Archers of Loaf: Eric Bachman is Screaming Again

Like many indie rock bands of the 1990’s, Archers of Loaf achieved their greatest level of respect and relative success only after they had broken up. After releasing four studio albums between 1991-1998 on Alias Records, the band parted ways, but lead singer Eric Bachman never stopped making music. Releasing solo records as Crooked Fingers and eventually under his own name, Bachman quickly went from angsty, adolescent screamer to smooth, sentimental crooner. Now, 13 years after Archers of Loaf’s initial dissolve, Bachman is screaming again and the Archers are back together for a limited time to support their long overdue, welcomed re-releases of their classic records, Vee Vee and Icky Mettle, now available on Merge Records. I caught up with Eric Bachman over the phone to talk about the past, the present, and the fact that the past has become the present. Enjoy.

I guess let’s start with how this Archers of Loaf reunion tour come came about?

It was just good timing and serendipitous. Shawn Nolan was the manager of the Archers in the 1990’s and he became a lawyer. After a lot of work, he convinced Merge to reissue and license our records. The records originally came out through Alias records. When he convinced Alias and Merge to reissue them we thought… well, we had never lost touch as a band. We never thought we would play again necessarily, but we’d talk about it every five years. Matt was busy. I was busy. But when that happened, we realized we were getting older and that it would be real fun to do. So it just kind of made sense to do it now with the Merge reissues.

Was anyone especially hard to convince to get the band back together?

Well I was the hold out. Everyone else had been talking about it more than I had been. I had been in Taiwan teaching English and I came back and I spoke with Matt a little bit and thought I might want to do this now. A year or two before, I would have said no. I was working on other people’s records and my own records and just doing other stuff.

And the first reunion show was a secret show opening for another band?

Yeah. We didn’t know how it would feel to do it because it had been almost 13 years. We were always cautious. We were very cautious as people back in the day. So we thought let’s play a show if it goes well, great– if it doesn’t, at least we had fun show and it was kind of cool playing this show with the Love Language. If it doesn’t work then we’re gonna make an ass of ourselves. If it does work we can do more.

So it was it a secret billing?

It was. It was listed as “Special Guests”. We had mutual friends with the Love Language, and they do quite well. They were coming back from tour and we knew they were going to sell the show out anyway, so we thought it was a good place to announce… people we knew locally knew… it kind of leaked.

What led to the dissolving of the band in the first place?

I think it just ran its course. I think people had a good time with it, but we were going in different directions within the band. I think after 7, 8 or 9 years—I mean the band started in 1991 so we had been together for 9 years and Mark, the drummer, had health issues with his wrists and he brought up the idea to maybe call it quits. I don’t think he expected that the other 3 of us would call it quits as well, but we wanted to stop before we made a bad record. It was also the fact that we were tired of touring. We had toured a lot.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently back then that would have changed the course of the band?

No, not really. I’m sure there are things we could have done that were smarter in the way we handled things. We could have been a little more relaxed and kept a little money and not been so uptight about how we did things. But not really. I’m still here doing this probably because I’m maintaining this rigid control over what I’m doing. I have times where I’m like “oh we should have done this… we should have had a song in a TV show or signed with another label”, but those thoughts only last for a minute.

So was it hard to get your material back from the previous label?

It had been very difficult. Alias Records didn’t want to do anything with it. Merge, being such a great label was interested, and after Shawn convinced Merge to do it, she [Alias records] lightened up a little bit and realized it would be a win-win for everybody, which it certainly was.

What would be their reasoning behind keeping it dormant?

I don’t know, man. You’d have to talk to her about it. But the fact of the matter is that she was against it. Shawn Nolan, Archers’ manager back in the day who became a lawyer had been talking to her for at least 6 or 7 years and she didn’t want to do it. I think in time, his persistence paid off. She’ll make more money and we’re going to be able to tour and re-release something that we’re kind of proud of. So let’s do it. And she was cool enough to let us do it.

What did you feel back then versus now as far as Archers of Loaf’s popularity, significance and place in music history? Are Archers of Loaf one of those bands that people came to appreciate more in time?

