Eric Bachmann waves his crooked fingers at convention

By Seth Mayer

I had to wait around all afternoon to get this interview with Crooked Fingers’ Eric Bachmann, former frontman for the ’90s indie band, Archers of Loaf. I hadn’t expected that sort of cavalier disregard for the schedules of lowly undergraduate rock critics from someone like him. This is a guy who took his show outside onto the street because a club kicked his band out for dance party night, not some prima donna rock star jerk. Turns out his tour van had gotten ripped off while the band was in Canada, throwing his tour for Crooked Fingers’ new album Dignity and Shame off schedule by a few hours. He’s an all around nice guy, and he’s bringing Crooked Fingers’ sweeping, melodic music to the Abbey Pub this Wednesday, April 6 at 9 p.m. (doors at 8).

SM: In an interview you did while on tour for Dignity and Shame, you said you were more influenced by books and movies than by music. Could you talk about a few examples of that?

EB: It depends on each record. A lot of the song ideas lyrically come from that place. Like, we have this song “Let’s Not Pretend to Be New Men” that was kind of inspired by this anecdote told by Tom Friedman in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem. It’s this story of this Jewish, Israeli shopkeeper bitchin’ about Arafat. Now by no means is that song political. I don’t write political songs, or I haven’t up to this point. There was a great story in there that I made into a song. The [title] song on the new record, “Dignity and Shame” kind of fell out of me after reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. But you know, it’s a rock band….I don’t want to be to high falutin’. I just feel like when I’m reading a lot, ideas come easier. When I see movies, like seeing City of God, I remember being totally inspired, just to do something, anything. It’s anything that moves you, makes you want to communicate. [It’s] that thing you just saw or read or watched or heard.

SM: You’ve talked in interviews about how this is a more direct, emotional album. Does it have to do with what you’re reading and seeing? What do you think the reason for that is?

EB: I don’t know, I don’t think it’s something that I’m supposed to know. I think the minute you start knowing why things come out of you, you choke them and that’s what causes writer’s block. I always say this; it’s like you’re just sort of going along and then these songs happen to you, they sort of fall out of you and you try not to think about it. I’ll write a lot of songs for a record, like I wrote 35 songs for the record, only 21 were finished and of those 21, only 12 made it on the record. I just try and not think; I just try and do. I don’t think at all and let them happen to me. After they’re written, then I just try to edit things down and weed out the crap from the good stuff.

SM: How did you edit Dignity and Shame, which started as a double album, down?

EB: You have to remove your ego from it, your relationship to the songs. You have to be almost scientific about it. That’s the difference; you have to not think and be really creative and visceral and primitive when you’re writing and then after you’ve written everything, then it’s time to be technical and scientific about it. But you really have to walk that line and play two characters really, to do it and pull it off successfully. Again, every time I’m asked questions about process or anything, my only honest answer is I don’t fuckin’ know, I don’t know man. And I don’t want to know. They just come out and if I find out, I’m gonna kill that way of doing it. It’s almost like you want things to happen to you. If you know it’s happening then you can’t let it happen to you because your brain starts working on you too much and kills it.

SM: Getting away from process then, over the course of your career through the releases of Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers, is there a certain style of writing, or a particular song that you’ve been most happy with?

EB: I think as far as Archers songs go, I don’t care about those songs. I don’t respond to those songs anymore. I think they’re fine and they were entertaining. I listen back to those and I cringe at a lot of them and then other ones, I don’t respond to them, because I’m not a 22-year-old kid that wrote those songs anymore…But that’s not to say I’m not proud of them. I just think there are other songs that seem like they’re going to last longer. They’re going to be less ’90s indie rock…you know? That’s just my opinion, though. And obviously people disagree with me, but that’s how I feel about it. As far as songs I’ve written in the last five or seven years, it changes. Like right now, I think maybe “Sleep All Summer” and “You Must Build a Fire” are maybe my favorite songs. I like “Don’t Say a Word” off of Red Devil Dawn. I like “New Drink for the Old Drunk”; I’ve never been sick of that song. But it changes; it constantly changes. Sometimes I prefer other ones and get sick of those and then they come back. It’s a living, breathing entity. It changes all the time with my moods.