Archers of Loaf
Archers of Loaf
Alternative rock band
Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Archers of Loaf have managed to distinguish themselves from other alternative rock bands riding in the wake of Nirvana’s epic 1991 crossover to the mainstream. They have done so by maintaining a balance between writing songs for themselves and catering to their fans. Steadfastly avoiding major record label overtures from 1993 to 1997, the band has forsaken the lure of the multi-platinum success of bands like Green Day and Bush. In so doing they have built a mass of critical and listener support and have retained the reigns of creative control.
Yet the Archers have not avoided the limelight just for the sake of doing so, or in opposition to the very idea of a wider audience. As Village Voice rock critic and avowed Archers fan Robert Christgau put it in 1995, “unlike many alternabands, right up to the notoriously uneven Pavement, they’re not so stricken with incompetence, fear, irony, or disdain that their live efficiency or enthusiasm is ever in question.” This is not an unimpressive achievement in an alternative music culture riddled with such self-important negativity.
Members include Eric Bachman (born May, 1970 in Asheville, NC), vocals, guitar; Matt Gentling (born June 24, 1970 in Asheville, NC), bass; Eric Johnson (born November 17, 1969 in Asheville, NC), guitar; Mark Price (born October 19, 1972 in Asheville, NC), drums.
Group formed in Chapel Hill, NC, 1992; recorded first single, “Wrong,” late 1992; signed with Alias Records and released Icky Mettle, 1993; turned down offers from major labels, including Madonna’s Maverick, 1994; contributed song to Step Right Up: the Songs of Tom Waits, 1995; contributed song to Mallrats movie soundtrack, 1995; released All The Nations Airports, 1996.
Awards: Best Indie Rock Album of the Year, Interview, 1993; Best EP of the Year, Village Voice, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —Alias, 2815 West Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA 91505. Band —Archers of Loaf, PO Box 17022, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. E-mail— [email protected]
The dual Erics, Bachman and Johnson, are the guitar-wielding front men in the Archers of Loaf, and Bachman is the band’s singer. The two grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, a small city of 50,000 in the far western part of the state across the Great Smoky Mountains from Knoxville, Tennessee. Both were raised in upper-middle-class homes (Bachman as the son of an insurance salesman), and they met again at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, near the metropolis of Raleigh-Durham. Bachman had studied saxophone for two years at Appalachian State University before transferring to U.N.C. In January of 1992 Bachman and Johnson met bassist Matt Gentling and drummer Mark Price and formed the Archers of Loaf. Usually referred to as simply “the Archers,” it isn’t clear what the band’s name refers to, but its quirkiness is in keeping with song titles like “Hate Paste,” “Audiowhore,” and “Vocal Shrapnel.”
The band came together at a time when Chapel Hill’s reputation for breeding college music hits had music industry insiders plugging it as the next big scene. Just as in Seattle after Nirvana’s mainstream crossover in 1991 and Athens, Georgia (another college town), in the mid-80s following R.E.M.’s meteoric rise, legions of record company talent scouts descended upon Chapel Hill’s music scene. Other local bands the Archers shared the spotlight with were Superchunk, Polvo, and Small (also known as Small 23, owing to copyright disputes with other bands apparently using the same self-deprecating moniker). In fact, Bachman was a founding member of Small, as well, contributing to that band’s 1993 EP, Cakes. But when Small gained record label attention and it came time to choose his allegiance, Bachman stuck with the Archers.
Under a local music fanzine and label called Stay Free, the Archers of Loaf recorded their first single, “Wrong” in late 1992. This release attracted the attention of a number of independent record labels, and the band signed with Burbank, California-based Alias Records. The first album, Icky Mettle, was released in 1993 and attracted significant praise in the college/alternative music industry. The first single from the album “Web in Front,” gained measurable airplay both on college radio and on MTV. In addition, the album was on the influential College Music Journal (CMJ) charts for 22 weeks. Interview gave Icky Mettle the magazine’s highest praise, naming the album “Best Indie Rock Album of the Year.” The album’s varied compositions drew comparisons to a number of sources: the latter-day punk of Washington, D.C.’s Fugazi, the alterna-pop of late-80s indie godfathers the Pixies, and the early 90s low-fidelity, art-school rock of Pavement.
In the fall of 1993, the Archers headlined the Alias Records segment of the CMJ music festival in New York, where bands, college music DJs, and label scouts converge annually to observe new talents. Writing in Rock: the Rough Guide, critic Jonathan Swift described a live Archers show from the early ‘90s: “The intensity of Eric Bachman, the dreaminess of Eric Johnson, and the muppet-like qualities of Matt Gentling and Mark Price combine to make one of the most solid live bands touring today.”
Continuing their regular recording schedule but offering up a shorter release this time, 1994 saw the band issue The Archers of Loaf vs. the Greatest of All Time EP. More punk in style than their previous work, the release again garnered extensive college airplay and also topped Village Voice critic Christgau’s list of the year’s best EPs. This feat prompted many major record labels to call on the band and even prompted singer Madonna to show up at an Archers performance and try to sign them to her Maverick label. The band spurned all the offers, preferring to stick with the independent Alias. Perhaps this decision was motivated by a desire to avoid the pitfalls of the countless bands who have signed to major labels, only to find themselves dropped after falling short of the required number of album sales. Gentling confessed to the Village Voice’s Christgau that the band had a fear of catering to the desires of the marketplace rather than its own original inspiration. “I like the way certain people maintain their privacy,” Bachman added. “Like Tom Waits—he’s always done what he wants, right?”
