It's not too often that you meet such a great band that's so down on itself. Mark apologized to me about his mumbling when we talked and when I said hi to Matt, he said it was just as well that I didn't talk to him since he was such an asshole. They were both wrong. The Archers happen to be a very thoughtful, articulate bunch of guys even if they don't believe this themselves. They went from local legends in their native Chapel Hill, North Carolina to break out across the country and invade foreign territory to boot. The band is pretty mindful though about its music and its sound so that it's always trying to do something new (other than the hoarse shouts and roaring guitars that have made up their sound now) with themselves rather than just rehash what's been working so well before. Also, there's not too many bands out there that give a kiss-off to Madonna or hang around with Space Ghost (as Eric Johnson did).
DO YOU THINK THERE'S SOME KIND OF 'CHAPEL HILL' SOUND?ERIC: No. I never thought there was. There's probably a hundred some odd bands there. It's hard to say there's a scene or a sound when there's so many different bands doing different things. I would even argue that the ones that have been lumped together only share the fact that they're guitar rock bands. Obviously there's going to be some similarites there. But I don't think we do the same thing as Polvo and Superchunk and I don't think Superchunk does the same thing as Polvo.
SO YOU DON'T THINK THAT THE OTHER BANDS FROM THE AREA INFLUENCED THE ARCHERS?ERIC: If it did, I'm contained here in it so I can't be objective about it. I don't think so. MARK: In terms of the area, I don't anything that makes anything probable about the bands there. ERIC: This isn't a town-exclusive thing. When people are 20 to 30 years old and grew up with the same kind of music, they're going to probably sound the same as the other bands they were listening to. Whenever people are the same age, growing up in the same area, the bands will have some similarities.
DID YOU GUYS GO OUT TO SEE OTHER GROUPS BEFORE STARTED OUT?ERIC: Not really. I didn't see many bands until I was in the group. I was pretty naive that way. MARK: I listened a lot to some of the bands out there.
HOW DOES AN ARCHERS SONG COME ABOUT?ERIC: It's different for every song so hopefully it's not just a formula. You couldn't just say 'we do it like this' or 'like this.' As a general rule, the ideas start with maybe a guitar part of a vocal idea that springs into practice and we'll work on it several times later. Hopefully, through the course of several practices, it'll come out. Some songs probably did start the same way. A song like 'Web In Front' didn't come around the same way as 'Chumming The Ocean.' You can hear it. There are songs that sound simliar and some that sound different. Generally, I'll start with a guitar part and then everyone else figures out what to do around it.
WITH THE SONGS, ARE THEY EQUALLY WRITTEN THEN?ERIC: It depends on the song. Sometimes, you'll just hear things and that's the appropriate thing to do. Other times, you'll be playing something and I'll hear something that somebody else is doing that's totally not what I meant the song to do. But I won't say 'that's not it.' If that's the way it's going, I'll just change what I'm doing then. So in that sense, it's a democracy. But in other songs, I'll say 'this should be more this way or that way.' In those cases, it's almost obvious, it's already defined. MARK: It's been one of the comfortable things about playing together, that none of us have ever thought about this being a dictatorship or a democracy. It's more like stuff just comes out. You accept ideas and everybody comes up with ideas. The whole goal is the same, to come up with a song that we dig. I know some of the process but I don't think it's ever been a strict procedure. If it works, it works. We don't just throw something wild and inappropriate into a song.
SO THERE'S NO SABOTEURS IN THE BAND?ERIC: If there are, they just aren't very good.
