When Eric Tollefson released his full-length disc, Sum of Parts, last year, it seemed like the towering redhead had come out of nowhere. There'd been little buzz about him before the release, but soon after he couldn't be avoided, opening shows for Jackie Greene and playing a hard-charging set to warm the stage for G. Love and Special Sauce in early September at the Domino Room.
While G. Love was on stage, Tollefson, wearing the Breedlove Guitars baseball cap that seems to be his constant around-town companion, was near the back of the crowd, leaning against the wall. On the Juneau, Alaska, native's face was the sort of grin that comes only from really kicking ass at something, which is what he'd just done - even if he did make the mistake of addressing the blues-guitar playing, hip-hop-rhyme-spouting artist as "G" rather than his preferred "Garrett" when the two met backstage.
Now, he makes music not just as Eric Tollefson, but Eric Tollefson and the World's Greatest Lovers, having added a handpicked backing band that includes 60 percent of the Empty Space Orchestra lineup and with it one of the most hilariously hyperbolic band names in the history of local rock and roll.
"People kept saying that Empty Space was my backing band. So we needed a band name," says Tollefson, "I thought it was hilarious and I also thought my family was going to be pissed."
This weekend Tollefson and his Lovers, which also includes shredding guitarist Tim Schroeder of Bond Brothers fame, will head south for a one-off show at the storied Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood. There - as in their show Wednesday night at McMenamins Old St. Francis School - the World's Greatest Lovers will display a sound that's far more rock than the largely light tones heard on Sum of Parts.
It's a change in style, but the 26-year-old Tollefson is used to changes. He came to Bend directly after graduating from the University of Montana and began working as a stockbroker before eventually landing in sales at Breedlove. When that job didn't work out he found himself trying to figure out the next phase of his life, which meant taking his musical ambitions more seriously. It also included some hardships along the way.
"I thought that I knew what I wanted and went the stockbroker life and bought a house when I was 22. After things fell through, there were days when I was devastated, but it's crazy the freedom that I have now," says Tollefson, who now works as a licensed banker, a far more personable position for him than the high-pressure stockbroker world.
With that freedom, Tollefson is now working on his next record with the help of renowned producer Franchot Tone, who lives in Bend, hoping to capture some of the Ben Harper-ish bluesy rock that can be heard coming from the World's Greatest Lovers. Then, he plans on taking the band on the road whenever he can.
"My goal for this year is to build audiences in towns in the Northwest where we can build our scene. It's like being a gladiator - and I know that sounds corny," says a laughing Tollefson, "But you have to win the crowd before you go to Rome."
Eric Tollefson and the World's Greatest Lovers
7pm Wednesday, March 3.
McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
All Ages, free.