Finger Pick: Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers/Archers of Loaf
Eric Bachmann is, at present, homeless. Not homeless in the penniless, street-scavenging sense of the word, but more in a nomadic sort of way. However, he's not come into this condition by choice. "I need to find a place to live here soon," Bachmann says from a roadside phone in Phoenix. "(I've got) no permanent residence now. My stuff is at a friend's house in Atlanta. I don't have much stuff, though. It all fits in the back of my truck -- CDs and clothes. This used to be really romantic and wonderful, and now it's very disorienting."
After finding a home in the underground and turning the indie-guitar rock world upside down, fronting Chapel Hill's college-rock darlings Archers of Loaf for much of the '90s, Bachmann and his bandmates became tired. Tired of playing the same songs over and over and being on tour for months of the year without hope of a simple lifestyle back home. So the beloved Archers called it quits. There was no bad blood, it was simply necessary.
"It was an amicable thing," says Bachmann. "We still get along as people. We were just sick of doing it. We were a band for about eight years, so we felt it had run its course. We all still get along, so who knows? But I'm pretty sure that everyone else has their own thing going on."
Since the breakup, the members of Archers of Loaf have started to accomplish things almost as intriguingly sundry as the group's name: Bassist Matt Gentling is guiding another band (The Track Rabbits) as well as working at an outdoor sporting store, drummer Mark Price has been tending to a family farm in Tennessee, and guitarist Eric Johnson is trying to get accepted into the FBI in addition to running an exotic birds shop.
For Bachmann, Crooked Fingers has been priority one since Archers of Loaf disbanded. Crooked Fingers is an odd creation in that it started out as part of the Archers and has moved into full-blown official band status. "It was in my mind as the last Archers tour was finishing, but there were a lot of songs floating around in my head that didn't fit with the Archers as far as how I thought they should be arranged," says Bachmann. "Some of the songs on the new record are very old and started around the time of Vee Vee(1995), so I would say the project is about two years old, but the seeds of it started around four or five years ago. The way I heard the songs was with strings and more sustained quiet tones, and we weren't doing that. And it didn't seem like we were really a band that should be doing that."
Bachmann believes that the same fan base from the Archers isn't necessarily going to follow the newborn Fingers. "I'm definitely losing a few people," he says. "You know, the guys wearing baseball caps and being loud, yelling ... they aren't there. They don't like the mellow stuff. That's fine. That's how it works. I expected that."
Crooked Fingers was not started because of any sort of spite or bad reactions from the rest of the band. "I wouldn't say the band reacted against it, but I do know that as we kept going and I would present things, there would be less enthusiasm. I don't know if that's a result of being in a band that toured too much or just a lack of enthusiasm for the songs. Those guys were very open to things. They certainly weren't close-minded. I don't think it was because they weren't accepting; they tell me they think the record is good."
Bachmann reveals part of the grind that repeated touring for a good portion of each year can take on a band that really sang for its supper. "People were getting older, and we were realizing that touring eight months of the year wasn't very rewarding if you have girlfriends and other aspects of your life that you want to have fulfilled," he explains. "Touring that much doesn't allow things like that to develop and go on in a good way, so I think that was the issue."
Crooked Fingers' self-titled debut on Warm Records does seem comfortably familiar, with Bachmann's distinct raspy growl guiding the listener through the various paths of lonesome drunken losers with self-destructive natures. However, every bit of familiarity Loaf fans might feel with Bachmann's voice becomes overwhelmed by a new sensation once they realize that the machine-gun snares and dive-bombing guitar assault of the Archers isn't going to crash in at any minute; instead, the orchestral swells and sedate guitar parts combine to make what is to the naked eye a prettier picture, yet every bit as compelling and sickeningly real as anything the Archers produced. Snaking through genres, Crooked Fingers is an album full of songs that are timeless; tried and true songwriting mixes with an epic rock and folk feel, and an eclectic band of players and instruments make for an album full of life, inspiration, and desperation. It lyrically explores the most beautiful aspects of the darkest moments of the existence of various barflies and assorted drunken characters Bachmann has witnessed over the years.
"The songs are based on people, other people, that I've developed either positive or negative relationships with," he says. "Without sounding too stiff or specific, they're basically about aspects of those people's personalities that I don't like, or that I do like and they make me not like myself in a certain way. It has to do with discomfort. I don't feel like I'm writing good songs when they're comfortable."
Environment has a lot to do with how Bachmann perceives these characters as well. "I think a lot of that is because the environment that I know these people in is always in a rock club or bar. These people aren't really that way, but it's just that I know them in that context ... and I feel like writing that way is more accurate," he says.
What do you do when Chapel Hill starts to not feel like home anymore, your band is broken up, and your best friends have moved on? Take the new band on tour, that's what. Bachmann initially hauled his act out on the road all by himself, traveling the country in a truck full of his possessions, including his guitar and amp, doing small shows city to city. His current tour expands on that original idea and incorporates a full backing band (composed of Georgia-based labelmate Empire State, which shares the bill). The transition, and the awkwardness within, is welcomed by Bachmann.
"I think to change it up is good," he says. "It would get boring to do it the same way. I think that's why the Archers of Loaf got so sick of doing it, because we played the same way for seven years. I think going from doing it all by myself to switching it up to a full band is really good. I dunno ... sometimes I feel more comfortable by myself."
With an attitude like that, who needs a home?
(Originally published in The Pitch on April 6, 2000.)