How to Be an Iconic ’90s Band in 2022

Archers of the Loaf: reason for rejection | merge records; 21 Oct

“Matt, my name is Eric Bachmann and I’m here to interview you.” says the Archers of Loaf frontman to bassist Matt Gentling, who has been painting quirky harmonic stripes on Bachmann’s racing rhythm guitars for more than three decades.

At first I think this is a shtick in my favor. It would be such a classic ’90s indie band thing to hijack an interview to poke fun at the whole bullshit-consumer-hype machine, and Archers’ passion for that type of role made them the ultimate ’90s indie -Tape. I mean, they’re on the soundtracks of both mall rats and My so-called life. When I realize that they’re just joking with each other and don’t know that I’m already on the phone, the old friends are already in the process of finding out about their lives on tour. Ashamed, I breathe in questioningly and wait for the slightest pause before finally stopping.

That was my mistake: I had mixed up the new Archers – which were just released reason for rejectiontheir first album in 24 years – with the old Archers, whose original run defined a jagged edge of the famous Chapel Hill sound and left enduring classics like Icky Mettle and All airports of the nations.

The old Archers wrote cramped, whooshing songs, but the new Archers shrill and slithered, their music smoothed and embellished by Bachmann’s two decades as a folk-pop-singer-songwriter. With his rehabilitated torn throat, he projects from the diaphragm, and instead of coded whining about scene politics and grievances, his lyrics are connecting messages about world politics and well-being.

But some things never change. Although lead guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Matt Price occasionally feature in interviews, Bachmann and Gentling remain the band’s de facto spokesmen, and their contrasting dynamic – with Bachmann as the gruff adversary and Gentling as his pleasant, self-deprecating comic foil – somehow distills the contradiction who seared the band’s catchy, splenic anthems into the hearts of Generation X forever.

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Indie, distrust and derision were in the air in the ’90s, but Archers’ distinctive branding also stemmed in part from their contentious relationship with ambitious indie label Alias. They separated after 1998 White Trash Heroes and left Chapel Hill, although they still consider it home. Bachmann, who now lives in Athens, Georgia, began his second gig as Crooked Fingers. Gentling eventually joined the Band of Horses and now lives in the band’s hometown of Asheville, where Johnson, a criminal defense attorney, also resides.

An alternate timeline where Archers signed to Merge which has just been released reason for rejection, was inaugurated in 2011 as the label began reissuing its albums, sparking a reunion that included secret Cat’s Cradle shows, major festivals and late-night TV. But the new music that everyone has been expecting, including the band? It just didn’t come. After the refinements of his solo career, Bachmann found his smart, gripping Archers voice too weak to revive.

“I never got there,” he says. “As a young man, I didn’t really think about it, I just let it out. But you’d better have a good reason to complain if you’re a 52-year-old white man.”

When Archers released a new song, 2020’s comeback single “Raleigh Days,” it didn’t do it by letting go of the past, it did it by tweaking it. The lyrics, in their classic style, seemed to freeze the babble overheard in a rock club – in this case Raleigh’s Fallout Shelter in the early ’90s – into a lump of dreams, intrigue and thwarted ambition, albeit now with a certain wistful detachment.

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“Back then it was very uncool to be ambitious,” says Bachmann. “It was lame being in a band and wanting to be financially successful. I kind of made fun of this attitude I used to have. Even as a child I was like an old man.”

“He was wearing wingtips!” Soft heckling.

“Raleigh Days” came out a month before the pandemic, and after three decades on the road, Bachmann suddenly became the father of a toddler while his wife worked as a nurse in the intensive care unit. The high stress led to the mental crisis he sings about in “Human” and “Breaking Even”.

“When you’re struggling with a mental health issue, you don’t write, and all the songs came in 2021 after I got help,” he says.

“All these amazing new songs just came out of nowhere,” Gentling recalls. “He sent demos that didn’t have drums, bass or secondary guitar and I love that he left it that way so it wouldn’t stain what we came up with. It was really fun just going crazy with them.”

“The truth is that half of the cool guitar textures that happen are added by Matt,” Bachmann counters. “I don’t know if you know what you’re doing, Matt, but you make the chords sound more innovative than they are.”

Gentling, of course, says he definitely doesn’t know what he’s doing.

reason for rejection is an anti-war record, an anti-Trump record, but in true Archers fashion it retains some of its sharpest barbs for internal guilt and privilege.

“While I enjoyed the many songs we did before the pandemic, the new album definitely has a more focused approach and sings about the socio-political climate and mental health,” says Bachmann. “I thought if I did a rock record, like the Archers did, it would have to have some kind of antagonistic energy. There was a lot to be frustrated with, which was a curse, but inspired me to come up with something that I thought would honor the archers’ past.”

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Though the new songs sound unmistakably Archers, they were born in the fire of frustration, but the pounding no-wave influences of the early days have given way to broader pastures.

Archers are taking the new record on tour, although Asheville is the closest to the Triangle, they will come by an as yet unannounced local date in the spring. But while the stakes feel lower than they were in ’90s Chapel Hill, the purpose shines brighter than ever.

“The reason we do this is because we like each other and the chemistry is right,” says Gentling, and Bachmann steps in.

“That’s just the thing, Brian. Chemistry makes legendary bands legendary. You play for 20 years without realizing you have it, then miss it when it’s gone. The liberating thing was to stop worrying about it” – all that, the Archers brand, the whole Chapel Hill heavy alt-rock legacy – “and focus on the chemistry. I thought I didn’t want to make rock records anymore. But I realized that I really didn’t want to do it without those three.”

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