The cover of Daniel Bachman's latest album, "Seven Pines," shows the 23-year-old guitarist squinting from the porch of a weathered old house in his hometown of Fredericksburg. The rusted roof, broken upstairs window and peeling paint beneath lush green foliage give the scene an almost "American Gothic" quality. However, the cover was supposed to be shot at the house next door, where Bachman formerly lived; a house which doubled as a music venue known as Spottswood, after the street's name.
"All these hippie chicks live there now and they destroyed it. Prayer flags and hammocks on the porch," Bachman says. "So we just went next door to an identical house." Regardless, it's still a memorable cover image and fitting analogy for an artist who doesn't worry much about genre labels or altering the past.
The meditative, driving album of solo acoustic guitar was named after the bloody 1862 Battle of Fair Oaks in Henrico, known by Confederates as Seven Pines. "Really, I just like the image of seven pines," he says, chuckling a little before adding that the Civil War has fascinated him since he was a child. Bachman's debut album in 2010 was titled "Apparitions at the Kenmore Plantation," a reference to the Fredericksburg home of Betty Washington Lewis, sister of the first president. It was released under Bachman's former artist moniker, Sacred Harp.
Much of "Seven Pines" was written while Bachman was living for a year in Philadelphia, where he worked in furniture manufacturing. Virginia-inspired songs such as "Sun Over Old Rag" hinted at a longing to return home, which the guitarist did last year. "I love Philly but it's so much nicer down here," Bachman says. "I'll probably end up in Richmond by summer or fall because it's cheaper and there's more stuff to do."
Critics have praised "Seven Pines," his debut for Tompkins Square Records, as the latest exploration of the American primitive style pioneered by experimental folk artists such as John Fahey and Robbie Basho. Steel strings buzz and rattle beneath Bachman's intricate fingerpicking while the oddly tuned, droning songs often explore the space between notes and chords. "I ripped off a lot of Fahey and [ex-Richmonder] Jack Rose and I try hard to keep developing that," Bachman says. "I knew Jack from shows. My sister and I did the artwork for his last album before he died."
Josh Rosenthal, owner of Tompkins Square, says that although Bachman is connected to Rose, his work is completely different. "Daniel shares Jack's blue collar attack and approach to his craft, but he has a broader color palate and range. ... He is going to need to figure out how to take it even further. That's the challenge."
Bachman started playing banjo when he was 16, which is how he learned his fingerpicking style, then switched to steel guitar because it wasn't as limiting.
"I couldn't play like Doc Boggs, I tried," he says. "The stuff I liked was claw hammer, but I just couldn't do it." Inspired by his father's Indian raga records — his dad was a regional folk musician in the '60s — Bachman got into psychedelic drone music. "I like that stuff because it's one long chord with variations forever ... I still use a lot of banjo tunings. Sometimes I tune the lowest string way up so it has that constant drone."
Certain Richmond bands should take note: Bachman mentions he'd like to play guitar in a "heavy psych band one day," but isn't sure when. He was just offered a $150-a-month room in Church Hill that includes utilities, perfect because he's usually on tour from January to May. "I'd like to move down there, get a bunch of people together and try to open a [small club] space," he says.
Bachman recently returned from a long European tour with his sister tagging along. "My poor sister, she had never been outside of Virginia, she was totally freaked," he says, recounting a story about a memorable gig played in Barcelona, Spain. The promoter told them that during a recent festival in the square, nearby apartment tenants had thrown metal pipes into the audience. Not to worry though, the promoter told him before he went on, typically they just threw balloons filled with bleach or urine.
"They were nuts, man," Bachman recalls with more good humor than is warranted. "When the balloon hit me, the promoter was laughing and said, 'I'm pretty sure it's not acid.' I woke up later that night and my whole eyeball was swollen and red and my face was on fire for half a day. Then it went away." S
Daniel Bachman and Ian McColm play an in-store at Steady Sounds records Jan. 10 from 5-7 p.m., and play Cous Cous with Matt Connor that evening at 10:30. Both shows are free.