WITH YOUR LYRICS, THERE'S A LOT ABOUT MUSIC AND BANDS, LIKE WITH 'STEREO WIRE,' 'AUDIO WHORE' and 'GREATEST OF ALL TIME.' IS THAT SOMETHING THAT PREOCCUPIES YOU A LOT?ERIC: I don't know. 'Strangled By the Stereo Wire' is about when I'm at home and I have all these chords every-fucking-where with this four-track. I thought it was a cool image and that's all it is. Everything else rhymes- that's as basic as it gets. I know that on VEE VEE there was a lot of that so as an intentional thing, I didn't want to rehash. I didn't do any of that on the new one on purpose. I had already written words like that and didn't want to do it again. I think at the time of VEE VEE and the EP, the words are obviously about that. You write about what you know about. You write about what you're dealing with at the time. At the time, that was an issue. We were a new band and there was all this shit thrown at us so there is an element of that. It kind of worked out over the course of time. That's why it isn't such an issue anymore. I don't feel honest writing about it anymore. It's just not interesting. The more you do this, the less you give a shit about business. At least, that's always been the way I've been. You're less ambitious, you just don't give a fuck. It's just the music and I'm set to do it now so just fuck it. You do whatever keeps you interested.
ON 'ALL THE NATIONS' AIRPORTS,' THERE'S A NUMBER OF INSTRUMENTALS. BEFORE, THE BAND DIDN'T DO ANY. WHY DID THIS START?ERIC: I got polyps on my throat so I got to sing less. No, I just think it's just again a matter of keeping yourself interested. You'll write songs and 'nothing fits over this shit so what do I sing?' MARK: Some of it we've done in the past, where it's just us playing, I've really enjoyed it. 'Step Into the Light' was very stripped down. It wasn't instrumental but it was almost the same idea. The vocals aren't stressed as much as the mood of the song. I enjoyed it tremendously.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK WAS DIFFERENT ABOUT 'AIRPORTS' FROM YOUR EARLIER CD'S?ERIC: The recording of it was a big difference. We had more time. We had six or seven days to record VEE VEE and we had three weeks to record AIRPORTS so that meant that we could get things right. MARK: You learn more and more, the more you go in to record. I'm totally not knowledgable to do it by myself but I know the things to request. You get to integrate your ideas a little more because you have more knowledge. You can put things into words. On ICKY METTLE, I was trying to describe a drum sound but you don't know how to do it. But they can't read your mind so you have to redo it. Now, we say 'this is what I want.' Like 'I want this upright, saloon-sounding piano' then we have a direction to pursue it with rather than 'I think I just want to make it sound old.' ERIC: You can say 'I want that old 1954 RCA model' rather than 'hey, make it sound kind of...' Or 'I want it through this compressor, that's the one I want to use.' You know more about it from working in the studio. So that's an element of it. Songwriting-wise, I'm afraid to say this because any time a band takes itself a bit too seriously like 'we're more mature,' it's fucked up. But I do think the songs are more mature. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Rock music isn't supposed to be mature necessarily. That's how I feel about it so if that's stupid then that's stupid.
SO YOU THINK THAT'S THE DIRECTION THAT THE ARCHERS ARE GOING?ERIC: To be honest, I haven't sat down at home and written any songs for the new record so I don't know what the fuck's going to happen. MARK: I don't see us doing anything like ICKY METTLE. I think we're going in a direction but not just a straight line.
WHEN YOU SAY 'NOT LIKE ICKY METTLE' WHAT DO YOU MEAN?ERIC: When you're in a band for a certain amount of time, you say 'we've made this kind of record' and 'we've made this kind of record.' You don't want to make those kinds of records again. ICKY METTLE is a pop record, pretty straight-forward. VEE VEE is a rock record. AIRPORTS, I don't know what it is but it isn't either one of those. Having done those things, we don't want to make something like that again. We want to keep ourselves interested. MARK: It's variety at this point. A lot of the songs off the old records, we played for four years. We still put those in sets but having a variety of songs to play, not just different tempos but different dynamics, keep it interesting. ERIC: It keeps it interesting musically because what's the point of playing the same song twice. You've already done it successfully once. I don't know of any reason to do it to be honest with you. You try to start working with different ideas altogether. You don't think about it. You just try to keep it organic. MARK: We generally don't have enough prep time to make it anything other than organic. We had as much time to practice on AIRPORTS as we did on ICKY METTLE. There's enough time so that we didn't go in there without a clue but none of the songs are just to the point where we were just doing it to repeat ourselves. We still played most of the songs with some non-fixed parts. I do some stuff different now than I did when we recorded it. Nothing was in stone. ERIC: We knew the songs enough to play them but we didn't have a concrete idea. We could mess with tones more. 'I think I'll do this with a Fender twang.' 'Oh, that'll work.' Then you hear the context. 'Well, I don't really like that. I want to change it.' Then we'll do something different.
