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Artists Unscripted

We paired leading artists from Minnesota’s theater, music, visual arts, dance, and literary communities to talk about craft, creativity, and the inspiration behind their boundary-pushing work.

Artists Unscripted
Photo by Shelly Mosman (2)

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Eric Pollard and Haley Bonar

At first glance, Haley Bonar and Eric Pollard appear to total opposites: Bonar is petite and slender, with delicate features and bright, warm eyes; Pollard, a.k.a. Actual Wolf, is tall and broad, his red-tinted sunglasses suggesting an air of secrecy—but in a playful way. In fact, the two have been good friends for nearly a decade, playing on each others’ tracks and hanging with the same crowd of local musicians. This fall, both are releasing new albums: the self-titled Actual Wolf is Pollard’s first full-length record; Bonar is on her fifth. (The title was TBD at the time we went to print.) The two sat down to chat about their upcoming records, the life experiences that have shaped their songwriting, and prejudices in the music-making business.


Haley: I came prepared! (Holds up a sheet of paper with typed questions.)

Eric: All mine are in my head.

Haley: Okay, first question: you’ve been a drummer and on keys, but you haven’t actually been the front man of a band until recently. How long have you been writing? And when did you start wanting to play your songs in front of people?

Eric: I’ve been writing seriously since 2007. I realized I wanted to be the front man when I was demoing songs for what would eventually become my EP, Lightning & the Wolf, three years ago.

Haley: Was that an easy transition?

Eric: No, it was tough. I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously; that they’d all think, “Oh, that’s Al [Sparhawk]’s buddy who plays drums.” Luckily that didn’t happen.

Haley: Tell me about your new record—I heard that you had a song with 19 verses?

Eric: That is true!

Haley: (reading from the paper): What is the inspiration behind this? Do you think people in our Twitter-happy, ADD generation will listen to it all the way through? Have you played it live?

Eric: I have played it live, people have listened to it, and it’s gotten quite a bit of positive feedback. The inspiration came when I was at my first Pines show—I wrote 10 verses during their set. Then over the next four or five months I kept writing and ended up with 26 verses.

Haley: And you whittled it down to 19.

Eric: Now it might only be 17, but it’s going to stay at 17. Now tell me about your new record.

Haley: Lovely. It’s hopefully coming out in the fall. We got it tracked in two days. I got Justin Vernon to sing—well, actually, he offered—on a few songs. His voice is so good! He has a “man voice”—you know, he sings like a girl a lot (I told him that, too!), but he also has a man voice.

Eric: He does. You forget that in his other bands he used to sing in his normal voice, which is very good.

Haley: What else… There are eight songs, and it’s 29 minutes long.

Eric: I’m a big fan of shorter albums—35 minutes or less. Do you feel you’ve said everything in those 29 minutes?

Haley: Yup. Any longer and it would just be saying the same thing over and over. It’s totally my divorce record. It’s really heavy and dark, and I think it’s the best songwriting I’ve ever done. I’ve had such a shitstorm few years, and it’s good to have that documented and be like, “Bam! Go out into the world, be gone from me.” Every record feels like a sort of exorcism, but for as strong and personal as this one is, it’s still something everybody can relate to.

Eric:: Are you ever going to make the “every girl” commercial record?

Haley: I hope this record is commercial! I want to tour it, do TV, all that stuff; I really believe in it. Plus, it’s been awhile since a record that’s dark has made it big. Everything is so fakey—it’d be nice to have something more fierce.

Eric: I would love for people to get back into songwriting again.

Haley: What do you think about the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, that “hey, ho, hey” song?

Eric: First of all, they’re all ripping off Trampled by Turtles. But it appeals. It’s taking simple ideas and packaging them in a way that makes people feel down home.

Haley: Do you think folk music has reached the mainstream again?

Eric: I think it’s starting to, like in the ’60s when Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Leonard Cohen were laying down heavy poetry beneath all the other prepackaged pop stuff. I think we’re on the edge of where people are going to be like, “I want to hear real music about real things.”

Haley: Okay, changing subjects. If you were hypothetically granted a sex change, would you choose to be a woman in the music industry or would you remain male?

Eric: I would definitely remain male. I’ve actually written a song about how hard it is to be a woman in this industry.

Haley: Thank you.

Eric: Women only have a certain window of time in which they can make it, whereas men can age and, for some reason, the public perceives that as them being more wise and more distinguished.

Haley: Not only that, but you’re constantly being pigeonholed and compared to other women. The main thing I’ve heard from most labels is, “This is really great, but we just signed another female singer/songwriter.” Literally: I’ve heard that three or four times. You don’t want to think it’s really like that in 2013, but oh, it is.

For extended interviews with this year's featured artists, visit mnmo.com/fallarts2013.

7 Other Must-Hear Albums

Si Sauvage, The Suburbs, 8/27, thesuburbsband.com

Manopause, Ginkgo, 9/3, ginkgoband.com

The Starfolk, The Starfolk, 9/10, thestarfolk.com

Shoot the Dog, The Cloak Ox, 9/17, facebook.com/thecloakox

House of Rust, Martin Devaney, 10/4, martindevaney.com

Half about Being a Woman, Caroline Smith, 10/8, thegoodnightsleeps.com

Shulamith, Polica, 10/21, thisispolica.com

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

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