Eric Bachmann, Crooked Fingers frontman and leader of the late great Archers of Loaf, offers up “To the Races,” his first solo record, on Saddle Creek, and hits Schubas this Thursday with folk-country great Richard Buckner—a perfect match for touring mates. “To the Races” recalls Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” in tone and method—most of the songs feature only Bachmann’s gravelly voice and nylon-stringed, acoustic guitar finger-picking, occasionally backed by a fiddle, a piano or some female vocals. It’s a haunting and intensely powerful pack of ten songs, as Bachmann spins tales of troubled relationships and hitting the rough road. Some sound like lullabies—and the others sound like warnings.
Most of it was written while Bachmann lived in a van. “I was broke, I was living the way I was living,” Bachmann says. “It was humiliating, but it worked. I didn’t intentionally make a quiet record. I don’t want it to sound stupid—I guess it seems kind of contrived. I just pissed money away—I kept making bad decisions.”
“To the Races” sounds like everything Bachmann’s done in the past—at least with Crooked Fingers—but also brand new at the same time. “I like to look at it that way,” he says. “I try to do that with every record—I try to pretend it’s the first one. I always want it to sound like it’s inspired.”
Bachmann finds that touring solo, something he’s done in the past, is liberating. “I enjoy playing solo shows very much,” he says. “What’s appealing is that, when you play with a band, it’s not very free. [Solo] you can change tempos—it’s completely up to you.” He jokes, “Plus, there’s less shit to plug in.”
He says that the fundamentals of songwriting can be found in a guitar and a vocal delivery. “If you can get your song to a good place on guitar and voice, you can make it more,” he says. “At its core it needs to be a good song—and just writing guitar and voice, that’s the best way to do that. No studios can help to make it sound cool.” (Tom Lynch)
Eric Bachmann plays September 14 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, at 6:30pm and 10pm. $15 for each show.