It's Just a Band
A conversation with Eric Bachman
caught by Matthew Fluharty

    I spent an hour or two drinking beers and smoking cigarettes with Eric Bachman on the steps outside of Club 770 in Madison last fall. What is transcribed below is our conversation, minus a few loose ends we never tied up, and a couple coughs and laughs. If this really is the end of the Archers of Loaf, the last thing I wanted to do was write a sweeping "I remember when.." piece, although that is my strongest inclination. As Eric said, they were just a rock band. Therefore, I am content with presenting the interview as a whole, and letting someone else tell you how much you liked the Archers.
    -Matthew Fluharty

MF: First of all, how's the new tour?

EB: The tour's going well. He haven't played in a while, so we're not wasted like we get when we tour a lot. We're having good shows so far.

MF: How has the crowd response been?

EB: It's been good, really better than average in terms of turnout and enthusiasm. We've had average crowds and then overly excited ones, but mostly we've found a happy medium, which is good.

MF: Which crowd do you prefer?

EB: It depends on how drunk I am, or how my mood is. I like the crowd to be politely enthusiastic. Politely destructive, obviously having a good time but not cutting the really cute indie rock chic in the front by winging their knees forward.

MF: What's the craziest thing that's happened on an Archer's tour.

EB: That would always involve sex stories, and we don't need to go there. Meeting Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and hanging out with him afterwards. It's hard to say, you should ask me when I'm drunk after a club show. We have to be more lubricated that way.

MF: Has the crowd ever done something absolutely insane?

EB: Well, I'm not proud of this, but I've hit people before because they shove the mic in front of me and have hit me in the mouth. There will be one guy being an asshole and generally I'll give him three chances. This isn't something I am proud of. This happened once in Berkeley, California and I jumped down and the guys who were putting on the show took him away. That was kind of an asshole thing to do, but you have to defend yourself.  I wasn't proud of it, but I would do it again.

MF: With White Trash Heroes has the writing process changed at all?

EB: Yeah, you don't want to repeat yourself, so you change things around. I think the recording process was more of a dramatic change than the writing process, because you do when you write songs is that you sit at home and write songs and then present them to the band, and we'll say "well, I'll play this keyboard part or this guitar part." Those questions are scary because you don't want to say "well we always wrote songs that way--we used to be formulaic." It should always change. On this one things were laid down one at a time, though we did play a lot of it live, too, but pieced together more perfectly so we could hear when one sound was beginning to get in the way of something else. We avoided that kind of over-arranging on this record. That's the biggest difference. Things are more appropriately placed in the song. That could be bad because you could make a really sterile record--you have to be careful.

MF: How much did the composition of those songs change when the band went into the studio?

EB: Some of them changed right away, like "One Slight Wrong Move" and "White Trash Heroes." "One Slight Wrong Move" was written a certain way, we tracked it and thought it sounded like shit, so we redid it and redid it. We sort of rewrote parts to go along with the recording. We rearanged things, it happens spontaneously sometimes. With "Banging on a Dead Drum," we tracked it a couple of times and still thought it was boring, so Brian [Paulson, Producer/Engineer] suggested we all get drunk and switch instruments because we were desperate and the song was turning out shitty. So we did that, and that's what you hear. Eric Johnson's playing drums, he usually plays guitar. Matt's playing slide guitar, he usually plays bass. Mark's placing bass; he usually plays drums. I played guitar because I was the one who knew the song.

MF: On the copy of the album I have, no one is listed as actually playing the instruments. Did anyone else come in and add to the songs?

EB: Every note played was completely us, except for the barroom vocals in "After the Last Laugh." That song has a celebrity guest--Joan Osborne. She and David Lowery from Cracker were upstairs. They came down to see what was going on and they just joined in.

MF: What in store for the future?

EB: We're not real sure what we're doing. Just to set the record straight: we got back from All the Nations Airports tour and we were not real happy with the way that went. Usually when you finish a tour you have a general idea of a song or two you can start working on, but we got back and were like "geez, what are we going to do?" I didn't have anything and I wasn't really excited about anything in the context of two guitars, a bass and some drums, so we said "why don't we just quit?" We took a few weeks with that idea in mind, and then we decided to do one more record and one more tour and if it happened again we'll go from there and call it quits. So we don't know really until after the tour's over. We're going to sit down and talk about it after that. I know one thing is sure: we won't be as active and we won't be touring all of the time. We might become a band that just records or we might become nothing. Or we may tour again. Somedays you could ask me that and I would tell you I want to stop, though I'll always do music. Other days, I'm excited about this. Since the tour is going well, I'm saying that right now, but I am also realistic and waiting to see how that goes.

MF: How do the songs from White Trash Heroes come out live? Are they representative of the album?