I think it’s definitely more thought of now than when we were first doing it. We played many shows back in the day that only had 30 people there. Now we play shows and get a lot more people out. I’m grateful for that, but I also don’t take myself that seriously or the band that seriously. I don’t really care how we’re perceived. I don’t care if you think it’s the worst band of all time. It doesn’t matter to me because it was fun for me. I stopped and now I’ll do it a little longer. But it’s my past and I don’t look that way. I look forward. I’m honored if people like it, and I get a great deal of satisfaction now when people are smiling back at me. Back then I was angrier and I’ve since changed my relationship with the songs. Now it’s not about me saying something artistically, it’s about having a good time and having people smiling back at me. It’s more fun and lighthearted for me now than back then when I was too serious. We’re definitely bigger now than we were then though– at least as far as turnouts to our shows.

How many songs did you guys remember and are there any songs that you choose not to play?

They’re all hard to remember. There is a lot of guitar stuff and I think Mark and Matt get frustrated because they’re like “oh let’s play this” and Eric and I will be like “okay give us a month”. There are a lot of songs where I don’t know what I did. We had weird tunings. I don’t know where I stuck that wine opener in my guitar. I don’t remember a lot of things. “The Worst is Yet to Come”, on Vee Vee, was one of my favorite songs and I don’t know what to do or how to play it. Lyrically, at first I thought I’d have a hard time because they’re supposed to be sung funny, sarcastic and snarkey like a teenager would, and that was intentional. I thought I would be more resistant to singing the lyrics, but I haven’t had that problem at all. At this point I feel like I’m playing a character—I’m going back and playing myself when I was 20. It’s easy for me to say “this isn’t who I am, I’m going to put this mask on and play this way.” I don’t think it’s insincere because that’s who I was then.

With that being said, how would you say the songs hold up despite the generation gap?

I think they do, man. I think they hold up as much as they were intended to. But like I said before, I don’t take it that seriously. I’m doing it to entertain myself and if someone else can get some joy out of it, that’s great. I don’t think our songs were ever intended to be these epic, Leonard Cohen songs. They’re not legendary songs, they’re just fun pop songs. In that light, with what they really are, I think they hold up very well. When we’re playing them I don’t think they feel dated. The sound of the records is a little dated, but when we play the songs they don’t feel that way.

You had a great rock voice, but when you started doing solo records, you had a really beautiful crooner voice. Did you always know that you had that voice in you? The change in the way you sing is so drastic…

It’s not that weird when you think about it. I had a doctor that I would go to and get my hearing checked. Occasionally, I would get my voice checked too. Because I drank and smoked and didn’t treat my body right–whatever illegal substances that you want insert in there, I was pretty much doing. Those things are bad for your throat, so by 26 or 27, the last few years of the Archers, I started to sing softer because I still wanted to be able to talk when I was 50. If you listen to those first Crooked Fingers records, those are massively different than I sing now. I don’t wanna bore you with the details, but it was medical. The sound of my voice should be a cross-section of what not to do to your voice when you’re young. I obliterated it with the Archers and you can kind of hear it healing in the later Archers’ records and now it’s kind of healed. All I did was stop screaming. That’s all I did.

That being said, are you singing the same way as you did with the Archers?

Yeah, I’m screaming again. After a while it will start sounding like it used to. I’m 42 years old. I was 20 when I started singing with the Archers and I destroyed, destroyed my throat. I should feel ridiculous, but it’s so much fun and I’m getting such a positive response that I don’t. It’s definitely not the same sound. Even now when I’m doing it, I think its different even though I’m screaming and trying.

Is this Archers of Loaf reunion a one-time thing and then you go back to being Eric Bachman, the solo artist?

It’s unknown. We’ve been doing this for a year and a half now and we agreed with Merge that we would tour to support our re-issues. And it’s fun, you know. But I thought early on that would make a new record, but now I don’t think we will because we don’t have the time. We don’t live in the same town. We all have different lives. I’ve sat down and tried to go back. I need to just relax and not be so serious. I write stuff all the time, but it doesn’t make sense for it to be Archers stuff. I might go back to my solo stuff, but I might just join another band. I’m getting sick of running my own show. I will keep playing music, but I don’t think we’ll make another Archers record.

