Eric Pollard is a glass-half-full kind of guy. When he claims that almost going to prison was actually "an entirely positive experience for me," you're inclined to believe him.
The 33-year-old Grand Rapids native admits his outlook wasn't always so sunny, though. He was creatively and personally adrift before getting busted by the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force in 2011 for selling pot. It took a penniless post-bust move back to his childhood bedroom and facing down five felony counts to get him to clean up his act and start writing music as Actual Wolf.
"The arrest really ripped the rug out from under me," admits Pollard, who already played drums for Retribution Gospel Choir and Mark Kozelek but had never seriously pursued his own songwriting. "I didn't have a drug or alcohol problem — I was awesome at both drinking and smoking weed. But I'm a much nicer and more productive person being clean and sober. I can't say enough good things about law enforcement intervening in my life when they did."
After pleading guilty to lesser charges that kept him out of prison, he's written over 70 songs. With his band he's recorded two EPs and his self-titled full-length debut, out this week. Actual Wolf finds Pollard and his talented band — guitarist Jake Hanson, drummer Jeremy Hanson, and bassist Steve Garrington — echoing a range of rock influences, from Neil Young to Elton John, and beyond. You can hear the chugging classic-rock sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival on "Victims & Things" and Roy Orbison's dapper countrified balladry via "Do You Still Want Me To?"
"Somewhere along the way music got a little too inward and heady," he claims. "There's a reason you can go into a random bar in Wisconsin and the cover band knows some Neil Young tunes. That's because those songs are selfless and timeless. That's what I'm aiming for in my songwriting." According to Pollard, this approach is based on a new commitment to acting the opposite of his old walled-off and selfish ways.
After his probation and travel restrictions lifted, he moved to Nashville this past September. The relocation was a bid to better forge music-industry ties, and plans to tour Europe in 2014 are already in the works.
When reached by telephone in early October, Pollard had just touched down in Minnesota en route to record the sophomore Actual Wolf album at Justin Vernon's April Base studios in Eau Claire. A hyperactive Twitter user adept at playing the role of both Twin Cities scene champion and sly self-promoter, Pollard has an ultimate workaholic plan for Actual Wolf that is simple: go big or go home.
"2014 has to be the Year of the Wolf because that's the only thing I'll accept," he says with a playful self-awareness in his voice. "I'm not around to settle for anything but success.... A big part of that is getting out there into the world and pitching myself. I don't do dubstep and I can't rap, so I don't have a lot of other options. Unless all the teenagers in America start smoking pot and listening to Neil Young records again, touring is the only way I'm going to crack the code."