by Craig Howieson
Eric Bachmann talks anger, cruel irony and a chemistry that never fades
Photo Credit – Kate Fix
There’s nothing like getting the old band back together. For Eric Bachmann – the Archers of Loaf frontman – it might have taken slightly longer than any of his group envisaged to put out a new record – twenty-four years to be exact – but on their new release, Reasons In Decline, there is plenty to prove it was worth waiting for. That is despite the fact that for Bachmann, it didn’t seem like much of a wait at all. ‘I don’t feel like I’ve been away from it,’ he says from his home in Athens, Georgia, where he has just finished a day of writing, and awaits his wife arriving home with their young boy from kindergarten.
Part of the reason he has found it so easy to step back into life with Archers of Loaf is that, for him at least, very little changed. ‘When the Archers stopped, I kept making music through Crooked Fingers and my own stuff.’ The catalyst for the new record was, in his own words, that he ‘just happened to make a batch of songs that were angry and deserved a rock band.’ Frustrated and angry at the toll the pandemic took on his life, mixed with America’s woeful political state, Bachmann had finally found the perspective from which to write that encapsulated the same anger that was so prevalent on his bands output in the 90’s. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t tried before.
The band previously reunited for a string of hugely successful gigs in 2011. It is a time during which Bachmann says ‘there was talk of making music. But then I tried and nothing was happening; I just couldn’t find the voice. I couldn’t sing like I was when I was 22 ’cause I didn’t feel that way anymore and I couldn’t find a way to bridge that.’
The fact he was unable to write in that way, at that time, is something he has now come to see as a blessing, as the intervening years provided perfect fodder for an Archers of Loaf album he felt carried a legitimacy. ‘When I found the perspective from which to write a new Archers record, it was completely reactionary to the Trump administration’s pandemic, which took so much from people who make music,’ he explains.
‘It was so difficult to live through that time because Trump is a symptom of a lack of responsibility in our media, and an embrace of anti-intellectualism that happens in America. It almost felt irresponsible not to react to it, as someone in a rock band who is a Joe Strummer fan. It felt like I had to say something, and we said it.’
Despite the initial reactionary nature of his writing, Bachmann also displayed the judgement required to ensure the record wasn’t time stamped upon release. ‘We didn’t want to write something that’s just about Trump because he’ll be gone in ten years, or whatever, and it won’t be pertinent. I was very careful as these are issues that are going to be around forever. Irresponsible media has been going on since The Bible; that’s a thing that we deal with as a species and all the songs are written to hold up in ten or twenty years or whatever.’
Reason In Decline is far from being a record solely about politics or the pandemic. Chiselled into tracks such as Saturation In Light are the pitfalls of falling into self-pity, while Bachmann also deals with his ongoing battle with anxiety. ‘I had all of this stuff to complain about,’ he says, ‘And I thought, “well I should do a rock record with these songs.” And I didn’t want to start a rock band, I already knew Matt, Mark and Eric.’
Even though he never had any doubts as to who was to be involved, getting them all together was a completely different challenge. ‘It’s like herding cats,’ he laughs. ‘The issue wasn’t whether anyone was in, the issue was the logistics of our lives. When we were a band in the 90s, we were all in the same town, doing the same thing, with the same goal. Now, I have a kid, Matt plays bass in Band Of Horses, Eric Johnson is a lawyer, and everyone lives in different towns. It’s hard to get everybody together.’
A passion for the project from all involved made it work though. One weekend a month was dedicated to live rehearsals for four or five months, then they all convened for the recording sessions so that they could all be there in the same room with each other, at the same time. ‘Another compelling thing for me and why I wanted to do another Archers record is that I missed the chemistry from that group of people playing,’ says Bachmann. ‘I never felt that we missed a beat in terms of our personalities getting along. We don’t always agree, per se, but we do have a good chemistry, and when you do things on your own for a while you miss that. When you formulate a relationship when you are 19 or 20, it lasts your whole life. That’s why I wanted to do another one before we were all too old to get up and play.’
