTown fest. Then Tennessee's Those Darlins lost some of their gear when their van was robbed after a makeup show at the Cedar on Saturday. An online campaign is trying to retrieve the gear. Meantime, the band is cool enough not to hold it against us -- they've already booked another local gig Nov. 3 in the Entry.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

  • related content

  • Audio: "Hydrant Eyes" by Actual Wolf

    Thursday August 2, 2012

    "Hydrant Eyes" by Actual Wolf, from the CD Lightning & the Wolf.

  • Audio: "Bread" by Actual Wolf

    Thursday August 2, 2012

    "Bread" by Actual Wolf, from the CD Lightning & the Wolf

  • ACTUAL WOLF

    When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 29.

    Where: Amsterdam Bar & Hall, 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul.

    Tickets: Free. 18 & older.

    HEAR

    samples from Actual Wolf's EPs at startribune.com/music

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