Following The Archers of Loaf vs. the Greatest of All Time’s release the band embarked on its longest sustained period of touring to date—over 12 months spent traveling across the United States and Europe, including a stop at England’s influential Reading Festival. In 1995 the Archers entered the studio with legendary alternative music engineer, Steve Albini, whose long list of credits include In Utero, Nirvana’s follow up to their multi-platinum Nevermind. The result, Vee Vee, was another success, spending 14 weeks on the CMJs Top 50 list and six weeks in the Top 10.
Rolling Stone’s review of the album deemed the band “top of the heap” of the Chapel Hill crowd and described the release as follows: “Weirdo song titles (‘Under-achievers March and Fight Song,’ ‘Let the Loser Melt’) and lyrics stuffed with quips (‘the underground is over crowded’) testify to a welcome humor; dissonant guitars lend a wicked edge. And when the Archers settle into full-out rocking—the hammering ‘Harnessed in Slums’—they do so with satisfying savagery.” That same year Alias also released the first product of Bachman’s solo project, Barry Black, a mostly instrumental, experimental amalgam of rock, jazz and folk influences incorporating instruments like the sax, trombone, cello and Brazilian rainstick.
This critical success led the band back to the road, albeit playing in bigger venues and on tour with similarly quirky but slightly better financed bands like the Flaming Lips and Weezer—a group propelled in part by its big-time producer, former Cars front man Ric Ocasek. The Archers also continued their string of annual Alias releases, producing their third album, The Speed of Cattle, in early 1996. In contrast to the studio albums, however, this release was an 18-track collection of assorted B-sides, alternate versions of previously released tracks, live recordings, and sessions from the London studios of John Peel. Known as “Peel Sessions,” many punk/alternative bands of the last 20 years, from the Buzzcocks to Nirvana, have paid a visit to this studio to record a few songs for limited release.
Even with the lack of new material, The Speed of Cattle merited an “A minus” in the Village Voice’s “Consumer Guide,” and Christgau added, “I say the bits and pieces of the most musical band in Alternia beat the fully realized works of art of mortal road heroes. In fact, I say they are fully realized works of art.”
Ever the touring band, the Archers continued to play dates in the United States and Europe up to and following the recording of their next album, All the Nations Airports, during March and April of 1996. Released in September of that year, the album was again on the Alias label but this time with the added U.S. distribution muscle of Elektra Records behind it. It was recorded at Ironwood Studios in Seattle and featured slicker production than that on the band’s earlier “low-fi” releases. In contrast to the week spent recording earlier albums, which were essentially taped live, this time the band spent a month just preparing the sound settings. The final product was a similar departure in song writing, including shorter songs, four instrumentals, and a three-song mini-rock opera. “Worst Defense,” “Attack of the Killer Bees,” and “Rental Sting” were listed as three songs but played as one. The Archers referred to the songs affectionately as “the trilogy.”
In January of 1997, the band released another EP on Alias, Vitus Tinnitus. Also rereleased that year was the first Archers recording, “Wrong,” on an Atlantic Records compilation of songs appearing on the popular but short-lived TV show, My So-Called Life. This followed at least five other compilations in the previous two years that featured Archers tracks, including the soundtrack to the movie Mallrats, Step Right Up: the Songs of Tom Waits, and a CD to benefit the beloved Chicago indie music venue, Lounge Ax. Furthermore, the single “Harnessed in Slums” from Vee Vee was named “one of the best protest songs in indie rock” by Trouser Press founder Ira Robbins. This acknowledgment, along with a string of solid indie album releases enabled the Archers to continue following their own inspiration. The band’s lasting significance to the music world was deemed by the Village Voice to be, “in croaked, wild, intelligent music that’s also virtuosic, especially up against the myriad alt bands who fancy themselves players these days.”
Icky Mettle (includes “Web in Front”), Alias, 1993.
The Archers of Loaf vs the Greatest of All Time (EP), Alias, 1994.
(Contributor) Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits, Manifesto, 1995.
Vee Vee (includes “Underachievers March and Fight Song” and “Let the Loser Melt”), Alias, 1995.
(Contributor) My So-Called Life, Atlantic, 1995.
(Contributor) Mallrats (soundtrack), MCA, 1995.
The Speed of Cattle (includes “Wrong” and “South Carolina”), Alias, 1996.
All the Nations Airports (includes “Worst Defense,” “Attack of the Killer Bees,” and “Rental Sting”), Alias, 1996.
(Contributor) The Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation CD, Touch & Go, 1996.
Vitus Tinnitus (EP), Alias, 1997.
Rock: the Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1996.
The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.
Guitar Player, November 1996.
Interview, December, 1993.
Melody Maker, October 1, 1994; April 27, 1996, p. 74.
Rolling Stone, March 23, 1995, p. 125.
Village Voice, April 18, 1995, p. 76; October 8, 1996, p. 60.
Additional information was provided by Alias Records publicity materials, 1997.
—John F. Packel
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