In the cluttered landscape of musicians trying to hit upon the next big thing or clinging to past successes and never venturing far from their established sound, it is refreshing to discover an artist in a constant state of metamorphosis. Eric Bachmann is best known for his seminal 1990s band, Archers of Loaf, though he’s a man who has never stayed still, neither physically nor creatively. He has restlessly moved from noisy, edgy indie rock to instrumental film soundtracks to alt-folk and Americana to dream-pop collaborations — and at one point, he quit music altogether.

One gets the impression that he was always on a mission of self-realization, a personal quest to find his artistic voice. With his latest solo album, an honest and engaging collection of introspective songs, he may well have found it.

Formative Years with The Archers of Loaf

Eric Bachmann was born in Greensboro, North Carolina and raised in Asheville. Early on, he majored in saxophone at Appalachian State University, but instead joined forces with guitarist Eric Johnson, drummer Mark Price and bassist Matt Gentling in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1991, to form the noisy and edgy Archers of Loaf.

The early 1990s were a fertile time for indie rock and college radio stations, and the band was enthusiastically supported, developing a cult following in indie circles. They released four studio albums — Icky Mettle (1993), Vee Vee (1995), All the Nation’s Airports (1996) and White Trash Heroes (1997). They also put out a compilation album titled Speed of Cattle (1996), an EP, a compilation album and three live albums. The last of these live recordings, ‘Seconds Before the Accident’, was released posthumously in 2000.

Through their releases and heavy touring, Archers of Loaf amassed a large contingent of dedicated fans and an abundance of press accolades. They regrouped for a surprise show in January 2011 at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. This was followed by a proper club tour to commemorate Merge Records’ rereleases of their studio albums.

The Instrumental Soundtracks of Barry Black

In 1995, Bachmann collaborated with producer Caleb Southern to release a mostly instrumental album under the pseudonym Barry Black (this was inspired by an inside joke that he was “the opposite of Barry White”). An informal series of sessions recorded at home with various Chapel Hill musicians turned into a serious project of adventurous atmospheric soundtrack music. It was released by Alias Records, the Archers’ label. Bachmann performed several instruments including organ, Moog, guitar, banjo, saxophone, drums and clarinet.

The music was inspired by everything from modern classical and world music to pop, folk and jazz. There were contributions from local musical luminaries such as pianist Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five), fiddler Bill Hicks (Red Clay Ramblers), trumpeters Chris and Jim Clodfelter (Geezer Lake), percussionist Chris Wabich and on vocals, Cat’s Cradle club owner Frank Heath. Barry Black released a follow-up album, ‘Tragic Animal Stories’, in 1997.

Temporary Retirement and Crooked Fingers

Shortly after Archers of Loaf disbanded in 1998, Bachmann, who was burnt out from the business, decided to quit music altogether. It was a decision that proved to be short-lived. He moved to Taipei, Taiwan and accepted a job teaching English to children. At the time, he intended to stay there for the rest of his life, but after a few months, he wanted to start playing music again. He purchased a cheap guitar and began writing the songs that would make up the debut Crooked Fingers album.

Crooked Fingers was a sonic departure from the raucousness of Archers of Loaf. With a revolving cast of musicians, the band’s music was a rich and darkly shaded blend of indie rock, alt-folk and Americana. Their lavish instrumentation over the course of ten years included guitars, cello, violin, double bass, trumpet, mandolin, clarinet, flute, sax, percussion and lap steel guitar.

They released six full length albums — their self-titled debut, ‘Bring on the Snakes’, ‘Red Devil Dawn’, ‘Dignity and Shame’, ‘Forfeit/Fortune’ and ‘Breaks in the Armor’. On their ‘Forfeit/Fortune’ album, there were guest appearances by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa), Brian Kotzur (Silver Jews) and Neko Case (The New Pornographers).

Short Careers – Bachmann’s Collaborations and Solo Projects

It wasn’t until 2002 that Eric Bachmann released his first proper solo album, the amusingly titled ‘Short Careers’. It was an instrumental soundtrack album for the indie film ‘Ball of Wax’, about an evil baseball player consumed with greed. The album picked up where Barry Black left off, now under Bachmann’s own name, and would mark his first attempt at film scoring.

He followed this up in 2006 with his second solo album, ‘To The Races’. This austere and powerful collection of folk ballads features Bachmann’s gravelly vocals and acoustic guitar, with guests Tom Hagerman on violin and Miranda Brown on vocals. Its introspective nature and sparse instrumentation may have had something to do with the environment in which it was written — living out of his van in the Seattle area.

Though Crooked Fingers continued to be Bachmann’s main vehicle for his music, he worked on other musicians’ projects as a producer, arranger, engineer and multi-instrumentalist. He made appearances on recordings by Azure Ray, Micah P. Hinson, Laura Minor, David Dondero and Liz Durrett (Bachmann’s wife, who performed on Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor album and played with them live). He joined Neko Case’s touring band in 2013, playing guitar and piano, and continued to work on new songs for his third solo album, which saw its release on Merge in March 2016.

Boldly and Modestly into the Future

On Bachmann’s latest self-titled solo album, he openly and honestly shares his insights and contemplations with mature, introspective songs that examine such weighty topics as life, love and loss. His recent intimate performances, presented as a classy yet humble career retrospective with songs from every project and album, seem to be at once paying tribute to and closing the book on his past, to focus more fully on his solo career. His decision to retire Crooked Fingers and release this new album with his name and nothing else is the artist fully unmasked, venturing forth with newfound creativity and confidence.

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