EB: They are pretty much representative, but all the songs are still very organic. People say "but you use synths and loops.." but you still play the songs live. It's still organic in the sense that we are striking the notes. It just so happens on one song, "White Trash Heroes," it's a loop, so you play along with the loop, and that's the drummer for that song. That's not organic, obviously, but still 4/5 of the song is organic. Certain songs we don't even play yet. We haven't even learned them that well due to the way the record was pieced together. They're not impossible to play, we just haven't pulled them out yet. And also, seeing how this very well may be the last tour, we are kind of keeping a lot of the old ones as a way to say thanks, because people like to hear them and I like playing them, because we haven't played them in so long. We are playing about four from every record. As time goes on we learn more of the new ones, and they've been coming across fine.

MF: Has the organic approach changed the live sound of the new material?

EB: Well, we play them like we recorded them. That's one thing that kind of gets boring, just cause you record the songs a certain way, and your'e playing the notes the same way for 50-70 days of the tour. That's why it's good to have a lot of songs; we mix it up that way. I used to believe that if a song is good it will always stay fresh, but that's not true. Even if it's a great song you can get sick of it.

MF: You mention that the Archers might become more of a studio band. Are there any engineers or producers that you would like to work with?

EB: Everybody we've ever worked with I would like to work with again. As far as other people that everbody knows about, there are very few. Why would you want to use somebody else's credentials to sell more of your records? But having said that, Chad Blake would be amazing to work with. He's in the Latin Playboys and he's recorded so much stuff, everything from Crowded House to Tom Waits' Bone Machine. He's always done such a good job with sounds. But he is also one of those guys where I ask myself "is he one of those guys I want to work with because he is creatively interesting?" which is "yes," or would it be the reason that because his name is on the record that it's going to sell more. Obviously, he is so creative that it would be the previous reason. I think Flood, who does stuff with U2 and PJ Harvey, might be cool. These are people that are way, way, way out of our budget. The great thing is that we worked with Brian Paulson on the last record and he should be way out of our budget and because he's a friend he doesn't do that. Also, it might be kind of cool to do a record with someone I grew up with, like John Paul Jones. We met him in London when we toured with the Butthole Surfers, and he seemed like a cool guy who had a lot of good ideas and wouldn't say stupid things to try and change the band.

MF: Are there any bands around right now that you find yourself getting excited about, or maybe even catching some influence from?

EB: This is a really negative things to say, but I have not really been blown away by any new bands. It's not that there are no new bands, it's just that I have been listening to a lot of old stuff lately. Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, good songwriters with guitar and voice. Before that I was listening to alot of Ventures, annoying stuff like that is very unorganic, althgough the Ventures are pretty organic. I've been listening to a lot of older music lately. There are new bands around that I've heard albums for that are pretty cool, like Neutral Milk Hotel.

MF: I agree with you. It seems like a few years ago there were a lot more current bands I was into in the "indie" scene, a word I use begrudgingly.  There's so much going on, Tortoise and the Chicago scene for example,  but I find myself less and less interested.

EB: Yeah, I think that Tortoise is fine; they're a good band. Sea and Cake and Elliott Smith are fine. But it's not as emotive to me as Hank Williams or Songs for a Room.

MF: Yeah, the mastery and art is there, and to a degree it is beautiful and moving. It seems like a couple years ago there was less pretention to it all.

EB: Absolutely, I think that's very true. I just think there is too much. I saw Beck being interviewed, and I think got a pretty good brain, not my favorite songwriter, but better than most people. Still he's got this great capacity for using sounds. Of all of this new wave of forced eclecticism, Beck is doing it in a really cool, unpretentious way. Some interviewer asked him some stupid question about where music should go, and he said that he thought there should be less rock. That's a shame, but I agree with it, though I don't think that is the case. I think there are a lot of bad and mediocre rock bands.

MF: The thing that bothers me about that statement is that the origin of punk/underground music was kids with amps and guitars saying something.

EB: Yeah, having something to offer. And now it's like rehashed.

MF: And you can't go out and get a farfissa and twelve xylophones.

EB: I agree. It would be really cool if there was a guy who just came out and sang and played guitar and was mind blowing. Who's the last guy that's done that? You could say Elliott Smith, but he's no Leonard Cohen, he's no Nick Drake. Elliott Smith is no Nick Drake. I'm not trying to diss, him maybe he need more time to develop what he's trying to do.

MF: Do you think we've cheapened the idea of the singer/songwriter?

EB: No, we haven't, but people like David Wilcox and James Taylor have.  Robyn Hitchcock is a singer/songwriter, but he doesn't take himself to seriously, so it's ok.  That's the whole problem with singer/songwriters, or the one with the bad images, because certain singer/songwriters have been so fucking serious, unreal and inhuman in that way, pretentious.  It's bullshit. There are some that are worthy; it's not an unworthy form.