What’s the difference between a Crooked Fingers record and an Eric Bachman record?

I don’t think there is a difference. Originally the difference was that the instrumental records were Eric Bachman records. But the acoustic record where I sang could just have easily been called Crooked Fingers to be honest with you. It was one of those things where it was just me, an acoustic guitar and a piano, so I figured I may as well just use my name.

Do you miss the old days at all?

I don’t think like that. I don’t. I forget a lot of it. I spent a lot of that time drunk. It’s funny, but it’s true. So my memory isn’t that great. I guess it was great. But I also have memories of sleeping on a lot of floors and mice crawling over me. There are plenty of bad memories too. They were supposed to be good times, but they sometimes weren’t. I feel like the best musical memories I have were opening for Neko Case in Central Park or playing with Jose Gonzales in Europe. But that was all after the Archers. And I hate to say that because I don’t want to offend Archers fans or any of the Archers—but that’s how it is.

What would you say Archers of Loaf’s legacy is, or will be?

I wouldn’t. Like I said before, it’s not my job. If you wanna say that we’re more important than the Beatles then go for it. But it just doesn’t matter. If I thought about it that way, then I’m an asshole. It’s a way I’ve chosen to spend my life and it’s very important to me. And if anyone else cares, that’s great.

Lucero: Women & Work (and Whiskey)

Beer-soaked, bourbon-bruised and heavy-hearted, Lucero stumble beautifully across the boundaries of country, rock and punk. They sing about the girls they’ve loved and lost, and all the miles they’ve traveled and drinks they’ve downed trying to forget them.

On their recent release, Women and Work, the band continues to wear their hell-bent hearts on their tattooed sleeves. Though there seems to be a new glimmer of hope in their songs when it comes to the “women”, in reality it’s the “work” that defines Lucero as a band. Averaging more than 200 days a year on the road, the idea of holding down a relationship isn’t exactly all that easy.

Doubling in size from a four-piece to an eight-piece, Lucero recently enlisted Rick Steff (piano/organ/accordion), Todd Beene (pedal steel), and Jim Spake and Scott Thompson (horns) to create a more fleshed out, big band, honky-tonk, Memphis-soul kind of sound.

I recently spoke with guitarist Brian Venable over the phone and had a follow up interview with lead singer Ben Nichols via email. The following transpired.

NG: Do you know how many days you spent on the road last year?

BV: Probably a little over 200. We did ten weeks on the Warped Tour and seven weeks with Social D[istortion] alone.

NG: Has keeping that sort of touring schedule started to take a toll yet?           

BV: I’m the only one with kids so it takes a toll on that. But this is what we do. Now we have 8 people on stage and 4 people on crew, so now we have a tour bus and everyone has their own bed. It’s not like we’re throwing everyone in a crowded van anymore.

NG: Do you want to talk about the theme of the new record and how that came about?

BV:  I think it was unintentional. It all kinda came together after the fact. We knew we wanted the first song to be “Downtown” and we knew we wanted the last song to be “Go Easy”.  Everything else just came together in the middle. “Downtown” was just sort of an optimistic, anything can happen, sort of a song, and “Go Easy” was such a ‘wow that was one hell of a weekend. I’m gonna go home and curl up in the bed’ song. Generally speaking you could imagine the record being one long weekend.

NG: How would you say this record differs from the last, or the entire catalogue for that matter?

BV:  I think we are always just trying to make a better record than the previous record and work out the kinks. The previous record we had finished recording and brought the horns in to see what they could do on tour. This record was the first record we did with the horns.

NG: Have you noticed a difference in the way you play guitar with the addition of horns and keys?

BV: Yeah, I pick and choose a lot more. It’s more of a big band feel. In the old days it was just the four of us and a lot of interplay between me and Ben and it was a different dynamic. Now that we have horns, pedal steel and keys, I can hit single notes and come out and play a solo. In ways it’s a little bit more subtle.

