Sat Sept 15
It's not like Eric Bachmann went into the game trying to be ironic. "From the beginning, we never tried to make irony our whole focus or anything," he explains casually; it's clear when he talks about irony in his music, that he's thought about it quite a bit. "But when we started making music, I think there was this real fear of having something to say," he says. "So we made fun of everything--ourselves, music, culture--instead." That was back in the early '90s, when Eric and his college band, Archers of Loaf, led the force of Chapel Hill's indie scene, and all over America, for that matter.
Meanwhile, the Gulf War was laying bare all of America's splendid imperialism, Roe vs. Wade was being seriously contested, and all the ex-hippies were working on Wall Street. There was a lot of fear and doubt everywhere, and probably just as much of it was based on not having any idea what to say just as much as people were afraid of saying anything at all. Indie rock was becoming an established genre, and without any reference point, pop culture was all musicians had to work with. Some were paralyzed into sarcastic endorsement of pop culture; the cover of Archers of Loaf's 1994 EP, Vs the Greatest of All Time, features a photo of a hockey player, an iconic image not unlike the sports posters that decorated a million little boys' walls growing up in the late '80s. They probably decorated Eric's too.
But right now, ten years into making music, Eric is the first one to admit that irony has no place in his music anymore. "It's not to say that irony is bad," he explained. "And I really don't like to make general statements like that anyway. It's just that, for me, I realized that what we were doing before wasn't timeless." And after using irony to both endorse and distinguish themselves from anything conventional, Bachmann's latest project, Crooked Fingers, has come full-circle. "People like to make fun of artists like Bob Dylan and Nick Cave, but I just think, for me at least, that those artists mean more to me. They have a lot more heart."
Heart is exactly the word that one can use to describe Crooked Fingers. Slow, aching ballads, accompanied with a banjo, replace Archers of Loaf's fuzzy pop riffs and winks at metal, white trash, and James Dean. Album cover images of cars and dirty bathrooms have become simple, muted images of swans and snakes--things that are unquestionably elegant and timeless.
And the ideas behind his music, the lyrics and images that he draws for the viewer, speak similarly to something based on inherent emotions and images, rather than pop culture. "Last night I drove to go nowhere at all," he sings in "A Little Bleeding," from his 2000 album, Crooked Fingers. "And came to the saddest thing I ever saw/ A pretty girl all strapped up in an ugly car/ Driving through a shady crowd of criminals." His voice is slow and sad and sounds like he might cry or break at any moment, but it's clear that painting images, like this one, is important to him, as his articulation seems to overpower any other aspect of the songs.
But while many of the artists Eric started playing with back in the early '90s have grown up, become famous, and lost their edge, Eric's continued self-critique has preserved the intensity in his music. And this preservation probably has a lot to do with the fact that Eric feels more vulnerable now, without the ironic shield. "Musically, I don't have anything to hide behind now," he says. "You can't just say, 'Well, I'm joking about those lyrics. Ha. Just kidding.'" Plus, people who are sincere are a lot easier targets. "It's awfully easy to make fun of people who take themselves seriously," he says.
But with sincerity comes more rewards. "We pretty much didn't give a shit, before," says Bachmann. "We were drunk and having fun. I mean, we're still entertainment, you still have to keep that in mind." Regardless of where he is sociologically or in culture, Crooked Fingers is entertainment that's emotionally moving, which Bachmann admits is his primary objective. "I like music that touches me, and that's really all I care about. Especially now."