Published Jul 25, 2011In the 1990s, Archers of Loaf were one of the bands at the forefront of indie rock. They weren't as prolific as Guided By Voices. They weren't as charming as Pavement. And they weren't as scrambled as Sebadoh. But thanks to their inimitable sound, a cerebral and tense collision of braying guitar lines and frontman Eric Bachmann's unmistakable bark, the Archers were one of the more popular bands at the time, building a devoted fan base that is still passionate about them today. Now 13 years later, the band have reunited, answering the prayers of their fans not just by teaming up with Merge for a series of vault-clearing reissues for their four albums ― 1993's Icky Mettle, 1995's Vee Vee, 1996's All the Nation's Airports and 1998's White Trash Heroes ― but also a tour that will carry on well into 2012. And of course, there's always the possibility of a new album. Exclaim! caught up with Bachmann en route to Toronto for a Crooked Fingers show to discuss what prompted the reunion, the trend of '90s bands coming back for a victory lap, the specific plans to tour each reissue, what lies ahead for the band and why Archers fans are like Republicans.
So how did Archers of Loaf get back together?
I moved to Taiwan for six months so Matt kept all my stuff at his house. We talked about it when I got back from Taiwan and it seemed like the right thing to do. We have a manager named Sean who organized it for us and everybody was up for it. There wasn't anything complicated about it. Everything just came together. And we thought if we're gonna do it, let's do it now. Because ten years from now we'll be too old to do it.
When exactly did the discussion to reform start?
There was joking. If I was in Asheville or wherever with Crooked Fingers they would all come see me. But the serious talks started when I returned from Taiwan. I was ready to do it.
What were you doing in Taiwan?
I have a friend there who owns a recording studio. I was burnt out on music so I went there to teach English. I did that for about six months and then came back. I realized quickly that I didn't want to do that! [laughs] I ended up missing music. I was teaching kids, which if you know me, I'm not trained in any way… I'm not necessarily bad with kids, but I have no business teaching them. I realized that wasn't what I wanted to be doing, and I had an offer to produce an Azure Ray record so I decided to come back to the U.S. I recorded it at a studio in Asheville, where Matt and Eric live and we got talking while I was doing that.
How did you do with the language over there?
I knew very little, but I was learning Mandarin. And Taiwanese Mandarin is slightly different from the mainland Mandarin. It was a very difficult language to learn. I could order a few things and ask for directions, but it's a tough one man. That's the kind of language where you learn a phrase and you say it back to them exactly as you heard it and they say it isn't quite right. You can do that for an hour!
How are you feeling now playing the songs on stage together?
It feels great man. It's like riding a bike. It's been really fun. They're great people to hang out with.
Does it feel like 13 years have gone by?
Actually, yeah it does. With those songs to me, I felt quite removed from the songs at our first rehearsal. I had to change my relationship with them, in my head and my mind in order to play them for people. Now that relationship has changed. The reward I got out of it in the '90s was a power, a belief in what those songs were. Now it's more that I'm looking out to an audience and they're singing those songs. That's the reward I get out of it.
There's been a real '90s revival over the past few years. Do you think Archers of Loaf reuniting can be beneficial because of that?
I know that it wasn't intentional, because none of us really follow things close enough to realize that. But we knew Guided By Voices reunited and Pavement and Dinosaur Jr and Polvo. We actually waited a while and may have done it sooner if those bands hadn't. We thought, "Now that all these bands are doing it, it might be harder for us to do it." But it will be fun because we'll get enjoyment out of it.
When the band broke up in 1998, it always struck me as one of the more realistic break-ups. Mark had surgery for carpal tunnel and you guys weren't really happy with how things had turned out after White Trash Heroes. Would you say reuniting was easy because breaking up wasn't so acrimonious?,
We didn't break up because of one record, we broke up because we were all tired of the whole thing. It wasn't because of performance sales wise of the record or tour. We were just bored of the rigorous touring schedule and not having time to do other things musically. We certainly had problems with each other every now and then, everyone argues, but we never had a really massive fall out. As you were saying, it was a very well thought out tour. "Let's do one more tour and if we're not happy with it we'll stop." So we did one more tour and decided to stop.
How do you look back on White Trash Heroes?
Well, it's got four really good songs.
Are those the songs you'll be playing live?
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly! We're not playing any of them on this tour because we're reissuing Icky Mettle and that's the one were supporting now. So when the reissue of White Trash Heroes comes out we'll play more from that record. We're trying to spread it out because Merge Records has been kind enough to reissue everything. So we're just scheduling the touring around that, basically.
So you'll basically focus on the reissue that you're touring?
Yeah, but we'll always play the "hits," even though we don't have any hits. We play the ones that people want. Like I said before, the relationship has changed and it's more about pleasing the people that supported us all those years, and supported me afterwards. I'm really grateful to them. I wouldn't be able to do this without them. I get great satisfaction out of those people smiling back at me.
Are there plans to write any new material?
It's a ways off but I would love to do that. I would really love to see if we could do something that feels vital and interesting to us, but that has to be seen. It would be a mistake to go back to that personality and discover parts of me that was playing that music back then. Trying to recreate that feeling because it doesn't exist anymore. We'd all have to come back and decide how it can work. The fear being we'd do something completely different and the Archers fans wouldn't respond to it positively. But you just make the thing and if it goes well it goes well, if it doesn't it doesn't. We talk about it but it's a hard thing to say yes to just yet.
As you mentioned, Merge is reissuing the albums. Did you approach them or did they approach you?
Sean Nolan approached them but we've always been good friends. We've known them forever. They didn't want to do it based on the label relationship we had with Alias, with licensing the records from that label. So we had to bring those two parties together and Merge was fantastic in making that work. We're extremely grateful to Merge for the legal negotiations that had to happen in order to make the reissues happen. Alias had the rights to the masters.
Archers of Loaf made their television debut recently on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. I can't believe Jon Stewart or Conan O'Brien or Arsenio Hall never invited you in the '90s.
It's the first time that Archers of Loaf played on national television. I always say Archers fans are like Republicans here in the U.S. in the sense that we have fewer fans than everybody realizes, but they are just really loud. It seems like we had more fans than we really did. It's one of those things were people say, "Yeah man, I remember being at that show!" And I say, "I remember that show and there were only 12 fucking people there! You weren't there!" It's that kind of thing that happens because we weren't as big as people thought.
It's well known that Archers of Loaf spoke to Madonna's Maverick label back in the day. Was there ever any regrets over not taking an opportunity like that?
Not really because it's the kind of thing where if you get chewed up and spat out you'd have nothing left. I felt like not doing that and keep going doing what I wanted to do after that because I wasn't signed to a big contract with someone else, or because my ego hadn't been crushed by a deal that went terrible. So I never regretted it. But I'm sure there are things we could have done smarter, like with licensing the music and made more money that way. And obviously when we broke up it was okay for the Shins to do a McDonald's ad or Iron & Wine to do an M&M's ad. We could never have done that. We would have been laughed at. In our minds we couldn't have even done that. The industry changed that way.
Will Archers of Loaf be coming up to play Canada soon?
I would love to. We didn't do Denver either, and I lived in Denver. We didn't do Minneapolis or Toronto or Vancouver. We really want to do those cities but everybody works so we can only do weekends. This year is booked, but in the new year with the next reissues in February or March we're going to try and get to those places like Toronto. If I had to wager money I would wager a lot of money that we will.