NG: Do you enjoy one more than the other?

BV: Well, I switched back to the Telecaster because it’s better instrument for solos. There’s something exciting about having 8 people on stage and being able to make all those parts work together. It makes us smile. It makes me smile. Some nights I forget to play certain parts because I’m just watching other people do stuff.

NG: Is everyone on the record on tour?

BV: Except for the backup singers.

NG: Would you say there’s a maturity and acceptance of lifestyle on this record?

BV: Yeah, I think so. We turned 14 this April. I had made a comment that this is our mature record, and sometimes that’s a dirty word in rock and roll. But for us, we’re wearing our influences on our sleeve a little more. We’re more comfortable saying ‘hey this is what we like’. We’re not going to make Tennessee over and over again. I think we’ve kind of settled down, and trying to become part of the Memphis music scene– but everything could change on the next record.

NG: What’s the reasoning behind the intro? It seems to be part of the song that follows it.

BV: I think at some point it was going to be a different song, but it kinda sets up the next track. It definitely accents the main song. It provides a nice buildup and then it just kicks in.

NG: The line “On shot of women, one shot of work, one shot is sweeter”, which is it?

BV: What’s funny is Ben introduces the song every night and says, “This songs called ‘Women and Work’, it’s about whiskey. So I think it’s just a drinking song. In our minds, it’s nice to have a lady, but what we do for work is ridiculously amazing, so I’ll stick with whiskey.

NG: Your fans constantly bring you drinks while your playing. Is there any point where you have to resist and keep your wits.

BV: It depends. We got a couple of people in the band that don’t drink anymore. I didn’t drink for a while. A lot of times you can take them, or you can just set them on your amps and save them for later. In the old days there was one night I didn’t drink anything, I was just curious. And I had 7 to 10 shots on my amp. I thought, ‘man it’s no wonder. We are lucky to be alive.’ That’s just outlandish. It’s hard to say no sometimes.

NG: Have there been any especially outlandish onstage incidents lately?

BV: The other night we played Colorado Springs and we were feeling pretty good and got all liquored up. By the end of the night all 8 of us had our shirts off. And we’re not attractive. It was pretty chaotic and fun.

NG: How did getting chosen to play this Metallica festival come about?

BV: From what I understand they handpicked the bands they liked. We have a friend in Austin that’s a bartender and his friend works for Metallica, and James Hetfield said ‘oh I like that hat, I like that band’. I was worried that it was going to be a lot of Sevendust and stuff like that and we’d be the little thing that didn’t belong. But it’s a pretty interesting lineup.

The following questions were sent and answered by lead singer Ben Nichols via email…

NG: Did you begin this record with a theme in mind or would you say it came about later? Or is the idea of women and work being a theme just wrong on my part?

BN: I’m not sure if it was ever intended to be considered a theme album. But the song “Women & Work” ended up setting a tone of the whole record. It was one of the first songs written. I wrote “It May Be Too Late” as a follow up to “On My Way Downtown”, but that is really the only direct link between songs I consciously put in there. Everything else just seemed to be coming from the same place. So hell I guess it is not a concept record but it is kind of themed.

NG: Would you say there is an acceptance of a lifestyle on this record more so than previous records?

BN: I think there was a sheer enjoyment of and appreciation of having such great musicians in my band. I’m having more fun playing now than I ever have before. And that is mainly because of the guys I’m playing music with.

NG: One shot of women, one shot of work, one shot is sweeter”…. which one is it?

BN: For me… I’d have to say women are sweeter. But I’m sure some folks would argue that. I guess everybody can decide for themselves. Maybe it changes from day to day.

NG: How would you say this record relates to the “Memphis sound”?

BN: For me it was a conscious combination of the Sun Studios and Stax Studios sounds. The horns can be soulful, but they can also be the sound of early rock & roll. I wanted to incorporate my love of early R&B and early rock & roll in a more overt way– and that is Memphis. By taking what we have always done and integrating a great Memphis piano player and horns as well as pedal steel I think we were able to make a kind of country soul record that hopefully just sounds like rock & roll.