Interview: Archers of Loaf Are Together Again

Archers of Loaf’s fifth full-length record is set for release 24 years after the legendary indie band’s previous album, 1998’s White Trash Heroes. Their latest, the riveting, 10-track Reason in Decline, will be made available October 21 via Merge Records. 

The band are comprised of vocalist and guitarist Eric Bachmann, guitarist Eric Johnson, bassist Matt Gentling, and drummer Mark Price, who first formed in Chapel Hill, NC at the end of the summer in ‘91 and then called it a day in ‘98. The band got back together in 2011, initially just to play a small string of shows, but ended up continuing on and started putting out new music in 2020 in the form of a couple of singles. Here, Gentling discusses their triumphant return and all aspects of the band and the new album.

I’ve been listening to the record and enjoying it and want to hear your thoughts about it. 

Thank you. I’m glad you’re liking it. I’m really happy with it honestly. It was a little bit weird to record because it’s been so long. We did a handful of singles back over a couple of days, a few years ago, before COVID and everything, but other than that, all of our recording style had been sort of the time, which was all to tape, that sort of thing. And at least two or three of us had recorded on modern, digital stuff, but not as a whole band. 

And so, we were kind of wondering how it would be different and all that stuff. But everybody fell right into it, and I think Mark was the only one of us who hadn’t really done much recording with a modern system. And thanks to my schedule, I was busy and couldn’t be there for a lot of stuff, so we did it—There was a click track, which we never used before, and it was just a whole different style of recording, and Mark hadn’t really done much of that before, and he’s the drummer, and that’s such an important role. He was pretty nervous, and I was nervous for him. I didn’t want him to be unhappy and I was really excited about the songs. But he ended up loving it, and it worked great. His drums sound awesome, I think. So that was cool, but it was kind of unusual for us doing it piecemeal with different people in the studio at different times and that sort of thing.

Yeah, I was wondering how it got put together and everything. But you had a couple of seven-inches out, even from that, it had been so long since you guys had written together; did it feel different?

It actually didn’t feel all that different. It did feel different, but it wasn’t drastically so. I guess maybe I was expecting it to be different, so I was ready for it, or maybe I was expecting it to be more different than it actually felt. Stylistically, we’ve all changed a little bit. We’ve all played different styles of music, and that’s kind of informed our playing and that sort of thing. And we haven’t really been hanging out together in the same town as we were back in the old days. So, the songs are in a different style, but we wanted that. We didn’t wanna just regurgitate the same stuff we put out back in the day.

We want it to be a reflection of whatever we think is good now. But Eric (Bachmann) sent demos to us kind of the way he used to back in the old days. So, that was kind of fun. And I like the way he does demos; he doesn’t put anything but his voice and his guitar on the demos. So, there’s no road map for what any of the rest of us should be doing to kind of bias you or change your part or whatever. And then we just kept in touch by text thread or email, if I had a question like, “How do you want this to feel; do you want it to be loud, or do you want it to be quiet?” We’d all weigh in, “I think this should be like this; I think that should be like that.” 

It gave us some time to work on it, but the fact that I could dump that stuff into GarageBand and record a bass part on it and then send it to everybody to see what they thought, was really cool. Bachmann had all these demos, and then Eric Johnson and I would do that; we’d write our own parts and send them to everybody and see what everybody thought, just bouncing things back and forth. And that also helped me because I had to go in and record after the fact, so I laid my bass down on everything more or less last, which was kind of weird. 

Back in the day, was it Bachman who had mostly wrote the demo material?

It varied a little bit. Even back in the day, he had a little cassette four-track machine, and he was coming up with the bulk of our ideas; oftentimes Eric Johnson would come up with song structure, and I came up with one or two, but mainly it was Bachmann that would have the catalyst, the core of the song, like the basic structure and some lyrics, usually both. And then we’d work on it. But back in the day, we were all in the same town, and we practiced—Whenever we were home, we generally practiced once a week. 

And at those sessions, we’d always work on new songs. We’d warm up with an old song, but we almost never played old songs. We almost never rehearsed; we’d start working on new stuff. And that’s what our practices were for, and we’d argue, and we’d go back and forth about structure and about parts and about changing things. And that is how we worked them out back then, and we kind of did a similar thing this time, but we did it via the internet rather than face to face. But it didn’t slow us down too much. We were worried about it, but it wasn’t bad at all.

