Eric Bachmann is bounding through the woods behind an elementary school in Athens, Georgia, whooping with delight.
"There you go, baby," the longtime rock 'n' roll singer and legend of North Carolina's indie rock heyday yells in his sandpapered baritone. "Go get 'em, girl."
With every thudding step he takes on the narrow, leaf-strewn path, his broad-shouldered, six-foot-six frame pounds out an imposing rhythm. He's trailing Lupe, the dog that he and his wife, Liz Durrett, have owned for three years.
As mutts go, Lupe is an especially perplexing chimera: she stands about a foot off the ground and weighs fifteen pounds, all of which seems to be held in a single ripple of muscle, taut beneath her short, tan hair. Her face and ears are that of a Chihuahua, her body that of a pit bull uncannily crammed inside a too-small frame.
She has all the energy of a pinball game, so Bachmann sprints behind her, hoping to keep hold of the leash that clips onto her bright pink, steel-studded collar. When they emerge from the woods and reach the wide, open field that's her favorite place to play, Bachmann bends down, grunting as he leans low enough to unleash her.
"Go!" he yells.
She's suddenly off, kicking up pale brown blades of brittle late-winter grass. He stands still, watches her silently for a full minute, and laughs.
"You're a big hit, Lupe," he boasts. "Everybody loves Lupe."
Bachmann, forty-five, has been married for almost four years. He talks often about having a child with Durrett, but, for now, he proudly, compulsively refers to her and Lupe as his family. In the right pocket of his thick gray coat, he carries a collection of dog treats in much the same way a new parent might clutch a diaper bag. He scoffs at the veterinarian who says he overfeeds Lupe and boasts that, since she's a mutt, "she's going to live for twenty years."
This is, Bachmann says, as happy as he's ever been. For his entire life, he's been perpetually restless, whether transferring schools and switching majors midway through college, moving two dozen times, or jumping from the aggressive indie rock of his emblematic Chapel Hill band Archers of Loaf to the elegant, brooding folk-rock of Crooked Fingers because he'd grown to loathe the former. But right now, he's hoping to not go anywhere.
"I never wanted to be home. I never wanted to be in one place," he says. "But now that I have a wife, a home, a dog, I am gone too much. I never really had a place that I enjoyed when I came home. Now I do."
That sense of relative contentment has resulted in what is arguably the best record of Bachmann's long career. Released by Merge Records in March, the nine-song set, simply titled Eric Bachmann, is the most direct and daring writing he's ever done. He defies common wisdom and rejects old traditions, proclaiming, "Kill your idols and your fables" over girl-group harmonies at the start of the album's masterpiece, "Mercy." After a five-year recording absence that followed a string of records that felt like half-measures, the album Eric Bachmann is a welcome resurrection for the musician Eric Bachmann. And it has everything to do with his new life, his wife, and his dog.
Lupe eventually slows down, cycling back to Bachmann and resting at his feet. He scoops her up and holds her close to his face, staring into her eyes. He reaches into his pocket, fishes for a snack, and dangles it in front of her dark, angled snout.
"This is it, girl. This is our last treat," he says, his voice easing from its normal, nervous rush to a smooth, consoling clip. "We're going to be so fucked after this."