Always the Next Night

After a life of being off 'To the Races,' Eric Bachmann's finally settling down

As a child, Eric Bachmann moved around a lot, alternately living with his mother and father, who divorced early on. He lived in a series of small and medium-sized cities throughout North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Since coming of age, he has lived in Seattle, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Guatemala.

"A sense of place is important," he admitted during a recent phone interview from Portland, Ore.

"I just moved to Denver. I had been living nowhere--you know, just town to town, on the road ... . Now I've met a woman who's in Denver, and I am thinking of settling down and trying to build a home. But I think wherever you go, there's always something new to learn."

On his recent, haunting folk-rock album, To the Races, Bachmann often refers to places and moving around--from a deep-sea listening station in "Man O' War" to a potential traveling companion in "Carrboro Woman"; from discovering a "Home" to bidding "So Long, Savannah."

Having just returned from a series of concerts in Europe, Bachmann will visit the place we call home for a gig Monday night, Dec. 18, at Plush. He'll open for the Denver-based band DeVotchKa, which plays a fusion of indie rock and Eastern European folk music and is a favorite of Tucson audiences.

On To the Races, Bachmann mostly plays in a stark solo setting--acoustic or electric guitar, a little piano--with occasional guests on violin and vocals.

When he plays here, Bachmann will be accompanied by Miranda Brown, who sings what he calls "ghost vocals," and violinist Kate O'Brien, who also sings a little.

After years of fronting the alternative rock combo Archers of Loaf, which was followed by the experimental Americana act Crooked Fingers, he calls To the Races his first "proper" solo album.

"I scored a movie under my own name, too. It was called Ball of Wax, and the soundtrack was called Short Careers. But there were no words; it was all instrumentals."

Some folks have considered Crooked Fingers, which has released four full-length albums and an EP of inventive covers since 2000, a solo project, because Bachmann was the only continuous member. Kinda like Iron and Wine or Cat Power.

Maybe in the beginning, Crooked Fingers did operate like an extended solo act, he said.

"But over the last six or seven years, Crooked Fingers evolved into something else besides me just writing and playing songs. So when I made this album, which is pretty stark, it didn't seem appropriate to call it Crooked Fingers. And I know the Crooked Fingers album is going to be very different from To the Races. So I think the distinction makes sense."

Bachmann, 36, has loved and played music most of his life. He remembers his three first records, which his mother bought for him when he was 4 years old.

"We lived in Nashville, and my mom absolutely loved country music. One of the records was Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy; another was Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison. And the third was a Phyllis Diller children's record."

As Bachmann hit his teenage years, he discovered Devo, Mission of Burma, Television, John Lennon and a little heavy metal. During high school, his first band was named Iron Beagle. "I think I peaked out at that point in terms of band names."

The group aspired to a melding of The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult, U2, R.E.M. and Led Zeppelin. "And we tried to write songs in those styles," he said. "I wanted to be Bono, and the guitarist wanted to be Jimmy Page."

In college, Bachmann majored in music, mastering the alto and baritone saxophones. "I went out for the baseball team and sucked at it. I came home frustrated and said, 'Fuck it; I want to learn the saxophone,' and my father rented me one."

Many long hours were spent transcribing the solos of such sax men as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Phil Woods. His favorites remain Eric Dolphy and Art Pepper.

Although Bachmann picks up his sax infrequently, he plays it on the new CD Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit, by critically acclaimed Texas singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson. Look for it on Jade Tree Records.

During most of the 1990s, Bachmann led the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Archers of Loaf, which released four studio albums, several EPs and oodles of singles. Although Bachmann is hardly ashamed of the music he made with Archers of Loaf, these days, he does see it as a little trendy and dated.

Whether with Crooked Fingers or on his own, Bachmann's work has been compared by critics to that of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Will Oldham and Steve Earle. But upon first hearing the literate, poetic and emotionally dense material on To the Races, I was reminded of songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and Greg Brown.

"Well, that's nice to hear," he said, "because I am a huge fan of all of them, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson."

When Bachmann first started performing solo after years in bands, he was understandably nervous, he said.

"You're kind of naïve when you first start. The first time I played solo was in Philadelphia, seven or eight years ago, and it was opening for Bob Mould. Somebody recorded it, and I wish I hadn't heard it. It wasn't terrible; it was just mono-dynamic.

"I think being naïve about art is good. You listen back to stuff like that, and if I had known how it sounded, I would never have even made the effort. If you think about that, you won't start anything. As Dostoevsky put it in Notes From Underground, an intelligent man doesn't do shit, because he knows it's all meaningless."

Then there are those gigs where the guy with the guitar in the corner is drowned out by talking and beer-drinking and trying to hook up.

"That happens a lot, but as I do it more, it happens less. You just kind of have to keep playing. There's always the next night."

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