If you were listening to good music in the ’90s, you were listening to Archers of Loaf. The band formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1991, and they were soon rocking some of the best indie clubs in the US — namely, Cat’s Cradle in the band’s hometown. Also the location of the University of North Carolina, the school’s newspaper raved about the Archers from the start. A full-page article in 1992 announced that Chapel Hill was the “new breeding ground for Punk.” It centred around Archers of Loaf and a few other bands, declaring vehemently: “PUNK’S NOT DEAD!”
Eric Bachmann (vocals, guitar), Eric Johnson (guitar), Matt Gentling (bass), and Mark Price (drums) almost immediately had a new take on the sounds reverberating in the early 1990s. Their music was experimental. In an era where everyone seemed to be defying the norm, their sound was unconventional. The Archers seemed like the true underground. Even as they gained national notoriety and received critical acclaim, they remained instigators of indie rock. Their music appeared in an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head in 1994 and on the Mallrats soundtrack a year later. They toured across the US, and they played at Reading Festival. After seven years and four albums, the band broke up in 1998. It would be years before they came together again as Archers of Loaf, but they’re back, and they might just be better than ever. They’ve got a new album out, Reason in Decline, and the Archers are on tour well into Spring 2023.
I’ve been a fan since the band’s early days, so I was eager to hear about how the Archers came together again to make a new record after nearly 25 years (has it really been that long?). I caught up with Eric Bachmann before the tour started to chat about Reason in Decline, getting back on the road, and that Mallrats soundtrack.
The new record is killer, and I’m so excited you guys are back at it. How did it all come together?
Eric Bachmann: I’ve been trying to do it since the reunion tour about ten years ago because I do love the chemistry between Matt [Gentling], Mark [Price], EJ [Eric Johnson], and myself. So I knew I wanted to make more music with them, but I couldn’t figure out how to write like an angry 22-year-old because I’m 52 now [laughs]. I tried, and nothing, nothing, nothing. Obviously, I’ve been writing other stuff for my own projects in the meantime, but none of it felt angry enough or appropriate enough for the Archers. Finally, we wrote six songs and did the Stones cover [Street Fighting Man], and those were cool, but it didn’t feel cohesive. I told Merge it’s got to be singles because I can’t put together an album. Then the pandemic happened. And before that, Trump happened. I had plenty of reasons to be upset, and it came out. I found a place where I could sing from authentically.
Politics seem to be at the centre of Mama Was a War Profiteer, which is one of the tracks on Reason in Decline that really struck me. I’ve listened to that song more than a few times already.
That one’s probably one of my favourites on the record, but I feel like I left it suggestive; I didn’t go too into detail about specifics. Everybody’s asking what’s that about? I feel it’s very strange that there are profits in weapons, profits from the military, profits in health care. It’s stuff you’ve heard before, but weapons shouldn’t be something people can make money off of, if it were up to me. With Mama Was a War Profiteer, I took a poke at that. But I don’t want to go all Joe Strummer on you [laughs].
Please, go Joe Strummer!
To me, part of the essence of the Archers was a little bit of antagonism, and it was possible to get back there again once the pandemic happened and Trump won the election.
Definitely makes sense to me. What was it like coming back together as Archers of Loaf, recording and practicing again as a band?
It was pretty seamless. It was the riding-a-bike thing. We get along well, and any of the baggage we had from previous years, well . . . we’ve sort of aged out of it. At this point, everybody wants to make a good record, and there are no other agendas. The hardest challenge for me was getting to the point of being able to write something for the Archers, while the actual process of recording and working with Matt, Mark, and EJ is very easy. I’ll write a skeleton with words and chords, and I’ll send that to EJ. He’ll write guitar parts for it, send it back to me. We didn’t do that with files in the ’90s like we do now, but we did do that exact thing in person. Otherwise, we’d waste Matt’s and Mark’s time — the bass player’s and the drummer’s time — because we’re so meticulous while we’re putting our guitar parts together. It starts with a song, and then we go back and forth with our guitar parts to deconstruct and reconstruct. Once we get to a point, we give it to Matt and Mark, and everybody’s cool with that.
So you share what you’re working on electronically, then?
Yeah, exactly. It’s what we always did, but now with modernity and technology. EJ and I worked on the guitar stuff for about a month or two on each song, sending it back and forth. Then we schedule a practice all together, hashing it out as a band. It’s a slow process versus what we used to do in the ’90s, just getting together. But we don’t have the luxury at this point where we live in the same town and can get a little small, sweaty practice space with a case of beer and just do it [laughs].
Speaking of the ’90s, I first heard Archers of Loaf on the Mallrats soundtrack. Is there a story there?
I think Kevin Smith just wanted to use the song. Actually, I’ve never seen that movie, and I’ve never met him. We were just fortunate enough to have a song on a movie soundtrack that was successful enough that we got some publicity from it. I think it’s inevitable that movies, and even television, bring fans, and I love that. I don’t know what we got paid for it, and it probably wasn’t a lot, but it was cool. I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t seen Mallrats . . . I have to see that movie.
I can’t believe you haven’t seen it!
I know, it’s crazy [laughs]. I do love movies. They’re an amalgamation of all art forms. You’ve got visual people, audio people, musicians, actors, graphics. It’s great for us — for artists — to have a song on a soundtrack because you get paid up front, and then you get new fans at the back end of it. I wish there was more of that.
So how’d the reunion happen? I assume it started with the Merge reissues?
It was exactly the reissues that started it. The Archers’ manager, Shawn Nolan, talked to Merge about reissuing our records, and Shawn came to me and said, ‘Would you do shows if that happened?’ So the backstory here: I had just been living in Taiwan, taking a hiatus. I was gonna go live there for a while, maybe teach English, make a little money, and just get away from music. It didn’t work out. I was there for about two months, I got a horrible teaching job, and I quit. I’d written maybe 10 new songs and thought, I’m just gonna come home. Shawn got in touch right around then to say Alias [the label that originally released the Archers of Loaf albums] was going to license the albums to Merge, and Merge was going to reissue them. He wanted to know if I’d tour to support that. I thought, yeah, I’ll do that, and the other guys in that band were up for it, too. I didn’t expect it to be as successful as it was. We were lucky, and we felt very fortunate about that. I had no intention of writing new Archers music back then, but working with the guys made me realise I wanted to do it again.
And now you’re heading back on tour soon?
Yeah, dates in the US into March, and we’d like to plan something for Europe and Australia. Touring is exciting, and that’s what we like to do the most. I love recording, of course, but touring is something we really look forward to. It’s funny, it’s a wonder at 52 years old that I haven’t gotten an aneurysm singing some of these songs since I’ve got to scream so loudly [laughs]. But I love doing it. I mean, I’m in good enough shape . . . I should be okay [laughs].
Buy yourself a copy of the new album Reason in Decline and catch Archers of Loaf on tour into 2023.
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