The reunited '90s rock group on what it's like to achieve greater success the second time around.
Forget compasses, GPS, or helpful Sherpas. From June 11–17, Torontoist is here to be your guide to everything NXNE.
Not to be forgotten on the night of a hundred good shows, Archers of Loaf are a seminal indie rock band from North Carolina whose albums—like 1993’s debut, Icky Mettle—garnered them a cult following before the members went their separate ways in 1998. A reunion last year was accompanied by the reissue of their entire back catalogue by Merge Records (Arcade Fire, Spoon), and we talked recently to guitarist Eric Johnson about this exciting and gratifying time for the band.
Torontoist: What was the impetus for reuniting the band last year?
Eric Johnson: The impetus was really two-fold. I know that we were all interested in playing for playing’s sake but we also made plans to re-release remastered copies of our 4 LPs. (Thank you Bob Weston and Merge Records!) It made sense that if we were going to play live we should time it to coincide with the re-releases. We played a “surprise show” opening for local legends The Love Language just to see if we had it in us. We had a great time at that show and decided to tour. It felt surprisingly natural to be playing together again.
How would you characterize the response since the reunion, from both a fan perspective and within the band?
From the fans’ perspective, I don’t think seeing us is all that different. We’re still not too old to rock and the venues in many places are the same size as we were accustomed to playing back in the ’90s. The make-up of our audience has surprisingly included lots of “youngsters,” i.e., people who were in grade-school in 1998 (the year we stopped rocking). But the majority have been folks near our age. You know, early thirties. I wish.
Some things are different. In certain places we have played to larger audiences. I have mixed emotions about that. On the one hand, it’s fantastic. Personally I get a charge out of playing to a larger audience and the payout is better. On the other hand, as an audience member I prefer shows when I can see the band clearly even if I’m standing in the back of the room. We are aware of that and when it makes sense, we play smaller venues. For example, in Atlanta we played multiple shows but in a smaller venue. It’s not as efficient, but it’s more intimate and enjoyable to the audience.
How has Merge helped to facilitate the whole process?
Merge has been a breath of fresh air. We didn’t know it could be this way. They are so professional but also very laid back. It’s no wonder they have had so much success. They have had great ideas about artwork, ideas better than our own. I cannot think of one thing they’ve done that I would consider a mistake or did something that was not in keeping with the personality of the band. I’m having trouble with this question because it’s all been so seamless with them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them as people and a company.
Between these reissues and making your television debut on Jimmy Fallon, do you ever wonder where this support was the first time around?
Yes. I try not to drive myself crazy thinking about what could have been. The powers that be at Alias did not understand us as people and they didn’t understand us as a band. Their efforts were almost always misdirected. It was a mistake to sign with them in the first place but that’s what we did.
What are the future plans for the band?
I really don’t know. Three of us work full-time outside of the music business. Only (lead singer/guitarist) Eric Bachmann is living the dream full-time. We have more shows planned this year, of course. If we stop playing, I don’t think it would need to be a hard and fast rule. Something may come up that we really want to do and I imagine there would be at some point. It was a labour of love re-learning all of our songs, but it was labour. If we spread out our shows too much, we will probably suck. Short answer, I’m not sure.
You are playing in Toronto on Saturday at the same time as both Radiohead and The Flaming Lips. Any gripes about the scheduling? And will you be checking out any shows at NXNE?
No gripes. Personally, I think you should ask Radiohead and Flaming Lips what they think of having to play at the same time as us! I’m sure I’ll check out some bands but I haven’t decided who yet. I guess not Radiohead or Flaming Lips.