Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers on the time he spent in Denver and Breaks In the Armor
After the breakup of his influential underground pop band Archers of Loaf, frontman Eric Bachmann formed Crooked Fingers (due at the Larimer Lounge tonight with Strands of Oak and Ian Cooke) and had a kind of second chapter in his long musical career, one favored by some over the Archers.
Bachmann is a literate songwriter, and he has a certain emotional tenderness in his vocals. He makes the kind of music that sounds earnest without ever moving into the overwrought, using organic and electronic sounds with equal skill. His affecting pop songs incorporate a strong streak of sonic experimentation that has garnered fans and critical acclaim alike.
For a brief spell, Bachmann lived in Denver, where he was involved in the local scene a bit before moving on to life adventures elsewhere. We recently chatted with him about his time hin Denver and Crooked Fingers' latest album, Breaks in the Armor.
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Eric Bachmann: It's a full band: a bass player, a drummer, two guitars, a piano, Moog -- lots of stuff.
How did you come to work with Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa on To the Races?
I met Tom through DeVotchKa touring; I guess it was 2004 or 2005. Crooked Fingers and DeVotchKa did a tour together, and obviously we got along with them quite well. So Tom just became a really good friend from that experience. I started dating someone who lived in Denver, so I moved to Denver, and Tom was kind of my entrance into the music community, and he introduced me to what ended up being the community in Denver with Elin Palmer and Ian Cooke and all the DeVotchKa folks and Ben DeSoto from the hi-dive.
How long did you live here?
I lived in Denver from about 2006 to about 2008. I guess about two and a half or three years. At first I lived in Boulder for three or four months; then I moved to Congress Park. After about a year and a half, I moved to northwest Denver. Not in the Highlands, but near the stadium. I lived in a warehouse.
What made you want to come to Denver, of all places?
A great woman. I don't date her anymore, but I dated her for about two and a half years. It didn't work out, but she's the reason I moved there.
What were or are your impressions of Denver?
Well, I loved it. I liked the people a lot. I met so many people that I like, like Patrick Merrill, the artist, and Jeff Linsenmaier...tons of people, I don't want to name them all, but people I'll probably have relationships with for the rest of my life, like Gary Isaacs, the photographer. So I met all these creative, brilliant people. I like the mountains. One thing I didn't like about Denver is I like being near the water, and Denver doesn't have much water. I liked living there a lot. I miss it.
How did you meet Ian Cooke, and what is it about his music that you enjoy the most?
He'll be playing that show with us. I think his music is distinctive in a good, refreshing way. I met him through Elin Palmer, as she was dating Jeff Linsenmaier, who was a friend of Shawn King, from DeVotchKa. I needed a cellist because I had a show booked somewhere far away, like in the Virgin Islands. Elin and I were going to go, but I needed a low-end instrument. She knew Ian and thought he might be good to do it.
We called him and rehearsed for a day or two, and he was great, and we got along with him. He's just a superb human being. We rehearsed for those two days and flew to the Virgin Islands and played the show. We're not that close, but I talk to him maybe once a year. I do think he's great. He's very sweet, nice guy, a gentle human being.
Did you actually do a sandwich cart at some point?
Yeah, I did that in Denver. I did it for about a summer. I did it to figure out a way to make a living and stay home, because my whole life I've made my living by touring. I was trying to make the relationship I was in work, so I was staying at home. It was great. I enjoyed it. I was making it work.
But it was hard to keep doing it when I was getting offers to tour for a lot more money. That was the tough part about it. So I ended up doing it that summer, and then I got a call from Neko Case asking me to do these opening slots, opening for her in Central Park and being paid a lot of money to do that. So I was just like, "Well, I can't turn that down." So I kind of fell back into music.
Did you specialize in any particular kind of sandwich?
Yeah, it was Cuban sandwiches.
With Archers of Loaf, did you feel like you were part of some kind of underground scene or community at that time, and how do you feel things have changed since that time for you?
I think what's changed is Internet culture, which is obvious. It's had a massive impact. But I don't feel like we were part of anything other than a bunch of friends in other bands that were playing as well. I guess that's what they call a community.
We didn't feel like it was socio-political effort. We weren't trying to fit into any underground. We were just kind of playing music, and only a certain amount of people liked it, and we just toured with certain groups. Our world was finite. And if we tried to go into another world, we were quickly rejected.