DO YOU WORK THAT OUT BEFORE A SHOW?MARK: There's only so much room for experimentation live because you don't have a chance to check it. ERIC: You don't have eight amps in the studio but you have them when you're live so you have an hour to look at them and try something out. You do learn some of the stuff that way but not as much as you can in the studio. It's good to play it live but not so it becomes boring and stale. You may think you have something that sounds better live then you get it on tape, you're away from it and not playing it. You can't be objective when you're playing it because you're hearing your guitar mostly and not what it's a part of.
WHY DID YOU TURN DOWN MAVERICK (MADONNA'S LABEL) FOR A CONTRACT?ERIC: We wanted two million and they'd only give us one.
THOSE BASTARDS!ERIC: No, we were on a contract with Alias. To get out of that contract would have cost us a lot of money. We weren't willing to. We also thought 'I don't want to be associated with Alanis Morrisette or Candlebox.' That's the bottom line. So even if they had given us all that money, it wouldn't have been worth it.
SO THE ARCHERS HAVE MORALS?ERIC: It's not even morals. It's thinking that 'do you want to be associated with bands you don't like?' MARK: The other bands (on Maverick) were that bad. There are other bands on major labels that are associated with a lot of shit but it's big enough that there are a least a few bands that you like. For us on Maverick, it'd be us and Candlebox and Alanis... ERIC: And Bad Brains. That's fine, whatever. We already signed a deal and it costs lots of money to get out of these things. If we would have had Maverick buy out our contract, we'd be however many thousands of dollars in debt to them. It's really complex that way and it really didn't make sense to do that. It's not like we're desperate. We just thought we'd play out what we've got here. We have one more to do with Alias, maybe two. It depends on how we go on about it. It'd be awfully nice to have a clean slate when we shop around. We have all our history to work with in terms of getting what we want (at Alias). MARK: If we felt it was right for us, we'd do it without batting an eye. At no point did it seem like an option that we were interested in. ERIC: But it's not an ethical thing. It's more just a personal taste thing.
A LOT OF BANDS WOULD HAVE JUMPED ON IT JUST FOR THE MONEY.ERIC: Maybe. But I always hate people who apply their moral ethics to a situation. I wasn't in those meetings with Green Day when they signed to a major. I'm not going to criticize them for what they did. I don't like their music but I don't give a shit what they do. If a band's musically entertaining, I'll buy their CD. I don't give a fuck. In the same way, I'm not going to judge you if you have an alligator logo on your shirt. It's the same thing. It's just labels. (Record) labels are like banks. They have money and they give you money to record- that's how I view them. If they want to give me money to record what I want to record, I'll do it. I can't blame other people for doing it. Now obviously, it depends on doing what you're comfortable doing. I'm not going to do anything like the Everclear video where he's (shouting and pointing). MARK: If you're going to make a step to something different, you at least are going to do some research and see if there's other bands that you have respect for. I would do it based on that. That's going to mean more to me than a label full of bands I don't like. If there are people that are huge, they probably took a route that we wouldn't be interested in taking. ERIC: Each of us decided that this is what we really want to do. You talk about each of those bands that's on that label (Maverick). Let's see if they're around in ten years. You have to look at it that way. 'Do I want to be associated with people that aren't in it for long term?' There's so many things you have to thing about it. Plus, Madonna wouldn't give us naked pictures of herself. We wanted to see her naked. But I guess you could go to a newstand to do that. MARK: I wanted some poloroids.
