by Rob van Alstyne
Eric Bachmann likes to play dress up and his musical resume bears the proof. For nearly a decade during his tenure fronting the Archers of Loaf he was an angry young man bathed in feedback. At the same time, however, he was sporadically sneaking off to change into his ambient instrumental film score music clothes under the alter ego Barry Black. Since the Archers fell by the wayside in 1998, Bachmann’s penchant for quick-change stylistic shifts has only increased. His solo outings with a rotating cast of collaborators under the moniker Crooked Fingers have touched on everything from stripped down acoustic gutter blues to mariachi-horn driven pop pomp—at Bachmann’s current rate of genre-hopping don’t be surprised if Crooked Fingers first reggae album hits shelves sometime later this year.
Download an Mp3 of the Crooked Fingers’ song “Call to Love.”
“Even as a kid I always felt that if it’s a good song you can play
it in a folk band, a rock band—a good song will be good regardless of
what style you do it up in,” explains Bachmann of his peripatetic artistic
think another thing that’s helped me is that I don’t really believe
in a definitive version of the songs, they’re always changing. If you
have that attitude when you’re recording then you can’t get too
stressed about things—it’s just another representation of the song.
The main thing for me is that I don’t want to repeat myself too much and
I try to keep it interesting, but at the same time I feel like I’m working
within a certain songwriting tradition. For me it’s just about accepting
the fact that I’m not really in control of it and that songwriting is
something that just happens to me.”
What is currently “happening” to Bachmann and his band of players
is Crooked Finger’s latest album, Dignity and Shame. Starting off
with the Spanish-leaning spaghetti-western instrumental “Islero”
and spanning a rather epic leaning dozen cuts, Dignity and Shame encompasses
pedal-steel driven pop (“Weary Arms”), Springsteen-inspired piano-driven
placidity (“Twilight Creeps”) and driving militaristic rock assaults
Bachmann supplies the pianos, guitars and confident-Neil-Diamondesque-croak
at the core of each track, but the musical shadings of his supporting cast (in
particular, harmony vocalist/occasional duet partner Lara Meyerratken) are what
elevate his already sturdy compositions to elite status.
“I feel lucky that I’ve been given the ability to understand that
people are better than me at certain things,” explains Bachmann of his
freewheeling collaborative creative process. “If I’m making a record
and I want a cello part, I might write something out but I’m going to
delegate the actual playing to a cellist who knows what they’re doing
and try to stay out of their way. I’ve done that from day one. I’ve
always wanted to operate Crooked Fingers as sort of a democratic monarchy. In
the end I have final say in what the finished songs will be like, but I’m
not going to step on anyone else’s creativity in helping to get there.”
The sophisticated classic-leaning sound of Dignity and Shame couldn’t
be further removed from the raucous clang of Bachmann’s younger days fronting
Archers of Loaf. And,
as beloved a college-rock institution as the Archers were, the current wave
of positive attention now washing over Crooked Fingers means that, for probably
the first time in his career, more people in the crowd are clamoring to hear
new classics like “New Drink for the Old Drunk” as opposed to an
Archer’s indie-hit like “Harnessing in Slums.”
“I know for a fact that now there are more people at Crooked Fingers shows
who aren’t even aware of Arches of Loaf than people who are,” says
Bachmann with a hint of pride in his voice. “Ideally people know and like
both of the bands—I’m happy with anybody liking any of the music
I make. It’s a weird thing because when a band goes away they automatically
become a lot more popular [in people’s memories]. I know some of the towns
we went through on the Archer’s last tour only had about 100 people at
them, and I run into people all the time who are like, ‘I was at that
show, there were like 500 people there!’ I wish that had been the case.
At the same time it’s cool to kind of have that retroactive popularity.”
Bachmann clearly isn’t wasting his days reminiscing about the past—as
Crooked Fingers voluminous output (four albums and an EP in just five years)
readily attests. One might expect the constant work schedule to be grueling,
but for Bachmann the risk of artistic burnout as a result of his breakneck creative
pace is one worth taking.
“I do like to stay constantly busy creatively,” admits the thirtysomething
Bachmann, “whether that’s making records or playing shows, because
those are really two different kinds of creativity. I love playing so I don’t
consider it work. I truly consider it a gift that I get paid for [performing].
Even though I’m always working, I get joy out of it. I just do it because
it’s what I want to be doing and what the voice in my head tells me to
do. The minute I stop enjoying it I’ll quit, although I can’t imagine
what else I’d do since I love music so much. I’ll worry about that
when the time comes.”
Crooked Fingers perform on Fri. April 8 at the 400 Bar with Micah P.
Hinson. 9 p.m. $10 adv/ $12 door. 21+. 400 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls. 612-332-2903.
For further information on Crooked Fingers check out their
official website at CrookedFingers.com.
Head on over to our Mp3 page and download Crooked Fingers’ song “Call