Progress Report: Eric Bachmann (Archers Of Loaf, Crooked Fingers)
Name: Eric Bachmann
Progress Report: Archers of Loaf frontman discusses reunions, reissues, creepy English teachers and the new Crooked Fingers record.
As you’ve probably heard (or, if you’re lucky, seen) iconic Chapel Hill rock band Archers of Loaf have been on the road this year for the first time in nearly 13 years. If you are like me, then that makes you feel very old and also very happy. In addition to reprising his roll as head rebel rouser in the Archers, frontman Eric Bachmann has also been busy putting together a new Crooked Fingers record, Breaks in the Armor, due for release this fall. He’s also been busy (when not running off to Taiwan to teach English) with overseeing reissues of the entire Archers of Loaf back catalog. I caught up with Eric on a particularly surreal day in NYC just before the Archers are set to be guest on the Jimmy Fallon show. Not surprisingly for anyone who has ever seen Archers of Loaf play, they totally killed it.
STEREOGUM: You are calling me from backstage at Fallon. Do you see any celebrities right now?
ERIC BACHMANN: No. I think the other guest is the girl who used to be on The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven. I’m assuming her name is Raven.
STEREOGUM: Raven! Have you talked to her?
ERIC BACHMANN: Um….No.
STEREOGUM: I for one was very excited about the Archers of Loaf reunion because I was never able to see Archers back in the day. Have you been surprised by the general reaction?
ERIC BACHMANN: I’ve been grateful that anybody would give a damn. I don’t know if I’d use the word surprised. As I kept going with Crooked Fingers at least every other show somebody would be like, “You know you should get the Archers back together.” So I knew there was a little bit of a thing and I always liked the idea of doing that, because I made a very severe effort at making the two bands different. I didn’t want to do a loud rock band when I started Crooked Fingers. I wanted it to be kind of the opposite–maybe not the complete opposite–but certainly very different. Also, Archers didn’t break up acrimoniously. We were still friendly when we broke up, so the idea that we would get back together wasn’t ever fully out of the window, and it was just something I always thought we might want to do again. So, it’s not been that much of a surprise really. You’re always grateful that anybody likes it. This business is so trendy and fickle, you’re lucky if anybody ever likes it.
STEREOGUM: What made you decide this was the right time to do it? Was there some catalyst that sort of changed things?
ERIC BACHMANN: No, not particularly. I think the catalyst in my mind was different from Matt, Marc and Eric, but it took all four of us to get back together. But for me it was that I had gone to Taiwan and I was teaching English and I had little revelations there. Like, I thought I had kind of gotten totally burnt out on music but I wasn’t actually burnt out on music; I was burnt out on trying to pull a living out of it. And so I went to Taiwan to get my head on straight, and about a month after I got there–after I was teaching English and stuff–I realized I wanted to be playing music again. I had so many things going on back in the states. Like I was being asked by a band to produce their new record and Crooked Fingers songs were kind of coming out naturally again and just thought maybe it would be good to rock a little bit and do something a little louder. It’s fun for me to do that now. It’s totally more physical. The physicality of The Archers stuff is what I missed. There’s also this–I’m 41. I can’t be 65 years old and singing “Audiowhore.” I’ll have a fucking aneurysm. I can’t physically do it. So, if we’re gonna do it again, now’s the time to do it. I mean, I can be 80 years old and play “Manowar” or “New Drink For The Old Drunk.” I could play something old, you know? But certain Archers songs are too physical, there’s too much muscle requirement. So now’s the time to do it before I get too old.
STEREOGUM: It must feel good to play those old songs.
ERIC BACHMANN: It does. It feels great to do it. It’s really fun.
STEREOGUM: I love that they’re doing the reissues of all the Archers albums as well. I just got the first one. How complicated was it to put those together? What was that process like?
ERIC BACHMANN: it was more complicated then you would think, because the label, Alias, that we had been on, lost all the art work, all the files, or whatever you needed in ‘93 to do the artwork. It wasn’t as digitized back then. So, visually there was a little more work involved and that’ll be true with all four of the reissues because we don’t have artwork for any of them. None of the original files. We have to basically recreate all of it. So, that’ll take some effort and I think we’re going to have to be creative about it. I think we’re gonna get other artists like Jay Ryans from Chicago might redo VeeVee and I’m not sure who we’re going to get for the next two but that’s been a little difficult. As far as the music goes, we knew we wanted to get Bob Weston to re-master them because he had recorded the EP and VeeVee and he had been good friends with us. So we knew we would go with him to have all of them remastered. So we just sent it to him. That was pretty easy. And then finding the outtakes–finding stuff to put as bonus material–has been kind of grueling for me because the last thing I want to do is listen to bootlegs of my band from when I was 24 years old. So, that’s been grueling. But you do it and it’s done. All the stuff that we recorded, I’ll be honest, I think some of it is pretty bad, but it’s still kind of interesting. It’s still charming to hear it, you know? So some of that stuff I’m not really proud of, but I don’t care, in terms of people making fun of me. I’ve been made fun of. I don’t give a fuck.
