Generating some local heat wasn’t quite enough to keep twangy tunesmiths Frankie Lee and Eric Pollard in Minnesota. Also, news from the Cedar, Prof, Doomtree and more.
They each garnered a local buzz over the past year or two by singing songs about people and places and personal freedoms. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that twangy songwriters Frankie Lee and Eric “Actual Wolf” Pollard are both about to shove off from Minnesota to push their careers forward.
“It’s always nice to go somewhere fresh to write and spark ideas,” said Lee, who is heading to his old stamping grounds in Austin, Texas, and then Los Angeles for at least the first chunk of winter, or maybe longer. That his return plans are open-ended speaks volumes.
Pollard, meanwhile, has already cut away from Minnesota for Nashville, and he’s calling his move a permanent one. He’s back in town to perform with Lee at the Turf Club on Saturday, and to help promote this week's release of the “Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 5” (Actual Wolf cut the lead-off track, "Your Mother Should Know").
“I’ll always be a hockey-playing Minnesotan from the Iron Range,” said Pollard, a Grand Rapids native, “but I needed to get out and go all in on this music biz thing.”
It’s just a coincidence — but then again, not really — that both of these rootsy tunesmiths are leaving town after Saturday’s show, which is serving as a dual release party. Pollard’s full-length, self-titled debut as Actual Wolf arrived in October via Chaperone Records. Lee is issuing a split 7-inch with his Los Angeles cohort Tara Fox, plus he’s still touting his warmly received EP from over the summer, “Middle West.”
Full of stellar country guitar-picking and heartland-rooted twang-rock anthems reminiscent of the early Jayhawks, Lee’s five-song debut was truly a long time coming. His pseudonym comes from his father, local punk-rock pioneer Frankie Paradise (né Paul Peterson) of the Explodo Boys, who died in a motorcycle accident when Lee was 12. Now 31, he was brought up around other musicians, including his uncle John Vincent, from the original G.B. Leighton band, and Curtiss A, both of whom he calls father figures.
Lee started playing in cover bands while attending Stillwater High School. (“We played all the three-chord stuff: Petty, Chuck Berry, Nirvana,” he said.) After a stab at college, he cut out for Nashville. Then Memphis. Then Austin, where he spent seven years soaking up the scene “where people actually go out to dance to live music.” Then Los Angeles, where he mingled with the rootsy folk-rock crowd that would produce Dawes and Father John Misty.
“I was listening to all these records, figuring out what the people were playing,” Lee said. “Why not actually go to the places where these people are playing and learn that way?”
After gigging as Tim O’Reagan’s sideman for a spell, Lee moved back to Minnesota in 2010 and fell in with Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers and their regular Wednesday-night gigs. It was part-time Disbelievers drummer J.T. Bates who finally pushed Lee into recording “Middle West.”
“I wrote a lot of the songs driving back and forth on I-35 from Austin,” Lee recalled — a drab, flat drive where you need to find something to fill the time. Considering all the driving he’ll do in the coming months and his plans to make a full-length album early next year, “I’m thinking this is a good way to get ready for the record. I’ll see what I can find and bring it back into the studio.”
Pollard’s move was less about inspiration and more about “putting pressure on myself. I work well that way.”
That was certainly true of his two previous Actual Wolf EPs, which he wrote while facing charges and a possible prison sentence for selling marijuana. After a plea deal to stay out of jail, he put together an MVP band with brothers Jacob and Jeremy Hanson and bassist Steve Garrington of Retribution Gospel Choir and Low (Pollard is also RGC’s drummer and sometimes Low’s keyboardist).
The new album shows their influence, from the atmospheric country-rock ballad “Do You Still Want Me” to the fully amped Neil Young-style rocker “Hydrant Eyes.” Said Pollard, “They played a really big role, not just in helping me work out the song arrangements and playing them live, but also just in reminding me I needed to step up my game.”
For now, Pollard will continue gigging with his band in Minnesota while focusing on solo work as a songwriter in Nashville. He hopes to fall in with the song publishing world that’s still centered along the city’s Music Row, and ultimately have other artists record his tunes. The idea of hearing, say, Miranda Lambert cut an Eric Pollard track really isn’t so far-fetched.
“Anything that will help me afford to make my own records is fine by me,” Pollard said.
No doubt, Nashville has heard that statement before.