Gray Matters

Ex-Archer and current Crooked Finger Eric Bachmann trades the South for Seattle.



Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $7

9 p.m. Tues., Feb. 11

Some people say they like the rain. They say it a couple of times—loudly, in front of the mirror with put-on courage and a nod to convince themselves. As if saying it often enough might actually make it true. Others, however, really do like the rain, but those people usually mention it briefly, in passing, as if revealing a nasty habit or hidden birthmark.

When I ask Eric Bachmann—former frontman of '90s indie-rock underdogs Archers of Loaf, current Crooked Fingers auteur, and longtime Southerner—why he up and moved to Seattle a month ago, he says he didn't have a sole reason: He's got friends in the area, a fondness for being near the water, a long-standing curiosity about the West Coast, and a constant craving for some kind of close community. Almost as an afterthought, he shrugs and says, "And I like the rain."

Minutes before, as I was driving to a West Seattle coffee shop to meet him, the sky matched the curling smoke coming from the recycling plant just off Delridge. The morning had a comfortable gloom. Hope Bachmann likes gray, I thought. Things can be pretty miserable around here when you don't. So hearing his late-morning admission makes me happy—I figure it means he'll probably stay a while.

FOR MUCH OF the '90s, Bachmann's Chapel Hill-centered Archers of Loaf made a lot of noise, and they made a lot of sense, too. Somewhere between Sonic Youth and Superchunk, their records caused a wave of white guitar-noise static in the increasingly bland landscape of "college rock." Famous for the line "the underground is overcrowded" (from 1995's Vee Vee), Archers of Loaf had the fight of a scholarly junkyard dog—you always knew they could face down the toughest of opponents, but what of that completely indignant air? It seemed just as likely that they'd grumble something scathing but barely intelligible and then turn and disappear. Not defeated, you understood, just too cool to care. As the millennium turned, so did the band, breaking up in 2000.

"I wish I was more proud of [Archers]," Bachmann says, indulging in some conversation about the old days. "I'm proud of it, but I wish I was more so. Lyrically, a lot of that stuff we did was bullshit. I was just making shit up. Not all of it but some of it."

I mention a line or two that didn't seem like bullshit to me, and note that his simple warning "There's a chance that things will get weird" (from '96's Speed of Cattle) took about five years to come to fruition but boy, when it did . . .

"That's not one of the songs I'm talking about," Bachmann quickly interjects, which, again, makes me happy.

These days, his lyrics are anything but bullshit. Bachmann's latest recordings, under the Crooked Fingers tag, fall somewhere between a brooding Leonard Cohen, a recovering Mark Lanegan, and a swaggering Shane MacGowan. The recently released Red Devil Dawn (Merge), Crooked Fingers' third full-length, is as bitter as it is baroque. Backdropped by chamber strings, shuffling beats, the thick noise of emptiness, and an odd combination of carnival pomp and backwoods tragedy, Bachmann unfurls Southern gothic love songs like some kind of latter-day Tennessee Williams. Although I consider his personal reinvention to be no small accomplishment, I ask if he gets hate mail from Archers fans that prefer the old loose-cannon missives.

"In the chat rooms, you see people saying stuff like, 'Man, what's this folky crap?' But there's no accounting for taste," he says. "And I also get, 'Man, I hated your old band, but I really like you now.'

"There's some sad shit, and it comes from a real place," he adds of his recent songs. "But the goal is to make music for people to listen to while they're alone."

BY THE TIME we've wasted the better part of the morning talking about the current Crooked Fingers lineup (a largely local collective, including a drummer who did time with the criminally overlooked Wipers), his geographic history ("Pick a town in Florida, and I probably lived there"), and French parlor music, a mutual friend happens to stop by, and pretty soon the three of us are on to a discussion of auction houses in Renton and the merits of Ballard.

As the conversation winds down, I suggest a local band he might want to check out, and we shake hands goodbye. As we leave, it's not so much raining outside as it is just wet. Spotting the white van with Florida plates that holds all his worldly possessions, I can't help but think we're lucky Eric Bachmann likes the gray.

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