20 Years Later: Archers of Loaf’s Vee Vee

Archers of Loaf are quite unique. I only got into them around 2012 when I joined my SO in seeing them at Bowery Ballroom. I was instantly impressed. I only knew a few songs, but that did not last long.

There was something about their energy that made the band so instantly likable. Maybe it was the way singer Eric Bachmann towered over the stage (he is a very tall man). Maybe it was the gritty yet melodic sound of their material. Maybe it was the way the crowd of late 20-year-olds reacted to each song with earnest agreement and acceptance.

Either way, I was hooked on their sound, especially 1995’s Vee Vee, an album which is the subject of this week’s anniversary feature.

Archers of Loaf are an alternative rock band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Formed by Eric Bachmann, Matt Gentling, Eric Johnson, and Mark Price in the early 1990s, the band released 4 full length albums and 4 EPs before breaking up in 1998 and reformed in 2011 to play some reunion shows.

With a slightly off-kilter style of composing music and writing lyrics, Archers of Loaf gained fervent followers of fans. Some might characterize Archers of Loaf as a college-radio rock band. Like many bands of that era, they drew from elements of low-fi and punk. The guitars were fuzzy and there were fast drums.  Bachmann’s vocals were both rough and sophisticated.

Vee Vee is quite different from 1993’s Icky Mettle Icky Mettle, their debut studio album, was a bit more radio-friendly with songs like “Web in Front” and “Plumb Line.” Vee Vee, on the other hand, made no excuses. This is obvious before you even press play; Track names include references to losers, underachieving, and being the greatest ever.

“Harnessed in Slums” is a great point of entry for Archers. The song is kind of like a snot-nose kid, proclaiming feelings of disillusion. Bachmann sings,”Side to side with the tired smile cut into your face./. They let me down for the second time straight./ With thugs and scum and punks and freaks,/ They’re harnessed in slums but they want to be free.” It is frantic without being formulaic.

In “Death in the Park.” it seems that everyone disappoints. Bachmann cannot get relief and emphasizes this when he sings, “The freaks on the phones/ The freaks in my home/ And all I want is empathy from you.

Archers were not just a bunch of gritty punks.  They were sophisticated at times, especially in the song “Underachievers March and Fight Song.” This seems to be their take on a school marching band.  The melody contains whistling and horns. It is contains advice on following your interests: “Underachievers, attack at your leisure/ Hoist up your guitars and make them all believers.”

In “Greatest of All Time,” Bachmann proclaims “the underground is overcrowded.” This may be a reference to the huge community of alt-rock bands of the 1990s.  There were bands like Built to Spill, Guided by Voices, and Pavement. There was Sonic Youth and Sebadoh in Western Massachusetts. Superchunk was formed by some Chapel Hill folks in the late 1980s and revolutionized the local scene (and eventually founding Merge Records).

Archers of Loaf always reminded me of that group of kids who cause havoc and disregard the norm. They ask questions and challenge authority. They mean well; They are just different. They may want to fit in, but they feel disenchanted. They just want to find their way.

This is never more obvious than on Vee Vee. This album, released 20 years ago, provides a blueprint on how to express dissatisfaction with the world: beat the drums loudly, scream the words with zest, and pulse through guitar and bassline melodies. Stay compelling and follow your heart. In the end, the world will adjust accordingly.


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