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Iain Archer - I would rather be trying to connect on that level than running on acoustic auto-pilot

Feature: Jack Foley

"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."

The comments form part of the introduction to the artist currently posted on his website, and marks a bold statement given the comparisons his music have prompted, with bands such as Snow Patrol, Badly Drawn Boy and, to a certain extent, Coldplay.

Nevertheless, it is little wonder, given Archer’s background as guitarist for both Reindeer Section and Snow Patrol - the latter with whom he has continued to collaborate on their latest album, most notably in the form of hit single, Run.

But, rather like several high-profile guitarists, such as Graham Coxon and John Squire, Archer has decided to go it alone, and his debut solo long-player is garnering considerable acclaim in industry circles.

Drawing on influences ranging 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," he explains, via his personal website.

The quest to which Archer refers seems to stem from his 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 explains.

Archer picked up his first guitar at the tender age of 13 and he has seldom looked back since, travelling to Glasgow, in the early 90s, with his brother and a VW Camper van.

While 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 by the likes of Mojo and the Irish Times and led to invitations for him to tour with the likes of David Gray.

In spite of such promising beginnings, though, Archer didn’t want to risk landing himself in ‘safe territory’, because of the folk-tinged nature of both albums, and didn’t want to get into a situation where he would ‘end up playing on that circuit to 40-something audiences out for a few nice tunes and a bit of light entertainment.’

With this in mind, Archer relocated to London, and took a job at 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 dabbled in a number of musical projects over the subsequent years, but nothing seemed quite right, and he even thought of quitting, until finding inspiration from a number of collaborations, among them with fellow Irish band, The Amazing Pilots and with Rough Trade artist, Jacob Golden.

Most notably, a few gigs with Glasgow's Snow Patrol led to an invitation to join the band, and a welcome burst of confidence and creativity.

"I realised, look, here are people who are writing honestly, not playing the game," says Iain.

"Maybe I can go back to doing something that's very me, without it being denied or manipulated. And they built me up and constantly encouraged my own song-writing.

"But apart from anything else, it was great to be on the road again. I hadn't done that for so long."

Having rediscovered his confidence, Archer then joined the Scottish collective, the Reindeer Section, for their second album, contributing steel guitar and vocals, before deciding the time was right to step out on his own again.

The result is Flood the Tanks, an album which has been capturing the attention of Djs and musicians, including Tim Burgess, who was so impressed that he offered Archer some support slots on his UK tour in the autumn.

The songs deal with the universal issues of loss, struggle and discovery. But, ultimately, the music contains an uplifting message based on a profound belief in the resilience of the human spirit.

"There's definitely a current of hope running through this record, just under the surface, in and out of reach. Its making hinged around the tension of being mid-leap. And it seems being mid-leap is the place I'm happiest."

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