And for people who are unfamiliar, just about you guys getting back together, so that was 2011, and that was just meant to be live shows?

Yeah, that was the plan at the time. It was open-ended; it was, “Let’s play together.” We talked loosely about writing stuff, but none of us really had any concrete ideas at that point. But we just wanted to play together again. And so, the logistics and just the circumstances didn’t really lend themselves to writing new stuff at the time. So, we were content to just play shows at that point. But it was just so fun we kept doing it. And then we thought, “Well, we’re done with that.” 

But then it kept occasionally popping up, like, “Hey, let’s do a couple more shows.” I think once we broke the ice, we were a lot more eager to play together. I think it was kind of inevitable that we were going to write new stuff, and then Bachmann just—We started doing those singles, and we thought that’d be fun: there’s no pressure; trickle them out; do a single at a time, and then we can do some shows where we can play those songs live, that sort of thing. Really, that was the only plan. We recorded those songs, and then COVID hit and shut everything down. And during that time, it was a weird time, individually, for each of us; we had stuff going on in our lives, plus the COVID and all that stuff; it was weird. I’m sure you felt it too. 

And for some reason it just triggered something in Bachmann. Next thing you know, he’s just throwing demos at us. He’d been writing tons of songs. (Laughs) We were like, “Jeez dude. We should probably do a whole album.” I don’t know whose idea it was to do a whole album first; it was either Bachmann, or it could’ve been Shawn (Nolan), our manager, but everybody was really excited about it when the idea surfaced. Off we went. But we’ve always liked writing music together. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and we have fun writing songs together.

I was wondering about 2011 when you started to play again; that was because the albums were being reissued?

No, actually I think it was the other way around if I recall correctly. The other guys may disagree with my memory, but I think if I remember correctly there had been some loose chatter about playing together again, playing some shows. It would occasionally come up through the years, but this was the first time that everybody seemed to be like, “Yeah! I’d do that.” And then we thought, “Well, what if it’s terrible? We should at least give it a try.” 

We did a sort of secret show; we opened for our friends’ band, and it turned out to be a blast. And we were like, “Ok, let’s do this,” and then there was talk about reissuing the albums and we didn’t know Merge had any interest in doing that even though we’re pretty friendly with all the people there. I had no idea they had an interest in doing that until they mentioned it. At that point, you’re not going to say no. It’s like, holy crap, that’s great. 

And working with Merge has just been insane; they’re so good. I’ve never had a particularly good label experience until then, and it’s just great. It’s so good that there’d be occasional email threads that had everybody CC’d on there, all the Merge people and everything, and the interaction was so good and so efficient and great, that I would periodically use that thread to just do a mass email to all the Merge people just to tell them I loved them. (Laughs) And how happy I was and everything. I got motivated to just occasionally give them a cyber hug or something, I don’t know what it was. I just like working with them. They were that great to work with and still are.

Do you guys feel a lot of pressure writing new songs, or is it more icing on the cake, like, “We’re going to do what we want?”

I think I get what you mean by that. There’s a little pressure in that—Anybody that’s going to—especially Merg—is going to invest that much money and make a time commitment and all that stuff, there is some pressure to give them your best and the pressure that we want whatever we put out to be something that makes us happy, and we think is going to be good, as good as we can make. 

But, aside from that, really no. There was no artificial pressure exerted on us. It felt pretty relaxed. We had no contract. It was just, “Let’s make some music, and our awesome friends at Merge will put it out.” And then it just kind of went from there. It’s been super low-key. Retirement rock. We’re old dudes just taking it easy. 

(Laughter) Is that the new hashtag: #retirementrock?

Oh god, the guys are going to kick my ass. 

That’s how I was trying to frame it—nothing to prove, just doing it for yourselves, but were you always perfectionist?

Yeah, we were. I think I might have been the most complacent of all of us. We did work a lot on our songs. We tweaked everything; we’d analyze every little bit. We weren’t particularly compulsive about the music theory; in fact, we went out of our way to make things dissonant quite a bit, but nonetheless, everything was pretty well plotted out and thought out. 

Mark, our drummer, would just agonize over structure, and he has a really good sense for it. He’d come up with a lot of structure input on every song. He shaped a lot of those songs, put a lot of restructuring and finishing touches on the arrangements and everything. We definitely agonized over the parts, but that’s part of the fun, or the excitement, when you discover you can do in a song what you hadn’t thought of before. 