MF: What is the North Carolina scene like right now?

EB:  In my opinion, it's pretty dead. There are a lot of country rock/roots bands that are so fashionable nowadays.  I don't have a problem with it being fashionable if they are for real. What am I going to do, criticize Jay Farrar for being in a roots rock band. Jesus Christ, ten years ago he was in Uncle Tupelo. He's consistent, that's what he's doing. There are a lot of bands coming up that are doing that and  I know for a fact that four years ago they were in indie rock bands.

MF: And even Son Volt on their new record is changing and moving off from the roots rock median.

EB: He's always apparent been against overdubs and punch-ins. Everything's honest. I think that has a lot to do with it-musicianship has gone down. Richard Thompson only needs a two track machine because he can play his ass off.  All those guys on Blue Note or David Weir, those mutherfuckers can play. So you're documenting someone being brilliant. I am even criticizing my own band, because we build things in the studio. I am not saying it's a lame thing to do, it's certainly a valuable form, when used as an aesthetic tool. You can't replace good musicianship, and that's why a lot of bands are weak, because they don't know how to play. Even the kids you mentioned earlier, who didn't know how to play, they were still offering something. It's become such a cliche. "Anyone can pick up a guitar and play, it's good, it's punk." No. You have to offer something. With labels signing anyone now, it's become quite easy to not be able to play and make a record and use Pro Tools to clean it up. You can hear it; it's boring.

MF: Speaking of this: how about the robot voice on White Trash Heroes? That's so cool.

EB: We played it ["One Slight Wrong Move"] in Montreal, and that's been the only time this tour. I have the vocoder, which is a Digitech talker, which essentially does the same thing. Half the band doesn't like it. When we recorded it Matt and I were the only ones there, so Eric and Mark weren't there for the decision. We thought it sounded so cool that we left it. When we finished the record and mixed it, they heard it and were like "what's that shit?" They didn't like it. I admire them for standing their ground, but we didn't take it out because they weren't there. That's why we don't play it live, because for me, if the whole band doesn't believe in that part then is it really right to play live? What happened in the song was that it sounded like shit, so Matt rewrote his bass part, Eric rewrote his guitar part, Mark rewrote his drum part and everything was redone. When I sang it and got to that part, I was singing it in my normal voice. Instead of being dynamic, it felt limp.  What were we going to do? We thought be could distort the vocals, but that's awfully fucking trendy. So we had this vocoder, and were like "oh, this is evil. The vocoder is dangerous water." We tried it and I loved the way it sounds.  We know it's a gimick, but at least we're honest about it. There was definitely a debate in the band. That was the first time the band ever disagreed on a musical issue. To me that's good. It pushes the band.

MF: Now for the junkyard dog questions. Someone wanted me to ask you if you all trash hotel rooms.

EB: We don't get them very often, but when we do, I would say yes.  Not like the Rolling Stones, did. We trash them just because we smell so fucking bad.

MF: If you guys were given the chance, would you tour the middle east?

EB: Depends on what kind of beer...Yeah, I would tour the middle east because I have never been there.

MF: What is the perfect date?

EB: Honestly, the perfect date would be for any guy getting laid then getting an ice cream cone, getting laid and getting a beer and getting laid and then she leaves.

MF: So say you were in Chapel Hill and you really wanted to romance her. Where would you take her out?

EB: You mean romance. I'm not talking about romance. I'm talking about the perfect date. I have a gal, and I haven't dealt with those issues in seven years. I think one good thing to do is not to call their genatalia derrogatory names. I don't think they like that very much.  Don't call her "my bitch." That's a start. Don't say things like "bitch, where's my pussy?" Don't say stuff like that. Girls don't want to hear it. The irony is that guys would love to hear that. They would love to hear "bitch, give me my dick." Don't you think?

MF: It would be very ennobling.

EB: Respect is the key thing, and some good wine, and it has to last longer than a few seconds.  I read some articles yesterday, because we have a lot of porn on the bus. Since this might be our last tour we have a bus, and lots of porn. I read that you can practice stamina, and teach your ejaculation response. When most guys masterbate, the article was saying, they always afraid of getting caught so they make it quick.  You can develop staying power if you jack-off for two hours. If you do that consistently, when you hook up and have your episode, you'll be a stallion.

MF: That's valuable information.

EB: So you can do that for three weeks or two months before you go out, or for your whole life, just doing it all the time.  You'll be a do right all nite man, as Aretha Franklin would say.

MF: What is the official holiday of the Archers of Loaf?

EB: For me it is Halloween.

MF: Do you guys dress up for Halloween?

