Sunday, January 12, 2020

Archers of Loaf emerges for 2020 action / Interview

Matt Gentling at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin in 2015. (Andy photo)

By Andy

When you settle in for an Archers of Loaf listening session, be prepared for the push and pull in myriad directions. You gotta work for it, stick with it, hang in there. Parts will come from out of nowhere, leaving your head shaking. In the end, you might be a bit overwhelmed, but you'll be stoked that you conquered the challenges that the band splayed forth. Consider yourself a part of Loaf nation.

"There's a lot going on," bassist Matt Gentling told me on a Sunday afternoon in mid-December 2019 over the phone from his home in Asheville, NC. "There's a good bit of dissonance in there and stuff. Structurally, I guess, it's pop music, but it's pretty obscured by all kinds of stuff going on and intentionally weird... We weren't trying to be pretentious or anything, it was just sort of, you get engaged and you wanna throw the kitchen sink at every idea."

In the live setting, well, they might as well haul out the refrigerator and stove to join the fray. It's an intense, uplifting and cathartic experience, for sure.

Loaf will rip open its vast catalogue of tunes for some live dates, beginning on Feb. 21 at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC, and Feb. 22 at the Terminal West in Atlanta, GA. Seven more dates are set to follow in March and April, including a hometown gig for Gentling and guitarist Eric Johnson on April 10 at The Grey Eagle in Asheville. Check for a complete set of dates.

The band, which began its attack on the music world in 1991 and served up its last studio album ("White Trash Heroes") in 1998, recently planted a video teaser on the Web announcing upcoming Loaf action in 2020.

Loaf's last gig was at the Hot Luck Fest in Austin, Texas, in 2019, and we here at There's Something Hard in There central last caught them live at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin in 2015. Our initial Loaf live experience took place at the Cactus Club in San Jose, CA, in 1994 and we were on board with them live a bunch more times in the '90s and at a reunion gig in 2011 in Seattle. Gentling sold us the band's 10-inch EP, "Archers of Loaf vs. The Greatest of All Time," at the Cactus gig and we still get a thrill out of listening to that gem.

Presently, Gentling lives in a house he built near a plant nursery on his folks' land in Asheville, the city where Johnson also resides. Guitarist/vocalist Eric Bachmann lives in Athens, GA, and drummer Mark Price calls Carrboro home.

"I jokingly call anything we've done after 1998, Rock n' Roll Fantasy Camp, where rich dudes will pay obscene amounts of money to go to a camp and pretend they play in rock bands or whatever," Gentling laughed. "Some of us are recirculating around the music world, like me and Eric (Bachmann). Eric Johnson, he's a lawyer now, and Mark's working at a bike company. We're trying to work the schedules around all that."

New songs have been recorded as well in Durham, NC, the band announced on its Web site early this month, and they'll hit the scene on Merge Records this year.

At the time of this interview, Gentling said they were discussing possible new tunes, noting that Bachmann and Johnson are always writing and the bassist occasionally works on song parts.

"We were a little cagey about it at first, 'cause we all wanted to be on the same page, first off, and second off, we didn't wanna try and emulate what we had before. We just wanted to write music without any expectations or anything. A lot of it will hinge on that," said Gentling, who also plays bass in Band of Horses and The Poles nowadays.

Eric Bachmann in Austin in 2015. (Andy photo)

Things went swimmingly when the band gathered in Asheville last month for a band meeting, dinner and then a rehearsal in a little studio in a couple's basement. 

"We found that the songs are coming together a little faster than we thought, so hopefully we can pull 'em off live. So far, so good. We've all been really happy and we're having a lot of fun being together," said Gentling, adding that it was a plus to meet face to face and get back in Loaf form. "Man, we always got along well and we like hanging around with each other, and that hasn't changed, which is really nice."

Gentling said that once he digs down and the muscle memory kicks in, the fun begins with the Loaf songs. When it comes to the setlist, they're carving an extra road into the journey by giving one song a full-on rearrangement treatment and snagging two songs from their catalogue that have never seen the light of day live and concocting new versions of those tunes.

"I don't wanna give (anything) away ... I'm not sure if I'm supposed to tell, trying to be mysterious about that," Gentling said about the trio of tunes.

And when the chords hit on stage, it's all systems go. Gentling especially lets loose with hair flying and body pulsating like a beast unleashed from its cage.

"A lot of it's just sort of nervous energy or just general pent-up energy and it's fun to expend it. It's a fun way to play for us. Part of it also is we have good chemistry between us, the four of us get along real well, we've  known each other for a long time and we all kind of originate from the same town, and so it's exciting to play together," he said.

Michael Lavine photo (From the There's Something Hard in There archive)

When Loaf began crafting its songs in the early days, Gentling admits that he couldn't wrap his head around just what they were hammering out in the practice room until a friend from another band he was in said that he dug the Loaf sound. It turns out that within those crappy amps being pushed to their limits housed a unique addition to the musical landscape. After Loaf recorded a demo to get some shows, Gentling got excited about what was blasting back at him from the tape machine. Loaf was now fully streaming through his blood. 

One of Gentling's favorite things about the early days of writing Loaf songs was discovering their flow. The two Erics offered the skeletons to the songs and everyone would chip in some parts to form the whole. It wasn't easy, and arguments over the song structures would arise, but everything eventually came to fruition.

Gentling offered an example of what would sometimes happen during songwriting sessions. One time when a song began to take shape, Johnson became frustrated while trying to come up with a part, and after fighting it for about an hour, they took a break and Gentling, Bachmann and Price walked to the convenience store to grab beer and snacks. When the trio returned, Johnson informed them that he thought he had devised a suitable part.

"He would play it, and my ears just could not make sense of it. I'd be like, 'I don't even know what song this is going to,'" Gentling said.

Bachmann latched onto the part and ran with it. "We would all play it together and it would completely transform the song. It would turn into something, to my ears, totally unique and really really neat. It was fun hearing it come together," Gentling added.

With an arsenal of songs on tap and records released, the Loaf crew hit the open road to blow us away.

Off stage on those trips, there was heaps of fun to be had. Once, while taking a break on a marathon drive with fellow Chapel Hill unit Capsize 7, the tired and hungover crew was mistaken for a popular metal band while dining at a Cracker Barrel in Amarillo, Texas. 

"The staff thought we were Pantera for some reason, and they refused to believe that we weren't Pantera after a while. I blame Eric Johnson for this, 'cause I think he was the one who finally gave up and said, 'OK, you got us, we're Pantera.' We signed autographs. We didn't even know the names of the guys in the band. Mark Price signed an autograph, 'The Razor,' that's what he called himself. They paid for our meal, and off we went in our shitty little van," Gentling chuckled.

Thinking back about that tour and others with Butthole Surfers, Flaming Lips, Lemonheads and Plexi, Gentling feels fortunate to have Loaf in his life.

"The fact that we can still play shows now blows my mind and makes me really happy. Whether I'm any good or not, I wanna keep playing rock music, and it's nice that you can make a little cash while you're doing it," he said.

When the band breaks into Gentling's favorite "Audiowhore," watch out. He'll no doubt be going off like a man possessed. Do your part and join him, please.

Gentling in Seattle in 2011. (Cat Rose photo)

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