Interview: Eric Johnson from Archers of Loaf

In the six years Archers of Loaf were together in the early to mid-90s, the band created one of indie rock’s most enduring names. Releasing just four albums before calling it quits in 1998, the band toured with Weezer and garner a certain level of success while spurning major label attempts to sign them. Over a decade after their break up, their debut album, Icky Mettle remains an enduring piece of 90s indie rock. The record is being reissued by Merge Records. I had a chance to talk to guitarist Eric Johnson about the reissue, the recording of Icky Mettle, and the future of the Archers.
MP3: Archers of Loaf “Hate Paste”

You are reissuing Icky Mettle. The album is considered by many to be your masterwork. Do you feel it is your best album?
I think I can speak for the band in saying the Greatest of All Time EP is the consensus “best record.” I don’t personally have a favorite though. I think all four LPs were very different as far as tones and styles were concerned and I like that about them. I liked the fact we were able to evolve as a band but that makes it harder to pick a “best” one since it makes them harder to compare. Really, aren’t they all the best ones?

What are your fondest memories from recording Icky Mettle?
It was so long ago that the whole process is a little hazy. We recorded Icky Mettle mostly in the middle of the night. We did it at the Cat’s Cradle, a great rock club in Chapel Hill (now in Carrboro), so we wouldn’t start until after everyone left and the floors were mopped, etc. Maybe my fondest memory is how we recorded that record. I was very excited about the process and the songs. (It was my first “professional” recording.) We were very energetic and enthusiastic and we had practiced and played all but 2 of the songs live – “Hate Paste” and “Backwash”. But I remember looking around while we were recording and all of us were moving with the same energy as playing a live show. That part stands out in my mind. For me, it was the most exciting and artistically productive time for the band.

I assume you re-listened to the album before reissuing it. Was there anything new you noticed while re-listening?
Bob Weston is going to kill me for saying this but I haven’t compared the old recording to the remastered recording. I have listened to it remastered and it sounds great. Matt and I listened to it on one of our airport drives.

Do you have a favorite song on Icky Mettle?
Favorite songs fluctuate with me but I keep coming back to “Hate Paste”. I like how unusual it is and I love Eric’s lyrics. The delivery was so different than the other songs on the record. I also liked the way we recorded it. Eric B presented us with a 4 track recording of the acoustic guitar and vocals. We messed around with it at home and recorded it piecemeal at the Cradle, including the drums. I enjoy recording that way even though it’s less organic.

Back in January the band reunited for an unannounced set at The Cat’s Cradle. How did that come about?
It’s funny, to this day I’m not sure who got the ball rolling but I think Matt and Eric B first discussed it. I know Eric B was missing the physicality and exhilaration you get when you really rock out at loud volumes. Crooked Fingers is an intense project but in more of a cerebral way. With Archers, it’s pretty much turn up the amp and start rockin’. Shawn Nolan (Archers’ manager) contacted me about it last summer. We set up a conference call to discuss it and it wasn’t until then that I really thought it might happen. We practiced only 3 or 4 times before we played the Cradle show. Speaking for myself, I practiced the songs a lot at home so I wouldn’t have to concentrate as hard once we did play live. I really enjoyed trying to figure out all my old parts. I got most of them but some I had to improvise.

You recently played “Wrong” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. What was that experience like?
Looking back on it now I’d say I really enjoyed it. At the time I was pretty nervous; in fact, all of us were. I hadn’t been nervous about playing since early on with the Archers. And it was cold as shit in the studio. Like 45 degrees if I had to guess. I’d be curious to know exactly. So the cold and the nerves made it difficult to play comfortably and when it’s cold your fingers don’t slide up and down the fret board/strings because the oil on your fingers is dried up. But I shouldn’t complain. We were happy to be there. We did our first “light” check after we did our sound check. We basically played 2 songs while they adjusted lights. Made you feel sort of self-conscious but for those folks it was probably just another day at the office. It was fascinating to me to see how a TV talk show is put together. All the people there were very nice and very professional. We didn’t get to hang out with Jimmy but he seemed cool in the very brief period of time we talked to him after we finished. Oh, and we played at around 5:30. I was getting text messages at like 11 pm from people “wishing you luck tonight on Jimmy Fallon.” I just responded, “thanks, we’ll do our best.”

Why did you decide to play “Wrong” for your first TV appearance?
Well we didn’t really want to play the obvious, “Web in Front”. And most of our songs have curse words that you cannot repeat on network TV. So we were very limited in our choices. But “Wrong” was our first 7”. And since we were technically promoting the reissue of Icky Mettle it made sense to play a song off that record. In short it was a process of elimination. The second song we played was “Harnessed in Slums” off Vee Vee.

There are shows booked for the band through the end of the year. Does the band have plans past then? Could we see new material written/recorded?
We do not have any solid plans after this tour but I think we’re going to play more. It’s going really well right now and we’re having a lot of fun so it doesn’t make sense to stop. I hope we do more shows and I think we will. There are places we’d like to go that we weren’t able to schedule this time around.

I don’t know if we’ll record new material or not. Eric B made a good point. We would have no desire to write songs that sound consistent with what we’ve already recorded. The way the band naturally evolved would no longer apply due to the 13 year hiatus. On the other hand, we’d have to re-invent ourselves almost entirely and that doesn’t make sense either unless we were all quitting our jobs to dedicate ourselves totally to the band. We haven’t had a sit down about it but we’ve tossed it around some. I would love to record more but right now I’m focused on playing good shows and having a good time.