Anthony Rowe takes inspiration from Thomas Pynchon and Motown with debut Archer Archer LP
“There are storylines and characters all over the place, but there are also these underlying things that tie it all together.”
While Anthony Rowe, who records and performs under the name Archer Archer, is actually describing Thomas Pynchon's “V.,” he could just as easily be discussing his debut long-player, which shares both a name and a sensibility with the novel. The tracks are dense and sonically adventurous, piling on analog synthesizer, snipped samples and vocals the musician treats like aural paint smeared, flecked and brushed across the album's canvas. But there are also repeated melodies, segues and recurring ambient sounds running through the tracks and serving as a reminder that each segment is part of a larger whole.
“I happened across [Pynchon's] ‘V.' six or eight months ago, and it blew me away. There were lots of disparate elements, but it still had this flow tying it all together,” said Rowe, 30, who visits Double Happiness for a record release show on Thursday, March 16. “I wanted to bring that approach to the album and not just have a bunch of singles strewn together. I've done EPs and little bursts of songs in the past, but this is the first time I set that larger goal for myself and tried to bring it all together.”
In addition to informing Rowe's big-picture approach, “V.” had a pronounced effect on his songwriting. While reading, the musician would occasionally lapse into daydream, and the vivid pictures that formed in his mind served as the basis for songs like “Silver Canyons,” a glitchy electronic number laced with ghostly snippets of soul singers boasting, “How much I love you.”
“When I started writing ‘Silver Canyons,' I imagined seven sisters who watched over these mountains,” Rowe said. Other lyrics were similarly inspired by these “mythological half-realms,” as the musician described them, while some eschew language altogether.
“There are times in songs where it's almost gibberish and the melody just comes out and I don't try to force a word with it,” said Rowe, who recorded V. holed up alone in the bedroom of his North Campus home.
Though Rowe's vocals are often treated, layered with digital effects or interrupted by stutters that suggest a deeper glitch in the Matrix, they maintain a man-made quality throughout. “It's not all Auto-Tuned,” Rowe said. “You can hear the imperfections in it, but I'm OK with that. That was the intention. It still feels human.”
Rowe approaches music-making with similar intent, combining a more analytic side absorbed from his day job working in a machine shop — “It's really technical and structured and there are layouts and processes you have to memorize, and some of that structure has rubbed off on my passions, like music,” he said — with the scabbed-nerve emotion that fuels the Motown sound he cited as a formative influence.
“There's this heat to those sounds,” he said of the vintage soul era. “It was all [recorded on] tape and super analog consoles, but beyond the gear it was just these passionate people struggling, and you could hear that in their voices. I wanted to throw touches of that in with the mechanical, looped nature of the music I make. There's something about the marriage of robotics with raw human passion and struggle and feeling that tickles my fancy.”
Rowe, who was born in Kentucky and moved to Grove City with his family at age 5, started recording electronic songs under the name Archer Archer six years ago following stints in comparatively traditional noise-rock groups. Initially, the musician started working on his own because it suited his reclusive nature and didn't require a reliance on bandmates.
“Around the time I started doing that, I moved to New Albany with my [former] girlfriend … and it was a terrible time,” Rowe said. “We were both in shitty places in our lives, and we were living in this weird, isolated place. None of my friends were around; they were all 40 minutes away. So it was easy to sit there at my laptop with my headphones on and start making loops.”
Growing up, Rowe never considered the idea of writing or recording music. Rather, like his father, he viewed the pop-country and radio rock that played in an endless stream in the car or on the home stereo as background noise and nothing more. That all changed once the musician discovered the low-simmering output of Godspeed You! Black Emperor as a teenager.
“That was one of the first bands I heard where I listened to one of their songs and I felt like I was going to cry or throw up,” Rowe said. “It was this heavy, gutted, emotional feel, and it just kind of blew my mind someone could make sounds like that when I had lived my whole life thinking that music existed in the background for your consumer pleasure.
“It was something deep and it hit me in the chest. It was like, ‘Holy shit. I need to do something like this.'”