"When talking to people about what I've been doing recently, I've described it as 'unlearning'," says Iain Archer of the process leading up to his new album Flood the Tanks. "On this record I've wanted to pick apart what is assumed it means to be a singer songwriter, stripping it back until I felt I had reached bare bones. That's an exposing and an uncertain place to be, but I would rather be trying to connect on that level than running on acoustic auto-pilot".
It's been a challenging task for the former Reindeer Section and Snow Patrol guitarist, but the result is an album of striking emotional intensity and lyrical inventiveness, at the same time uplifting and disquieting, artfully crafted and breathtakingly intimate. Drawing on a giddy mix of influences that range from Neil Young to Jim O'Rourke via Yo La Tengo, the Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine, Flood the Tanks bears the scars of its long and difficult gestation - which suits Iain just fine.
"I really wanted to make this record feel broken, to mess things up and allow a bit of chaos in there. I wanted it to be as honest as it could be, to create something fractured and raw." That he manages to do so, while creating a record that is beautiful and strangely uplifting, shows that while Flood the Tanks may have been a long time coming, it was well worth the wait.
This quest for something a little messy and uncertain may stem from Iain's background in Bangor, a small seaside town in the heart of Ulster, in the 70s. "You genuinely do grow up with this crazy idea that everything in your small world is solid and unshakeable, and that you are right about everything and there are a lot of people out there who are wrong," he says. There was always music in the house and so it was natural that at 13 Iain picked up his first guitar. Somewhere between the fiddlers, the marching bands and the gospel hall, he found a little space to make music.
His journey took him to Glasgow in the early 90s with his brother and a VW Camper van. There he recorded two albums in quick succession, Playing Dead in 1995 and Crazy Bird the following year, both on the Scottish label Sticky. They were warmly received (Mojo said "Superb songwriting and haunting vocals", Irish Times said "A masterstroke and a very definite coming of age") and led to invitations to tour with John Martyn, Nils Lofgren and David Gray.
But despite their favorable reception, Iain recognized that his two folk-tinged albums threatened to lead him into territory that was just too safe, just too unthreatening and undemanding. So afraid was he of stumbling into a corner where "I ended up playing on that circuit to 40-something audiences out for a few nice tunes and a bit of light entertainment", that Iain wouldn't put out another solo album for some time. Instead he moved to London, and took a job in a hostel for homeless young people. "That allowed me to step out of my insular musical world and see another side of life, some of the real shit that goes on." He dipped his toes in a number of musical projects over the years, but nothing seemed quite right. For a while he even thought about chucking it all in.
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