Photo: Annie Beedy (Merge Records)

Eric D. Johnson was stranded. When he called the The A.V. Club from a rental-car counter in Atlanta, the facility was fresh out of cars, bringing a sudden halt to a long day of travel for the singer-songwriter who’s been recording under the Fruit Bats moniker since 1997. Johnson was stranded, but not without support: He was about to embark on a run of “evening with” concerts alongside Andy Cabic, his frequent tour- and stage-mate and the frontman of Vetiver. And he had the backing of a new label, Merge, which will release his next album—the first full-length of Fruit Bats originals since 2016’s Absolute Loser—in 2019, preceded by a new single, “Getting In A Van Again.”

“It’s an anxiety song about literally the thing I’m doing right now, which is dealing with tour logistics,” Johnson said on the phone.

The new Fruit Bats song is accompanied by a short film starring Johnson, guitarist Josh Mease, and actors DeMorge Brown and Elisha Yaffe. It’s from director Jonny Look, who’s previously helmed music videos for the likes of Grizzly Bear and Cass McCombs. “He has this really specific style that’s very funny, but very serious at the same time,” Johnson said of Look. “And also an obsession with process—the strange, otherworldly process of how to make things happen is the best way I can describe it.”

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That’s apparent from the first frames of “Getting In A Van Again,” which show Johnson’s signature falsetto being piped into a bell jar containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, under the guidance of “emotional engineer” Baron Levi (Brown). It’s a wryly surrealist look at songwriting and recording, one where the mellow flange of the song’s guitars comes from a beloved soup recipe and the breezy tune reaches listeners through extremely unorthodox distribution methods.

It’s a clever fit for a song from an indie-rock stalwart that’s about the day-to-day of being an indie-rock stalwart, propelled forward by the steady gallop of the next record and the next gig. “The Fruit Bats story has never been one of a big gigantic thing that happened and we got huge,” Johnson said. “It’s a little what this song is about, too: I somehow keep waking up every morning and doing this, and it works for me. I never had the big, crazy thing happen, but I still get to do it.”

He’s still getting in a van, again, even if the van isn’t ready for him.

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