STEREOGUM: Were you the keeper of all of that stuff?
ERIC BACHMANN: No I wasn’t, Shawn Nolan was the manager and lawyer of Archers of Loaf he had it all on tapes and cassettes and all these other tape formats.
STEREOGUM: Was there a lot of extra material recorded for each of the albums? There was a lot of stuff for the Icky Mettle. Did the others have as much?
ERIC BACHMANN: The others actually have more! The others have more because I demoed everything. And we didn’t have a four track. So I wrote songs and presented them and then the band arranged them and that’s how we wrote, by democratically arranging, even though the songs were already kind of written. So once I got a lot of money, which was not a lot, I bought a four track. I would demo everything and we never put those out or anything so there’s demos for VeeVee, I think the EP, Airports, and White Trash Heroes. So, I would argue that not all those demos are worth hearing but some of them are and those will be on the upcoming reissues of Vee Vee and Airports. White Trash Heroes we have a lot more stuff to sift through, just four-track demos and other outtakes. Icky Mettle has a lot because we put the ep on it because we didn’t really know what to do with that. We chose to put it on Icky Mettle because we had less material for Icky Mettle.
STEREOGUM: I’m always curious about this, I’ve interviewed a few bands over the years who have done reissues and most people aren’t compelled—or that thrilled–to go back and listen to their back catalogue and closely revisit their old material. How was that process for you? Did you hear some things and think, Hey that was better than I remembered it!
ERIC BACHMANN: No, it wasn’t better than I remembered it. You do have to change your relationship with the songs. I don’t know about listening to it because at this point I think you listen to things like listening to the remaster and stuff. You’re listening to the technical aspects of it, like oh it’s a little harsher. We want to make sure the guitars still sound kind of nasty and harsh. The vocals are too bright! It’s stuff like that we’re listening for when you’re remastering. And listening to old songs, it’s grueling. I hated it. I don’t like to listen to old songs. I’m not proud of some of the songs, but I also think it’s a nice view into how we were at the time and how we were finding our voices as a band. All this stuff probably matters to certain people. But, it’s grueling. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy going through it. You really discover it when you play it in front of people, how your relationship with the songs has changed. Like right now, I know for a fact when I was 23, 24, 22 years old, when I was out there playing that music for people, there was a sense of power behind the volume and the anger in the vocals and I obtained a sense of power performing and I felt confident and I felt powerful playing it. It’s very masculine. It’s very physical music. Now, my relationship has changed, I certainly don’t feel ridiculous playing it, but the joy and the confidence I get out of it comes back from the audience, when I open my eyes and people are smiling, rocking out, having fun with it. That’s where I get more joy out of it. Now, I certainly don’t obtain confidence or power from the actual music. I do get it from the fact that people are enjoying it. In a good way, it’s a little less self-indulgent or self-absorbed, for better or for worse, you know?
STEREOGUM: I know you guys are playing Archers of Loaf shows up through September. People must be asking you constantly, but does this tour make you want to make music with those guys again?
ERIC BACHMANN: Well, I’m pretty satisfied. I have to keep changing things. I like to keep…like Crooked Fingers just made a record and that’s what I’m most excited about.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I wanted to talk about that also.
ERIC BACHMANN: I think and there are some other things that I can’t talk about that aren’t a done deal yet and if I talk about them too soon and they never happen I will sound like an asshole so…there’s other things I’m doing, other people I’m working with. As for Archers, I would love it in some ways, because there’s a chemistry that Matt, Marc, and I, and Eric have and I do like that, but I don’t want to go back and recreate something that already existed and that moment is over. I’d almost just rather change the band name, have the same people, and do something completely different. Because that moment is over. The Archers Of Loaf thing happened and it’s wonderful and I’m very proud of it and I’m glad it happened. But I’m not sure it would be in our best interest in terms of to go and recreate something that we did when we were 25. If everybody was on the same page about doing something that was totally different then I would be up for that. But that could also be bad. That could be, “Ok these guys used to rock and now they sound like a bunch of old men.” I don’t want to do that. I’m not opposed to the idea but that’s a tough thing to figure out. I don’t want to think too much about it. It should just be about doing. It should be pretty visceral…not an intellectual experiment. We shouldn’t have to think about too much. We should just do it. So we’ll see. I’m not saying no but it’s I’m talking it through with Matt and we’ll just see it through these shows and the tours and see if we end up writing. I mean, I’m constantly writing, the last three things I’ve written, when I started writing, I thought “this could be good for the Archers” and then by the end I’m like eh, let’s save this for another project. So we’ll see.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about the Crooked Fingers record.