Archers of Loaf hold a special place for many in the pantheon of alternative indie-rock, and their 90’s output is not only revered, but has also been hugely influential on a whole generation of bands who followed in their wake. Even if it’s something Bachmann doesn’t like to spend too much time dwelling on. ‘My belief is that if I start thinking “we influenced this band and that band” I just start self loathing. I feel like an asshole. That’s not what I get out of music. I am honoured that it is in the conversation, but it causes writer’s block.’ One of the bands most high profile acolytes is Matt Berninger who has continuously credited not only Archers of Loaf, but Bachmann’s incredible work as Crooked Fingers as an influence.
It is strange then to see a group return with a new record after bands they have influenced have forged hugely successful careers, and how the cycle of influence plays out to be reciprocal, rather than unidirectional. ‘I think The National are a great band, and I think Band Of Horses are a great band!’ Bachmann says of just some of the crop of bands that came up during Archers’ hiatus. ‘So, if I’m working on a song and I think that’s something The National might do, I’m not not gonna do it, but I’m not proactively trying to be influenced by anybody that I feel like might have been a fan of ours or whatever.’
But, ultimately, Bachmann likes to keep any ideas of legacy out of his mind. ‘It’s hard for me to feel any kind of weight or importance like that.’ As he says, it is not his driving force in creating music and it also can be a barrier to the practice he holds so dear. ‘This is what I plan on doing until I’m dead, so I don’t want to be stifled, and anything that creeps into that world I’m like, “nope bye.” It’s a defence mechanism I think.’
A lot has changed for Bachmann in recent years, some good, some bad. He welcomed his son into the world, a beautiful life-altering event that also brought with it severe anxiety issues. It was something of a shock for him to get his head around. ‘I used to have a sort of solid personality,’ Bachmann states. ‘I was always somebody you could rely on to be stable in any situation; I never had any other mental issues or any kind of problems, and then, immediately when I had a son, I started having significant bouts of anxiety.’
There is a cruel irony to the fact that his first experiences with anxiety came at a time when most people feel the highest levels of stress they are likely to ever experience: the first few weeks of raising a newborn. Bachmann’s protective nature only exacerbates the effects. ‘I just don’t understand how I could function if something happened to this person. That is always overhanging and I can’t handle the idea of something bad happening.’ For a man who writes as much as he does, it is inevitable that this thread is woven into the fabric of Reason In Decline. ‘It’s baked into a lot of the songs and is baked into a lot of the records,’ Bachmann agrees. ‘It’s baked into everything – it’s baked into the dinner I am having tonight.’
The pandemic only compounded Bachmann’s anxiety and struggle with seeing a way through. ‘You have to be cautious when you talk about these things,’ he points out. ‘People lose so much, and if you are sad or your mental health is damaged because you like your job, and that is taken away from you, you have to live in the context of your life, and that is a struggle and I had a struggle with that. But I also know people who have had really tough times losing children, so I am always cautious to talk about this when there is way worse stuff that can happen. That said, I think having the thing that gives you your source of self esteem and your sense of what you define yourself as, if that’s taken from you, it is devastating.’
Consigned to the house and caring for his young son, along with the anxiety that brought on, Bachmann’s former life became like a shadow – one that he didn’t know how to illuminate. ‘I’ve done this my whole life since I was 14. It’s how I’m known, it’s how I relate to the world, and it is what gives me a sense of confidence. It was stripped, I had nothing.’
Thankfully, time, writing and a reopening of the live musical world have all contributed to a more positive outlook. The anxiety remains, and Bachmann shares that it might always, but with the new album, a run of live dates that he is working on his physicality for (‘When I was 35, I’d just show up and I’d know if I show up and I play, and I haven’t worked on my physical health at all I’ll have a goddamn aneurysm!’), and having increased time to himself he is happy with the direction things are moving.
‘I love doing it so much that I’m making sure I’m ready for it. My kid just started kindergarten this year and I have more time during the day to work on stuff, and that’s been very good. There’s nothing better for my parenting than him giving me space for the day. When he comes home today, I’m the best dad. But if I’m thinking all these negative thoughts, I am a horrible parent. It’s like on an aeroplane – you put the mask on yourself then take care of those around you.’
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