Can you stomach one more ’90s indie rock reunion? We promise it will be a good one. Archers of Loaf were the decade’s reliable everymen. They weren’t slackers or snarky. Their songs weren’t aggressively lo-fi or particularly anthemic. They were filled with barbed hooks, weird guitar runs and charmingly inscrutable lyrics.
The Archers’ fantastic 1993 debut, “Icky Mettle,” was recently given the deluxe reissue treatment by Merge Records. The band’s other three albums (including the even-better 1995 follow-up “Vee Vee”) will all receive the same. This summer the band started playing shows again and Matt Gentling, the band’s bassist and resident Tasmanian devil on stage, says that so far it has been “absurdly ridiculous and awesome.”
But also exhausting, even though there aren’t that many shows.
“We’re all working at our day jobs, so we’ll hurry back. It’s almost like it was back in ’93 when we’d rush back to our day jobs to make enough money for rent,” he says. “Except this time we’re not doing it because we’re broke, we’re doing it because we have semi-stable jobs.”
Archers pick up their weekend touring schedule on Friday with a sold-out show at the Black Cat. We talked to Gentling about why the reunion finally happened, the miracle of muscle memory and whether we’ll see more of the Archers in the future.
What made the reunion happen in 2011? I’m sure you’ve seen seen so many of your peers do it.
Honestly, for me, that was a big part of it. Because I wanted to play with these guys again. We always got along as buddies. And we would talk about it. We always kept in touch with each other, never all four of us in the same place at the same time, like, Hey, we should do this! But at the same time it was like, Man, that was so fun. And we’d reminisce and get nostalgic about it. And we’d miss the songs and our friends would tell us to just say, [Expletive] it and play again. The biggest stumbling block in the way of our actually deciding to do it, was the stigma and the discomfort. I don’t want to be another one of those … if you were born in the early ’70s and you had a band in the ’90s it’s sort of what you do.
And finally we just got over ourselves and we were like, It’s OK, we’ll be that. And that’s what we are.
Is it weird to come back as conquering heroes?
For me it hasn’t felt like that. We quit when we were doing pretty well and there was a lot of enthusiasm — among our small demographic, granted. The shows were filling up really nicely. So now the shows are a little bigger and they’re still filling up but I don’t feel a huge difference. It’s just fun. We’re seeing a lot of the same faces.
I think the coolest thing about it is the fact that the enthusiasm and the energy is still there from the crowd but everyone’s more mature, a little more stable. They’ve got lives, they’ve got experience behind them. So the energy isn’t quite as angsty. It’s a lot more positive. Everybody’s smiling and jumping up and down. People have jobs so they tip the bartenders and generally don’t get into too many shenanigans that are too destructive. At the end of the night everybody’s smiling. The crowd’s smiling, the bartenders are smiling, the club owner’s smiling. It’s been great in that sense, just a lot more positive. Which at our age is kind of a neat thing. I’m not sure if we would have fallen in love with that when we were angsty kids ourselves but I’ll take it.
You mentioned jumping up and down, which is something you do quite a bit...
I’m a spazz. I can’t help it. I don’t think about what I’m doing. It just kind of comes out. It’s so terrible because I’ve never been good at pacing myself and I know I look like an idiot.
How did your body react when you started doing this again?
It’s so bad! Everything’s a wreck. My whole spine feels like some dude named Vinnie worked it over with a baseball bat.
What’s the relearning process like? There must have been some songs that you just couldn’t remember.
That’s been the coolest thing about relearning these songs — muscle memory is the weirdest phenomenon. It’s the closest thing I’ve had to an out of body experience. There were a couple of songs I could just not figure out. I sat there and messed with them forever until finally I had something and was like, I guess this is what I played. And then we would all get together and play and I’d have no confidence and the next thing you know I’m looking down and my hand is doing the thing. It’s just playing the song. That’s what it was!
So what have you been up to since the band broke up? (Frontman) Eric (Bachmann) has stayed in the public eye, but the rest of you guys not as much.
Bachmann has stayed rocking the whole time! He can’t stop the rock. (Guitarist Eric Johnson) has been putting out his own stuff which is pretty awesome. He’s been busy doing that and he went off to law school. He’s a lawyer now. Which is cool because I’m about to go as fast as I want. He’ll just get me off. He said he’ll destroy the file.
I came back to Asheville [N.C.] and I’ve been working retail. And we’ve all played music in various different bands. I got to tour with Crooked Fingers [Bachmann’s long-running band] and got to do a couple tours [playing] with Band of Horses, which was really fun. I’ve been playing with a bunch of my friends bands. I’ve almost been playing too much.
Is this a 2011-only thing or will there be more? Any new material?
I would say it’s definitely not going to be just a one-year thing. We’re planning on keeping it going. Although the pace for this year is unsustainable so I think we’ll have to schedule fewer shows for next year.
As far as song ideas for something new, I don’t know, if something comes up and we have some ideas that we like I don’t see how we wouldn’t develop them. The problem is we write best when we’re around each other a lot. And right now we’re not. Bachmann’s living in Athens [Georgia], [Johnson] and I are living in Asheville. So I guess it’s on our shoulders to write the next brilliant album. Which is good, it’s in good hands. The other guys won’t be mucking it up. [Laughs.]
I’m sure ideas are there. If we sat down and brainstormed a little bit I’m sure we’d come up with some stuff. Whether or not we like those ideas enough or it will click enough for us to release something, we’ll see. We’ve always been a play it by ear band. We haven’t had much of an agenda.