By Marty Sartini Garner; photo by Sandlin Gaither on October 4, 2011
“I think it was writers trying to have an angle. The movie had come out and people didn’t tuck their shirts in.” Speaking is Eric Bachmann. The movie he refers to is Richard Linklater’s 1991 breakthrough feature; the angle of which he speaks is that film’s title: Slacker. “We were hardly that,” Bachmann says of his band, Archers of Loaf. “We worked hard and we all had day jobs. We worked our asses off.”
With the exception of the two years he spent teaching English in Taiwan, the Archers of Loaf frontman has always been a working musician—first with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, titans of indie rock, and then on his own as Crooked Fingers. “I was tired of being in a loud rock band,” Bachmann says of the Archers’ 1998 disbandment. “It wasn’t necessarily a personality thing; as far as band stories go, we were all in check. Aesthetically, I just didn’t want to be in a loud rock band anymore.” And Archers of Loaf—recently reunited by the same solid sound that drove them apart—are nothing if not a loud rock band.
Icky Mettle, the group’s 1993 debut, is a slanted mess of guitar sludge shot through with enough melody and vocal grit to elevate the entire project into an ambiguous clarion call. An anthem requires a cause or an ethos, something to get behind, but Bachmann’s hoarse sing-shouting, coupled with Eric Johnson’s counter-chants and lead guitar jangle, transforms nearly everything into something to believe in. In its minute-and-a-half running time, “Fat” captures and releases a one-night stand, guilt, regret and resignation.
Though the press was quick to draw crooked lines, crooked lines between the Archers and the five slack bros from California who ruled the indie world for much of the ’90s, the Southerners brought out a thicker sound, one more indebted to the rhythmic density of Mission of Burma or Television’s precision guitar squiggling than it is to Pavement’s stoned beauty. “We really worked on the guitars. We didn’t find a bass player or a drummer for a while because we knew that we wanted to get the guitar stuff right.” Of his and Johnson’s initial writing sessions, Bachmann says, “At first it didn’t sound cool; it was too safe.”
After the release of 1995’s Vee Vee, the group spent the summer opening for Weezer on their Blue Album tour and found themselves courted by Madonna, who hoped to sign them to her then-fledgling label, Maverick. “She came to a show in New York and we were kind of mean to her,” Bachmann says with an embarrassed laugh. “She said, ‘I like all of your old records.’ I said, ‘Lady, all of our records are new records.’”
The Archers ultimately elected to stay with Alias, who released their final two records, 1996’s All the Nations Airports and 1998’s White Trash Heroes. Following the breakup, the group scattered. In addition to his work with Crooked Fingers, Bachmann has done production work for Azure Ray and has released several records under his own name. Eric Johnson toured with fellow Chapel Hill noise-poppers Superchunk before going to law school to become a litigator. Bassist Matt Gentling played with Band of Horses for a period, and drummer Mark Price is the head of a bicycle mechanic warehouse. Bachmann decided to reconvene the band during his time off in Taiwan. “It was a jolt,” he says of his sojourn abroad. “I’m 41, and the physicality involved in playing the Archers’ music—that screaming—I can’t do it when I’m 60. There’s a finite time in which we can play this music,” he says. “We need to do it now.”
Fifteen years removed from his post-collegiate anxiety, the muscle-popping tension of the Archers’ songs has faded for Bachmann. The reward for him now comes in seeing the looks on the faces of his audience, which has grown substantially over the course of their hiatus; when we speak, he’s ducking through the halls of 30 Rock, killing time before taping an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Merge is reissuing the band’s catalog, beginning with a double-disc remaster of Icky Mettle that includes the Vs the Greatest of All Time EP. Despite renewed interest in the group, the Archers have no plans to write new material. “I don’t want to go back and try to recreate something that we can’t do as well,” Bachmann explains. “I’d rather do something completely new, completely sincere to who we are now as people.”
For now, Archers of Loaf are content to work, towing a trailer across the U.S. to play themselves raw for grown-up slackers in tucked-in shirts and anyone else looking to anthemize the ordinary. “You should work as hard as you can at doing what you want to do,” Bachmann says. “It’s hard to make a career in music, but if you enjoy it, work hard.” F
Eric Bachmann Picks 3 Archers of Loaf Records You Should Already Own
Icky Mettle (1993)
Hardest one for me to listen to. It sounds like a 20-year-old who doesn't have his voice yet. I sound like J Mascis here, Lou Reed here, myself here.
Vs the Greatest of All Time (1994)
It's only half a record, but it's where we struck the balance of chemistry. We were on fire.
Vee Vee (1995)
Our second-best work. "Underachievers March and Fight Song" was supposed to be commetary, but was mistsakenly perceived as an anthem.