In that sense, I guess, there was a community. I think that doesn't exist as much now because everybody's on Facebook -- that virtual community. And that's fine. It's just the way it is now. I'm not a Luddite; I don't hate technology. But I do think it's changed in many ways negative, in some ways positive.
Breaks In Armor has an interestingly stylized cover. Who did that, and in what ways do you think it represents the music inside the album?
I'm in Hoboken, New Jersey, right now. I met the guy who made those drawings last night at the show. His name is Greg Betza, and he's just an artist from New York that does these cool drawings. I didn't think anything mirrored the sound of the music until after the fact. I just thought it was a cool sketch.
He draws these things while you're playing. He was drawing us, too. He doesn't do it just for us. If you go to his website, he has all kinds of drawings of bands. We asked him. Someone pointed me to it, and we asked him if we could use his stuff for the artwork. The sketchbook quality of his drawings and the sketchbook quality of the production on the album do mirror one another. That was not intentional, but they do end up mirroring one another.
You've worked on many collaborations over the years, and I was surprised to see a Mae Shi remix on one of your recent EPs. Do people usually approach people to do those, or do you approach them, or a combination?
It depends on the situation. In that context, that was my manager at the time asking them to do it. They did a really cool thing with it. Britt Daniels covered that song, and I worked with Liz Durett because I tour with her a lot. The Azure Ray thing was set up by the guy who ran Warm Electronic Recordings.
You've released records as Barry Black. Why that name, and how did you end up working with Ben Folds on that?
I made two records in the '90s that were kind of noise, atmospheric, soundtrack-y stuff. There was only one song that had lyrics, like a voice. There were a couple of songs with voices, but they weren't singing lyrics. It's an instrumental project I'd like to resurrect, but I just don't have the time to do it.
The name was kind of a joke between me and Caleb Southern, the guy who recorded it. Because I'm this large, awkward white guy, I'm kind of the opposite of Barry White. I thought that was kind of funny. But that's all that was. We had no intention of really even putting that out. We did it, and the label put it out, and we were happy with that.
Caleb Southern recorded Ben's first record. So Ben and Caleb were working on that record at the time I was making the first Barry Black record. So Ben was in the studio some, and he's a nice guy and he helped out. He's a great musician. He's a better drummer than he is a piano player, believe it or not. We got along well; he's a cool guy.
When you were doing To The Races, were you actually living out of your van?
That's correct. I'd come back from Europe, and I was a little low on money and I thought, "Well I could live in this house I have for rent for like a thousand dollars a month, or I could just save that money for the next year or for the next few months." I'm always touring, so for me it's stupid to pay rent at a place I'm never at. It was summertime, and I was in Seattle -- it's a nice place to be then, so I decided to join the Y and get a P.O. Box.
I knew I wanted to write. It's kind of self-imposed, because I wanted to have the space where I could be alone. I just wanted to do it more creatively more than anything. I guess press and press releases always exaggerate that "he was living in his van because he was down and out," but that's not really true. I was a little lonely, but I wasn't down and out; I was choosing to do that to put myself in a headspace where I could write some songs. You get a lot done. You're not inviting girls back to your van.
This is going back quite a few years, but you had a video for "Web in Front." Supposedly, it was in an episode of Beavis and Butt-head. Did you ever see that?
That is a long time ago. That's almost eighteen years ago. That was so long ago, I don't really remember. The guy who did it was Richard Jameyfield, and I don't know him that well. But he did this video, and we all hated it. It's kind of this notorious thing in our back catalogue that was the one thing we kind of regret doing. I get along with Richard fine. He's a nice guy; it was just this kind of weird, goofy thing we did. Beavis and Butt-head putting it on there was actually cool. That almost saved us from being embarrassed of the video. But it ended up being cool. It's all so ridiculous, it's just entertaining to me.
The title Breaks in the Armor is an interesting title, too. Do you feel it's something of an overarching summation of what the album is about?
It's a lyric from one of the songs, and it sounded good. First it's that. I think these things have meaning, but I think if the person creating it forces it to have some theme, you choke what it could be for other people and how big it could be in terms of its meaning. I didn't think of it like that at all. I just thought it was a cool line from "War Horses," so why not call the album that? It matches and makes sense.
You know people are going to read into it, and you want them to, but I didn't have any intention beyond that it sounded good. If people are responding to it and I hear their take on it, it's interesting to me, and I don't think I've heard anything ridiculous. Everything I've heard is a cool take on it.
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