LIKE THE ONES SHE DID WITH THE DOGS?ERIC: Yeah, dogs are good.
SUCH HIGH MORAL STANDARDS...ERIC: To me, I don't see it about ethics or morals. It's more where you're from and what's appropriate to what you're doing. I don't give a shit about what other people want to do about this stuff. If that's what they want to do, fine. I'll criticize the music but if a band wants to shove itself down peoples' throats, I'll just turn off the TV or the radio. I don't feel comfortable doing certain things. We're young too. Some bands are like 'I'm 35 years old and I got to make a living.' I can understand that. I don't have anything against that. Like Sonic Youth- everyone's like 'oh man, they're....' What the fuck do you expect? They're 45 years old and got a kid to feed. Jesus Christ. MARK: They've been waving the flag for long enough. ERIC: It's really annoying when a band's been working for twenty years and some naive college fuck comes along going 'they're lame.' You're a fucking college boy and you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. It's interesting but it's funny. It happens all the time. MARK: A lot of times, you'll hear shit like that. It's never related to their music. It's 'they're major label.' It's so ridiculous how into other peoples' shit everyone is in this community. ERIC: There's that theory that when a band goes to major, then they're music sucks. We're not stupid. We hear that happen sometimes. That's a musical thing. That's not something I'd criticize their business for.
WHAT ABOUT OTHERS' PEOPLE PERCEPTION OF THE ARCHERS?MARK: I haven't really encountered the positive or negative that much from fans. People came up and say 'what's it like being on Elektra?' and we're not on Elektra. Everyone's ready for that. ERIC: It's almost like they're waiting for us to make a mistake. If you don't like it, don't listen. MARK: If I say 'we're not on Elektra' they're like 'thank God.' ERIC: As if some magic button is pressed when you do that. Sometimes it does suffer but if it does, don't listen to it. We're going to do whatever we're going to do. You don't have to listen. Again, I don't like to criticize peoples' business practices. That puts me up on some pedestal then and people who do that strike me as assholes.
WHAT'S THE STORY ABOUT THE FIGHT YOU HAD WITH YOUR RECORD COMPANY OVER SOME MERCHANDIZING WITH URBAN OUTFITTERS?ERIC: That was a situation where we were touring a lot at the time, trying to sell a record, which we want to do. They took one of our songs for this compilation without asking us. We said 'we dont think this is a good idea. We don't want to be associated with a fashion store.' Not that rock music is above fashion- it certainly isn't. We just didn't want to do that. So they said 'it's already been done.' So we got really pissed off. Then what do you do after the fact?
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT INCIDENT?ERIC: It doesn't teach you anything. You cross your fingers that it won't happen again. You can't do anything about it. MARK: There's decisions being made right now that we're not invovled in. Maybe through a mutual understanding, you can weed out the bad ideas. ERIC: That's not a musical issue. That's a business issue. It is part of the work but I can also care less about it than I care about music. That happens. It's like 'that sucks... so how's this song going?' It's a little more important. It doesn't interest me as much as writing songs. MARK: If that side was more interesting to us, we could have started a label or remain in close contact with the label. ERIC: Or go to Wall Street and start working there. I admire bands that do that (starting labels). I don't have the mental capacity. You want control over certain things. Something like that is pretty minor in terms of the big picture. You might try to stay better in touch with the label so it doesn't happen again. But it's going to happen again. You know that. Am I going to brood about it or am I going to focus on the songs?
WHAT'S THE FUTURE OF THE ARCHERS?ERIC: I don't know if we'll be around 5 years from now. I do know that everybody in the band will still be doing music. It's not a matter of being in a working band as much as playing music. MARK: It's not just being in a band, touring, making a living solely. There's trashing hotel rooms and the chicks too.
SO YOU WON'T BE DOING STADIUM TOURS?
ERIC: You just take it as it comes. I can't see that happening but you never know. I don't think the stadium thing is appropriate for a band like us. I don't know how we could pull that off.
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