ERIC BACHMANN: We finished tracking and mixing that record in…I guess it was February and I didn’t really know exactly what to do with it because when I went to Taiwan I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. I felt like it had been twelve years for this and maybe that’s enough time, maybe I should retire that in the same way the Archers had been retired and do something new or whatever. But at the same time I felt like it’s ridiculous to keep changing names. I mean it’s nice to reinvent yourself, but it gets weird to keep doing that over and over. So, that record, it was being written in Taiwan and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a Crooked Fingers record, but now that I’ve finished it and I have my bearings with being back in the States I feel very confident that it should be a Crooked Fingers record. I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to say this shit. It’s going to come out on Merge. So that’s kind of all nice because I had left with a solo record to go to Saddle Creek and then I self-released the next Crooked Fingers record so it’s really nice for me to come home to Merge doing the Archers reissues and the Crooked Fingers record and then come back and live in the US again. So, it feels really good to come home do all that and I think the Crooked FIngers record is a really solid reflection of all of that. Most people who have heard have said, “Oh yeah, it’s more like the earlier Crooked Fingers records.” I like to think that it’s completely different but I think it’s more stripped down. You know Crooked Fingers kind of went to a more pop direction and this record is going more towards the first record and the second record was and that’s gotten a positive response from friends who have been listening for a long time.
STEREOGUM: Where was the bulk of that stuff recorded? Did you record stuff in Taiwan or did you record when you got back here?
ERIC BACHMANN: Some of the samples I got in Taiwan but the playing was all recorded in Athens at place called The Bakery. Which the studio is owned by a guy named Andy Vicker who lives in Taiwan and works in Taiwan but the studio is in Athens and a guy named Matt who does live sound for The Pixies. The reason I picked him is that his aesthetic is very similar to what I wanted and he’s very good at kind of making live things sound good so we kind of recorded the Crooked Fingers record more live, as opposed to the previous ones where it was drums, bass, guitar. He captures that in a way that works very well.
STEREOGUM: I’m still so curious about your experience with Taiwan. How long were you there?
ERIC BACHMANN: About six months. I intended to go there for the rest of my life. I think the real problem was I got a job teaching kids and I’m not good at that. I had a hard time disciplining them. I would see a kid with a hockey stick hitting another kid and I would just think “Oh wow, thats funny he just hit that kid with a hockey stick.” When you are a teacher you are supposed to stop them, not just watch them and think, “oh weird.” I just wasn’t a very good disciplinarian. I’m much more well suited to sitting in bars and drinking beer and talking about music than I am at settling the petty disputes of children.
STEREOGUM: I had a good friend who went to Korea for six months to teach English and then just never came back. He opened his own school there eventually.
ERIC BACHMANN: I think by the age of 40 you kind of are who you are. That said, I went to Taiwan to each at the age of 39….and realized pretty quickly that this was just not something I was ever gonna be that good at. It takes a certain kind of person. Also, there is this really weirdo negative connotation that comes with teaching English in a place like Taiwan that I really didn’t know anything about until I got there. When I was introduced to people as a musician the reaction I got was like “oh cool, American dude musican, whatever” but when I was to people as an English Teacher it was very different….it was more like “Oh, you are one of those creepy American dudes who comes here to teach English so you can fuck Asian women.” I didn’t realize that there was this perception of these teachers as being a bunch of perverts. It made me feel really gross and uncomfortable right away. Also, I was NOT there for that reason! I was there to change my life. The idea that there people there viewing me as this creepy pervert was another good reason for me to leave and come back here to make music.
STEREOGUM: So, it all worked out in the end anyway.
ERIC BACHMANN: Yeah, it’s the story of a mid-life crisis with a happy ending.
Archers of Loaf are still on the road. Check out tour dates here. Crooked Fingers’ new album, Breaks In The Armor, will be out in October on Merge. Here’s the album trailer: