For a while, Eric Bachmann decided he was done with music. No matter that he'd made a name for himself as frontman of '90s indie icons Archers of Loaf. No matter that he'd gotten acclaim for Crooked Fingers, his moody, Americana-influenced second act. No matter that he still had yet to write, let alone record, the terrific new album Breaks in the Armor.
Bachmann had become fed up with the financial realities and struggles of being a touring independent musician. To make enough money to survive, he found he had to assume all the roles necessary — tour manager, booking agent, publicist, guitar tech, everything. Either that or pay people to assume those roles for him, but then he'd be breaking even, at best, and barely staying afloat. So he did in middle age what those fresh out of undergrad more frequently do — he packed it up to go teach English in Taiwan.
"Everyone has writer's block, but for me, I was kinda burnt out with everything," he says. "In my 20s, I'd fallen into music instead of teaching English, going to Saudi Arabia or China or something. So this was kinda my attempt to go do that. I put my stuff in storage, and Taiwan was safe enough because I had a friend there, but still an unknown, not-entirely-safety-zone place. I hung out in Taipei [and] got a teaching job in a relatively remote place, what's considered a small town — Ping Tung, it's about 100,000 people. And I found right away that I really missed playing music. I was teaching kids and realized I wasn't that good at it. I'm too impatient, so dealing with children is horrible for me. Azure Ray asked me to produce their new album, and that kind of gave me an excuse to come back to the States.
It did really make me realize that I missed music more than I [thought I] would. You know, I thought, 'I could do anything for a year.' But it only took me a month to start writing again — and songs; it's like you have no control. I bought a guitar about two months in, and within minutes of getting home, I'd written the very last song on the album."
Breaks in the Armor features some of Bachmann's strongest songs, with its subtle sounds and world-weary lyrics augmented by collaborator Liz Durrett's haunting alto vocals and rustic, bare-bones production, courtesy of Matt Yelton, who's The Pixies' sound engineer.
This past summer also saw the Archers of Loaf reunited and on tour, reviving the sound that was one of the last examples of raw '90s indie rock. "I was definitely the holdout," says Bachmann. "I had Crooked Fingers and [album] production things going on. Eric Johnson's a lawyer, Matt Gentling has a job as a full-time rock climber for a mountaineering company, Mark Price is managing a large bicycle warehouse. So the hardest thing for us was to put a tour together [that would be] on only the weekends. We had to discuss all that, and we also had to make sure we weren't rickety old men who couldn't still do it."
Archers have plans to continue playing shows when convenient, and Bachmann says he plans to keep Crooked Fingers as his focus — though he does find both amusement and satisfaction in being able to be a rock 'n' roller on the weekends and a crooner during the week.
"It is bad for my voice, going back and forth, to blow my throat out with Archers over the weekend and then try to sing quieter songs with Crooked Fingers," he says, "It's a weird thing to go back and forth . . . I feel lucky that I can do both. Most people I know crave variety, and most want to express themselves differently and try different things. Guitarists want to be DJs, DJs want to play bass, bassists want to drum. And I'm lucky that I get that variety."