A few years ago, Eric Bachmann traveled to Taiwan to visit a friend and figured it could be an escape from music for a while. When a teaching job didn't pan out — "I was terrible at it" — the former Archers of Loaf/current Crooked Fingers frontman found solace in a cheap guitar. Upon returning to the States, he realized he had written enough material for an album.
"I had these songs and I didn't know what to do with them," Bachmann says by phone from his Athens, Ga., home. "I thought it would be ridiculous to change the name of the band again."
The result is Bachmann's strongest work yet, Breaks in the Armor. The new Crooked Fingers album features a couple of somber solo acoustic songs balanced by fuller band collaborations along with the vocal harmonies of Liz Durrett.
"Liz is real good at that kind of thing," Bachmann says. "I can have an idea and she can take it and make it better or she'll know to leave something alone. She has a knack for that. Each song is different. Each one is your own little child and you have to abuse it into some sort of thing."
Bachmann, who grew up in North Carolina, writes most of the songs on acoustic guitar or piano before bringing them to the band to flesh out. He then makes the decision of whether to leave it as a solo performance, keep the band's arrangement or, too often, scrap the entire thing.
While Bachmann released one album, 2006's To the Races, under his own name, he acknowledges it could have easily been under the Crooked Fingers monicker. "As I get older, you get tired of all the bullshit," he says. "I'd rather it just be my name or whatever it is. I don't know what governs these things. If you don't regret your musical decisions then it doesn't matter. I'm happy with that acoustic record, as much as I can be, so I don't feel it's a bad thing to name it just my name."
He's never looked at Crooked Fingers, which he started in 1998, as a side project — "it's just the thing I did after the Archers broke up." The outlet is more artful and diverse than the early-'90s indie-rock of Archers of Loaf, who reunited in the beginning of this year for a dozen gigs.
Bachmann says the manager and lawyer of Archers had been trying to get him to do a reunion for years, but he never thought it was the right time. When Merge Records decided to reissue the band's four albums, Bachmann thought they should get the Chapel Hill-born band together and tour to show support of the label's efforts.
"I don't think it's fair for them to do all that stuff — they're putting their hard-earned money into it," Bachmann says. "So, we're going to play some shows to help support them and draw some attention to them that they're being released."
Archers will play 15 to 20 shows next year, but that's all that's planned at this point. Bachmann doesn't see the band writing new material, though he adds, "Never say never."
"I love those people and their brains, but I just don't know that any of us have time or interest in doing it," he says. "If there was an environment where it made sense for us to do it, we would do it. It's up to them, too. I just have so much going on with the Crooked Fingers stuff. It's been fun."
Bachmann notes the toughest part of the reunion is figuring out the odd tunings he used. "I don't know what the hell I was doing back then," he says with a laugh. "I think the best part of it and the reason that I can do it is that it's such an honor and it's so enjoyable to see people getting something out of it. We're bigger now than we were the first time. I wouldn't play these songs in a room by myself but playing in front of 1,000 people and they're all singing it back to you, it's pretty great, man."