Eric Bachmann's Crooked Fingers planted in red clay for now
Home is where the spark is for Archers of Loaf frontman
Eric Bachmann isn't the sort to sit still. For more than two decades, the lead of bands Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers has settled in and uprooted from multiple cities, states, and countries. He says he can't help but develop a strong connection with any place he calls home — though in Bachmann's world, that's a relative term.
"I feel extremely grateful to be part of Denver, to be part of Seattle, to be part of Chapel Hill and Durham, to be part of NYC," he says, speaking on the phone while touring to promote the new Crooked Fingers album, Breaks in the Armor. "I feel like the luckiest person. I've chosen to live a lot of places, and I don't leave and end a relationship."
When Bachmann says "home" these days, he means Georgia. It's partly why he chose to launch the Archers of Loaf 2011 reunion tour at the Earl in Atlanta last summer. But more than anything, his sense of home seems defined less by geography than by the act of creating music and finding people to share in that process.
Although he's recorded in Atlanta before and has friends here and in Athens, Bachmann's newest roost offers him more than a place to hang out and store his stuff. He's set up a new Crooked Fingers lineup in his Athens home base that jibes with his aesthetic, and he's developed a romantic relationship with Liz Durrett, his bandmate and recording partner.
"Liz and I like it there," he says. "We've talked about other places, too, but I think we'll stick around." An acclaimed musician in her own right, Durrett recorded her 2008 album, Outside Our Gates, with Bachmann as producer. She handles guitar duties in the current iteration of Crooked Fingers, with Athens musicians Jeremy Wheatley (Je Suis France, the Low Lows) on drums and Matt Nelson (A.Armada) on guitars, bass, and Moog synthesizer. "I really like the way the band I have now is sounding," says Bachmann. "The biggest pain in the ass is rehearsing the songs I wrote about 10 or 15 years ago."
When the Athens-based record label Warm released the first two Crooked Fingers releases 10 years ago, it set the precedent for that band's decidedly more weather-beaten and Americana-influenced sound, compared to the aggressive indie-rock din Archers of Loaf kicked up back in North Carolina in the '90s.
Crooked Fingers' October release, Breaks in the Armor, was recorded in Athens, but it had its start in Taipei, Taiwan, where Bachmann moved a few years ago out of frustration with the music business. "I was kinda burnt out with everything," says Bachmann, who'd hired publicists and tour managers to sustain a recording and touring career around the time of his independently released Crooked Fingers album Forfeit/Fortune in 2008. Always eager to act on his nomadic urges, he'd flirted with the idea of teaching English abroad in his 20s. After reaching the breaking point with his career, he decided to live out his past aspirations for one year by heading off to Taiwan, where Athens-based producer Andy Baker was also living. But Bachmann — a guy who spent more than two months in 2005 recording a solo album while living out of the back of his van — didn't anticipate the challenge of dealing with children in the classroom. "I was teaching kids and realized I wasn't that good at it. I'm too impatient, so dealing with children is horrible for me. I found right away that I really missed playing music."
When airy folk-rock duo, and former Georgians, Azure Ray got in touch and asked Bachmann to produce their new album, "that kind of gave me an excuse to come back to the States," he says. "I thought I could do anything for a year. But it only took me a month to start writing again. I bought a guitar about two months in and within minutes of getting home I'd written the very last song on the album."
With its subtle sounds and world-weary lyrics augmented by Durrett's haunting alto vocals, Breaks in the Armor features some of Bachmann's strongest songs. Its rustic, bare-bones production doesn't veer too far from past Crooked Fingers releases, thanks to the collaboration with Matt Yelton, an Athens technician who holds down a high-profile day job as the Pixies' touring sound engineer. "We had a similar aesthetic about the album's sound — just leave the recording alone, run it through some pre-amps, and pull back on anything else," Bachmann says.
In Bachmann's brief time there, Athens already has left its mark on his music. Whether he leaves an indelible mark on Athens, only time to tell.