EB: We've never dressed up before because we've always been on tour. We've worn masks before, so I guess that counts.  This year though, because there are tons of people on the bus with Creeper Lagoon, we're all going to dress up like pirates. We are thinking about hiring a bunch of strippers in Vancouver and have them onstage while both bands are playing, so it would be one big long set. The first half would be a Creeper's set and the last half would be us, but everybody's off stage. So you have eleven dudes on stage and three or four strippers and everbody dressed like a pirate.

MF: Would the pirates be chasing around the strippers?

EB: Oh, of course. It would be a cool. Arggghhh, mateee.

MF: I have heard in Canada that the strippers light their breasts on fire.

EB: Really, I haven't seen it. I'm the kind of guy that doesn't want to get in trouble. You can print that. She's confident and she knows I am whipped. I ain't going nowhere. In fact, everytime I go to a strip club I always bring back the garters. I'll ask the stripper for the garter and it always works. If you tell the stripper you've got a girlfriend, they want you all of the sudden, it's weird. They all of the sudden are less frightened because they know you're no psycho. That's another romantic thing: if you are going to be a sleazeball, keep her in mind.  I could talk about flowers and wine and all of that crap but the reality is, you've got to be a good dude. It's all obvious.

MF: So if this really is the last tour, what are your feelings about being in the Archers of Loaf, looking back on it?

EB: I feel good about it. It's a band, it's not that big of a deal. Bands exist, bands break up. One of the reasons why stopping now is appealing to me is that I like everything we've done. Certainly, I listen back on songs and think about bad decisions, but as a whole I am really proud of everything we've done. So when you keep going after a long time, and you are getting the thousand dollar guarantee, and actually making money. It's cool playing shows and making money, although it may not be fun. You start getting in that mindset, which happens. Anyone who has been around for a long time is full of shit. What can happen is that you can become complacent and start writing bad music. I rather stop before we put out shit. Some tell us not to stop because we'll bum them out. But wouldn't it bum them out more if the next record we put out sucked? That's why the idea of stopping while we haven't done that yet is a good idea to me. I'm not saying we will do that yet; I don't know. If we come back from this tour and don't feel inspired to do anything, and we feel like we are forcing it, it's going to happen.  Nobody is better than that. If you don't give a shit then you are going to become conplacent about that part of your life, and you'll start sucking.  That emotion, that idea hit me when we got done with that last tour. When we got back we were like "we've got to write another record," and I was sitting at home and nothing was coming out. I would never play them for you, but there are four track tapes that I threw away. I was rehashed. It becomes formulaic.

MF: Like a 9-5 rocker..

EB: Yeah, I don't want to that. I always want to do music, I don't think it's becoming boring, but in terms of a band, it's got four variables. You run out of ideas in that context. I'd rather stop when the ideas stop.

MF: Are there any questions that you always wished someone had asked you?

EB: No. The one question we always get is about the name. It's so much fun to come up with an answer. Matt and I do quite well at it. Mark's pretty good at it too. We'll talk out of our ass about it, and be really serious. "What's your name mean?" "Well, it's a long story but there was an old urban legend, and also an old British piece of folklore that probably evolved in the 1400's or 1500's right before the Renaissance. What you had here was a working class peasantry and you had the elite. We thought, hey, if you take both of those paradigms, and you cross reference them and you have one matrix in the the middle, and you think about all the other elements during that time, it sort of starts to make sense. The Archers of Loaf. Take those ideas, the honest hunter, the archering hunter, the death/love life thing, rather, the birth/love/life thing it comes full circle really. What you are left with is this obvious image of what the Archers of Loaf is.

MF: They buy it.

EB: It really interesting in Europe, because I can here them going "oh..I'll listen to that when I get home because I can't understand what he's saying." Or people ask what the name means and you go "aarrrhghghgharhttal"[loud beastly roar]. Sort of like that, that's what we were going for, or the "mehememeelele."

MF: I have heard it was synonymous with taking a shit.

EB: I have heard people say that, or throwing shit around. There's the obvious literal one, which is promoting slackerness. It's none of those things specifically. I don't know, I'm in the band, so I figure I would have heard that one. I have heard from climbers that apparently you can arch a loaf if you are on a wall climbing. I have also have heard another one, an academtic one, which is really funny. There's a book by Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, and there's this episode in there called the archers of indigents, a group of people who went around killing homeless people. A professor from Northwestern showed that to us, and said "you got it from there, right?" Sure... Apparently there is an old painting that has a guy with loaf of bread and some archery stuff.
 

Notes:
the photo of the archers was taken by Chuck Price, at a greasy chicken place in Chapel Hill, the Time Out
the photo on the front page was taken by Heather Maceachern
two good archers sites are Go Loaf! and Harnessed in Slums 2000
there is also the Alias Records page
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