Eric Pollard says he hadn’t touched marijuana for four years — through the duration of his probation for drug charges — when he lit up a popular strand of legally distributed weed during a California stayover. The pot struck him hard, and so did California.
“I wrote the songs ‘The City Is an Ocean’ and ‘Faded Days’ right then and there, and I thought, ‘I could write a whole album like this,’” said Pollard, best known to Minnesota music fans by his nom de strum Actual Wolf.
While he downplayed any overt influence weed had on his latest album — there are no seven-minute guitar solos or bongo drums — Pollard did not hide the great sense of freedom he felt by lighting up and moving out to California. That liberated vibe fuels the delightfully breezy, laid-back, ’70s sonic vibe on “Faded Days,” his gorgeous new Actual Wolf album for Red House Records.
Probably more than any record by a Minnesotan this year, this one deserves to be heard in its vinyl format, the release party for which is Friday at the Turf Club (it was issued digitally in June). The songs have an old analog-style glow to them, and the music alternately echoes “Harvest”-style Neil Young, Tom Petty, and modern ’70s-channeling rock darlings such as the War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket.
“I’m up on all the cool bands, but I’m still very much a classic-rock kind of guy,” said Pollard, 37, who has served as drummer in recent years for the likes of Sun Kil Moon, Nikki Lane and Retribution Gospel Choir.
Originally from Grand Rapids, Minn., and a proud product of Duluth’s music scene, Pollard actually moved to Nashville before he landed in Oakland, Calif. He still figures he could make a living as a full-time drummer in Music City U.S.A. In his pervasively wry way, though, he said, “I really think the world needs another singer/songwriter.”
To help fund his music, Pollard turned to the work that nearly landed him in jail when he still lived in Minnesota: growing and harvesting marijuana.
He took a job at a dispensary in Oakland, in the state with the most liberal marijuana laws. It’s all completely on the up and up, and it’s about as steady a job as you’ll find in the Bay Area nowadays.
“I would like nothing better than to be able to make a living off of singing and recording my own music,” Pollard said, “but at least for now that’s not a reality, so this is my reality. It’s something I’m fairly good at and have experience doing. Unfortunately, though, it’s not something I can do in Minnesota.”
Hustle & grow
It’s interesting how distinctly Pollard’s personal scenario has flipped: His dispensary job in California afforded him the means to write and record “Faded Days” on his own before Red House signed on as his label. In Minnesota, he was arrested for essentially doing the same work — although the bust also played a positive role in his music career.
Pollard was arrested in Duluth in 2011 after a friend wore a wiretap to his growhouse, charges he was able to plead down to probation and community service — all of which he fulfilled. In the interim, he used his (legally mandated) downtime to write the songs that would make his well received debut EPs and two full albums.
“I doubt I’d be in the position I’m in now,” he told us happily a year after his arrest, when he formed the full Actual Wolf band with Low bassist Steve Garrington and ubiquitous guitar/drum sibling combo Jacob and Jeremy Hanson. (Singer/keyboardist Al Church has since joined.)
Despite the new album’s sunny Southern California vibe, with rich neo-twangy guitar work, Pollard and the band recorded “Faded Days” in Minneapolis with local engineer/producer Brad Bivens, who also oversaw Romantica’s latest gem of an LP. Pollard said, “It’s the closest I’ve come to matching the sounds in my head.”
Some of the songs also offer a window into his psyche, thematically speaking. The slow-building, lushly textured title track — with the refrain, “Why don’t you play all night / Don’t you still get high?” — reflects the mellowing-out he was forced to do during his probation days (he still doesn’t drink). The more rollicking, rumbling “Little Runaway” reflects the escapism he found out west.
One of the most personal songs on the album is actually the only one Pollard didn’t write: a twanged-up version of Haley’s (nee Haley Bonar’s) “Hometown,” with a hook line that obviously nabbed him: “Hometown goes wherever you go.”
“That song hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Pollard, who was so smitten that he recorded his own version just hours after he first heard the song, and sent it back to Haley. “I got the lyrics all wrong, but I guess she dug my version OK, because she immediately sent me the right lyrics.”
Anyway, the sentiment was spot on. Pollard said he dreams of moving back to Minnesota — and Grand Rapids in particular — in time to celebrate his 40th birthday, but he noted, “The laws are going to have to change first.”
That, or “Faded Days” will finally earn Pollard the recognition he deserves, and then he can stick to just one career.