And when you put something out, it has to stand the test of time; you have to be happy with it.

And the test of time, there’s no way to gauge that. If it really grabs you at the time, chances are it’ll work, but we’ve always tried to avoid being too topical, too specifically current, I guess. Does that make sense? Not tying the stuff down to a particular era or fashion or style. Obviously that stuff is going to come across because you’re in that time, so you can’t help it, but we try not to do it anymore than it was going to happen on its own anyway. 

I meant it like you want to be particular about things because I feel like anything you put out, a record, a piece of art, you want it to…

Yeah, I think with any kind of creative thing, painting or writing or music, whatever you’re doing, poetry, whatever, you’re just trying to scratch an aesthetic itch or a mental or emotional kind of thing. And as soon as you start looking too much at context, either in time or in demographics or any of that stuff it can get digressive. I think everybody tries to just sort of do whatever feels the most satisfying at the time, and you don’t want to tie it up to any trend or anything like that. You want to avoid even thinking that way because it’ll just trap you. If you’re driving and trying to avoid something and you focus too much on the thing you’re trying to avoid, you’re just going to run into it. If you focus too much on how your stuff is going to be perceived, it can be a trap. 

Do you guys get nerdy about the sequence, the track listing?

Oh yeah. I think the final arrangement of the songs was decided on, the masters might’ve already been at the mastering plant with Bob by the time. We were changing it around at the last minute. Going over and over and over the arrangement of the song order. What Mark used to do back in the ‘90s, which I did at home because I thought it was helpful, was Mark wrote down all the songs for the album we recorded in the session, he’d write them on a piece of paper and then cut them up so each song was on a piece of paper and he would leave them on the coffee table at the studio or whatever and in passing you could walk along and rearrange them or shuffle them around. And you could leave them for the other guys in the band to look at and then we’d write down the possibilities. We always did agonize about that. 


I saw you have a few dates touring in November; you think you’re going to add more?

We’re working on some more in I think January and February. We didn’t book too many this year simply because the album wasn’t coming out until close to the end of the year. And then also Bachmann has his solo career plus he has a wife and kid so that keeps him fairly busy, Mark’s got a day job, Eric Johnson’s a lawyer, and I’m playing in Band of Horses, so we’ve just been fitting in Archers stuff wherever there’s a convenient hole in all of our respective schedules. 

So, that’s East Coast…

The set of dates yeah, but we’re working on some other stuff, we’re working on West Coast and getting around a little bit. 

The first song you had out for people to hear was “In the Surface Noise.” Was it hard to choose which one to have out first?

No, it wasn’t, actually. On this album, I think I told you, I’m just really happy with this album, and I’m really happy with all the songs. That was definitely one of those cases, where I was like, “You guys have at it. Pick whatever you want; I’ll be happy with it.” I’d put in my two cents here and there; sometimes our manager would put out an email, like, “Hey, Merge wants to do this song next, and I was thinking we should do this one or this one or this one.” He’d give us, like, three choices. And oftentimes, we’d weigh in on that; I’d be like, “Well, any of those sound great. I’d prefer this one.” But it was surprisingly easy. They could’ve put any of them out, and I’d have been happy. The only thing that really where I got involved in that was when it came time decide on a third song or something. Then it was like, we put out two that kind of have this feel so let’s try and mix it up. And luckily everyone else was on the same page about that anyway, so there was no argument at all. We basically all agreed.

So, you said Eric got really prolific writing during COVID…

Yeah, he really did. It was crazy. All the sudden, songs pouring out of him, like, “Here’s a couple more demos.” (Laughs) And I was pretty busy at the time, and I had some crazy life stuff going on, so I was just trying to keep up. But Eric Johnson was definitely staying on top of all that stuff and so he was working pretty closely with Bachmann, which is kind of what it was like back in the day. The two of them collaborated a bunch on new songs. 

And the actual recording in the studio, how long were you doing that?

That was another thing. In the old days we would do a whole album in a weekend and just mainly due to budgetary and logistical reasons. And we’d all be in there together and just hammer it out, every aspect of it. And that changed a little bit with White Trash Heroes, where we bounced around in three studios and not everybody was always present every day. But this album when we did those singles, we went kind of back to the old style where we were all together in Durham. We’d stay there for a couple of days and do it all together. This last album, Reason in Decline, we just booked as we could and got whoever could be in the studio at various times would go in and do things. 

