MAGNET Feedback With Eric Bachmann

We’ve been fans of Eric Bachmann since the very beginning. His first band, Archers Of Loaf, was as essential as Pavement, Superchunk, Sebadoh, Built To Spill and Guided By Voices as far as ’90s indie rock goes. After the Archers broke up, Bachmann started Crooked Fingers, which put out a handful of must-hear albums starting in 2000. Under his own name, he dabbled in soundtrack work before releasing his official solo debut, To The Races, in 2006. Now, Bachmann returns with a stunning new eponymous LP on Merge that proves he remains an amazing songwriter. The man obviously has an understanding of great music, so we asked him for his feedback on some songs we love.

David Bowie, “Five Years” from: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll man of all time. His ability to incorporate drama and grandeur without coming off as pretentious or silly is unsurpassed. In the Archers days while on tour, our esteemed bass player, Matthew Peter Gentling, would occasionally slip into these cosmic seizures—these strange, shamanistic, supersonic trances, usually after a night of heavy drinking—and sing out, “My brain hurts a lot.” I’d like to think that it was actually David Jones practicing mind control on Matt just to give us a laugh.

Neko Case, “Hold On, Hold On” from: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
I’ve been playing in Neko Case’s band for about three years. We do this one almost every night. I don’t tire of it. These lyrics, in particular, possess a certain mystery that kept it interesting for me. Like many good lyrics, it provokes questions more than it provides answers: What is it about your blood that makes it dangerous? Why would a bride marry a person if marrying that person requires that you take a Valium? If you’re thankful that you’re leaving the party alone, then why did you stay until 3 a.m.? I know you don’t enjoy drinking that much anymore. And then there’s that voice, of course. Some nights I don’t want to play any notes for fear of walking over something so elegant and beautiful.

Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows” from: I’m Your Man
Leonard Cohen (with Sharon Robinson on this one) exercises superior command over the English language. He’s a legend for a valid reason. He is a legend for several valid reasons. His voice sounds great to me, and I love the way he incorporates backing vocals. I’d like to produce his next record.

John Coltrane, “Part 3: Pursuance/A Love Supreme, Part 4: Psalm” from: A Love Supreme
John Coltrane is the reason I majored in saxophone during my two years at Appalachian State. He’s also the reason I quit. I knew I could never reach that level of playing; I knew I wanted to sound like him too much; and I knew it was a bad idea to try to sound like someone else anyway. I remember reading Art Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, a few years later, and what he said about ripping off Coltrane resonated with me: “When I got out of the joint the last time in ’66, I had no horns. I could only afford one horn, and I got a tenor because, I told myself, to make a living, I had to play rock. But what I really wanted to do was play like Coltrane. In ’68, I got the job playing lead alto with Buddy Rich (in Las Vegas) … I was blowing Don Mensa’s alto in the motel room … jamming in front of the mirror, blowing the blues, really shouting, and all of a sudden I realized, ‘Wow, this is me! This is me!’ Then I realized that I had almost lost myself. Something had protected me for all these years, but Trane was so strong he’d almost destroyed me.” So—I’m no Art Pepper, of course—but what he says “was so strong” about John Coltrane is what destroyed me, too, in terms of why I quit focusing on the saxophone. So, there’s that. And then, there’s the fact that one of my favorite drummers of all time plays on this. I saw the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine perform at Jazz Alley in Seattle around 2001 or 2002. When I heard he passed away a few years later, I was, of course, sad; but I also felt really lucky to have seen him perform live. That first minute and a half of Elvin Jones by himself on this floors me every time.

Bob Dylan, “If Not For You” from: New Morning
I heard George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass for the first time as a kid when I was visiting my aunt in Cullowhee, N.C. I think she was a student at Western Carolina at the time. I was only five or six years old? She and her boyfriend had all of these Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac and John Lennon records. I remember thinking they must be hippies, wearing all that fringe suede and drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. George Harrison’s picture on the cover made me think the record was about fi sh sticks or the stormy sea because of his rubber boots and his hat and his beard. For some reason, my aunt kept poking fun at me, saying that I was a baby. I had only been born in 1970, so I was insecure about that particular issue and recall getting pretty pissed off at her insisting that I was, in fact, a baby. She dragged it out: “You are a baaaay-bee.” I couldn’t grasp that it was OK to be a baby, I guess, or comprehend the concept of someone communicating affection toward me in the form of gentle antagonisms. Out of frustration, I naively wrote her little hippie album off as merely odd-looking. Now, of course, it’s one of my favorite album covers and one of my favorite records of all time. I’m not mad at her anymore, either. She’s killer. Oh yes, and I like Dylan’s original version, as well—he wrote it after all; but I really love George Harrison’s voice on his version.

Slint, “Good Morning, Captain” from: Spiderland
Spiderland is a nice record for driving long distances. I enjoy listening to it while driving by myself late at night along desolate desert landscapes.

Superchunk, “Slack Motherfucker” from: Superchunk
I got on the internet to find the lyrics to this classic because—after hearing it live dozens and dozens of times—I could never understand exactly what Mac was singing in the first verse. Fortunately, the lyrics were easy to finbd. It was the lyric where he calls the antagonist of the song “smoke stack.” Now I like the song even more, which is silly because I already liked it so much. An interesting and perhaps blasphemous thing for me to announce here, however, is that this song—especially since it in some way represents the introductory siren for Merge Records—isn’t my favorite. Sorry, but my favorite musical side of Mac is the side that probably loses him money. I love Mac’s new instrumental deconstruction of Non-Believers called Staring At Your Hologram. Yes, even more than “Slack Motherfucker.” I love that EP of Tropicalia covers he did in Brazilian Portuguese, too. I went to Augusta a few years ago to see him perform a few soundtracks he had written for some Maya Deren films, and it was amazing. So, I’m putting my vote in now. I want Mac to start a strange, singular big band like Stan Kenton or George Russell or Sun Ra and wear a colorful suit and make odd squeaks and squawks. It would be a cool turn for him, and he’d be great at it, I think.

Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City” from: Nebraska
I probably have an unhealthy fascination with organized crime. A lot of people do. Perhaps that’s why there are so many books and films about it. The mob’s power over certain aspects of U.S. infrastructure over the years—the devastation, violence and loss it has caused so many families, and the impact it’s had on our popular culture, in general— latches onto something primal in us. That this song starts with a reference to Philip “The Chicken Man” Testa getting blown up with a nail bomb by his rivals in the Philadelphia mob demonstrates the Boss’ fascination with this, too. It makes for great storytelling, and it makes for a great, dark song. I always wondered if Springsteen ever considered that he might be putting himself (and his family) on their radar in a bad way by singing about this so soon after it happened.

The Velvet Underground, “Candy Says” from: The Velvet Underground
I love the sound of Doug Yule’s voice on this. I have this image in my mind of Lou Reed standing uncomfortably close, being passive-aggressive toward the poor guy as he sings it in the studio. I know that’s probably not how it went down, but it’s how I think of it. I guess I feel like Andy Warhol (in the films) and Lou Reed (in this song) had an agenda with her or something; that they were exploiting Candy Darling for the sake of their art, and Yule was just innocently singing a pretty song without any agenda, even if he was somewhat in the dark.

Archers Of Loaf, “Wrong” from: Icky Mettle
The best part about this song is Eric Johnson’s guitar part.