So, sometimes Bachmann would be by himself, sometimes it was three of the four of them. I was the only one—I was never there with all three of the other guys. I went in and got everything done, I think over the course of one or two days, I guess. But I was practiced up, I’d already written parts that everybody had heard and liked. And Eric Johnson was there doing some overdubs or something, so he was my moral support. 

It took, I guess, probably about a month, but not a solid month. People would go in here and go in there. And even Eric Johnson recorded some stuff at home and sent the files in. So that was kind of neat to be able to do that. And the guys at the studio, Adam and Alex, are really good people, and we had used their studio to practice even back before COVID, so we knew those guys pretty well. And they’re really great at what they do, so that was really wonderful. 

I know you said you like everything on the record, but are there any songs that particularly stand out to you?

Oh man. I really, really like two of the more mellow ones. I really like “Aimee.” I really like “War Is Wide Open.” I really like “Mama Was a War Profiteer.” Although “Misinformation Age” was the one when we were practicing it and writing it, it just wasn’t really grabbing me, and then when I sat down with the rough mixes, everybody’s final performance, and I was coming up with my bass demos on it, something just clicked, and it’s one of my favorites now. And “Saturation and Light” I’m really liking. 

Your bass sounds awesome on that.

Thanks. (Laughter) I kind of asked them to jack up the bass on that. It’s not in my nature. I’m normally pretty retiring about that stuff and not very confident, but I felt like it kinda needed it, and it was really awkward to feel so self-important that you’re inflicting yourself on the rest of the band, but I did. I pestered them until they turned it up. I basically just ripped off whoever played bass on most of those Swans records, just channeling Swans, I think, on that one. 

And what about you? Was bass the first instrument you picked up when you were young or what?

Yeah. I’m very much a bass player. My mom made me take piano lessons when I was a little kid. Her dad was a German guy who was a concert pianist, and he went deaf, which was tragic. He wasn’t a professional concert pianist, but he was that good, and he occasionally played back when he could. But he was an engineer for a living. Anyway, we had his piano after he died. So, I was a little kid, and I was trying to learn to play the piano, but it didn’t really resonate with me. (Laughs) 

It just felt like work, and I wasn’t real satisfied with the sound that came out of it. The idea of making 10 different fingers go in different directions and still hit their targets just blows my mind. Too much agility required, I guess, and then my dad gave me a classical guitar, and I used to bang around on that a little bit, but I never got any good at it. I’m not even a guitarist. I’m not even good enough to be a terrible guitarist. I sometimes play. I went out on the road with Superchunk and played real simple chord parts on some of their songs live, but I’ve always just been a bass player. 

I’ve had friends in high school that one of them was a guitarist, and he wrote a lot of songs, and the other one was a drummer, and they could not for the life of them find a bass player, and we had a lot overlap in our musical taste and everything, and we also were hanging out all the time, pretty inseparable, and so finally my buddy Matt’s like, “If we’re gonna be hanging around all this time, you might as well learn to play bass.” And I was like, “I guess you’re right.” (Laughs) So he taught me how to play some bass and then kind of went from there. 

Even just getting into rock ‘n’ roll and punk, what got you into it?

Well, my first concert I ever went to, I was really young, maybe about 7, and my parents took my sister and me to see The Osmond Family. So, I know you’re jealous of that. (Laughter) And that was pretty cool, but I don’t know. I didn’t really like a lot of the music that I grew up with in the ‘70s. A lot of the stuff that I absolutely love now, I didn’t really get into it. It was all love songs and cheesy stuff. It seemed like it was a bunch of dudes trying to be cool. So, I was just left in the cold as far as all that stuff went. And then I discovered punk and that was right up my alley, the level of energy and that sort of thing. It’s great for little kids and stuff. 

So, I discovered Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks and Butthole Surfers and all that kind of stuff, and that’s what I really fell in love with first. But now I’ve fallen back in love with all that old ‘70s—even half that ‘70s butt rock, I love it. And stuff outside of my white suburban dude thing. I remember when I first heard hip hop, it absolutely, completely flipped my world over. I went on a little field trip or something, and my buddy had The Message album by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “What is this?!” It was the coolest shit ever. And it totally changed my world. And ever since then I’ve always liked hip hop a lot. I’ll fall out of it and stop being current on it for a while, and I pretty much completely missed the whole Biggie Smalls and Tupac stuff and was just learning that stuff in my later years, but I love the NWA stuff. 

And I worked in the communications tower industry for a while, and the last crew lead I had was a huge hip hop fan, so he got me all up to speed on trap music, so I’ve gotten really into that stuff as well. I’m all over the map. I just rewatched that Wrecking Crew documentary again last night. It was sort of a loose confederation of studio and session musicians in Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s and I guess even into the ‘80s. Just really great musicians who’d bounce around LA; they’d go to, like, sometimes three and four studios in a day, play together, and they’d do half of an album in an afternoon, and then they’d go and record a bunch of advertisement music in another studio. 

And they were so good and they played so much together that they did all the stuff for The Beach Boys, The Monkees; it’s amazing. If you heard a list of the stuff they played on, you’d be like, that’s insane. All the old Phil Spector stuff. It’s wonderful. They were just really cool, but they called them the Wrecking Crew because the session people at the time were very conservative, and they wore suits to work and all this stuff and kept it very by-the-book, and this was right around the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll becoming mainstream, and these guys were all younger, and they understood rock. So, the old guys were like, “You guys are wrecking music.” Something like that, so somebody named them that. It was a long digression, but it’s very much a watch. I think it’s on Hulu right now.  

So, you guys started in ‘91, how old were you, like, 20?

Yeah, it was sort of in the late summer of ‘91, so I would’ve just turned 21. 

Were you in a band before?

I was in a high school band. Like the guy I was telling you about before, who taught me to play bass, I was in a high school band with him, and that high school band played with Eric Bachmann’s high school band at some point just one time, and then also I was pretty good friends, decent friends with Eric Johnson; I didn’t know him super well, but we played music together a little bit. And I was real tight with Mark. Mark and I hung out quite a bit and worked together at a store, stuff like that. We all knew each other pretty well except for Bachmann because three of us went to Asheville High School and Bachmann went to T.C. Roberson across town. His high school band was pretty successful. They had a lot of gigs and that sort of thing, so we would go see them, which was pretty fun.  

So, that’s kind of how Archers got started was, I think, everybody with the exception of Mark Price transferred from some other college to UNC for their junior year. And for the Erics, it was the same year, the year before I got there, and they were riding the bus one day, and Eric Johnson recognized Eric Bachmann, and they decided to start working on music together. And then Eric Johnson found out that I was coming to Chapel Hill as well that following year, so he got a hold of me, and we started playing and we had our buddy Clay who was in my high school band play drums with us. 

And Clay and Mark were really good friends and finally being in two bands at the same time was too logistically difficult and was driving Clay crazy, so he left Archers but he recommended Mark, and Mark was still living here in Asheville at the time, and Mark would come down and visit, and he came down and visited for a weekend, and he went back up to Asheville and found out he’d been laid off. So, he picked up and moved to Chapel Hill and joined Archers, and that was really the start of the band. 

Wow. But also, you think about at a place and time, that it was a burgeoning place for music…

Yeah, it was neat. When we rolled up, there were already so many really good bands, and things are cheap. Beer was cheap, and getting into a club was cheap, and so you could scrape up enough cash to go to a show and get a couple of beers and see all these great local bands. Everybody got along pretty well, too.

Sonic Youth, they had “Chapel Hill.”

Yeah, there was a song.

Was it like a rivalry? I don’t know where that came from.

No, not really, we were all huge Sonic Youth fans. So, it was kind of weird when they wrote that. When they wrote that song, it was like a historical snapshot of a certain time in Chapel Hill like when I guess Cat’s Cradle was kind of new. So, it was a little different than what was going on in Chapel Hill when we were there, kind of pre-dated us. 

But it felt weird at first because there was this weird thing about Chapel Hill; everybody talks about people were looking for the next Seattle. We weren’t really that excited about that aspect of it, and it seemed a little hokey at times, but it was a thing. That song by Sonic Youth came out; I thought maybe it was part of that whole wave, but then I learned more about the song and realized it was about a specific guy that was part of the Chapel Hill music world back in the day. 

Follow the band here. 

Photo courtesy of Brian Huskey

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