Archie Powell & The Exports is the creation of Archie Powell and three gentlemen named Ryan, Adam and RJ who collectively adopted the last name Export. Powell has had a long association with music, his father a gifted violinist. Powell also began playing guitar at age 11. After graduating from college, he and keyboardist Ryan—whose actual last name is Lynch—formed The Exports, and after releasing their first EP, recruited drummer RJ Schillaci and bassist Adam Melberth. The band’s debut Loose Change EP was released online for free in 2009. They followed up with 2010’s Skip Work, named Chicago’s local album of the year by The Chicagoist. They released Great Ideas In Action on Good Land Records in May 2012.
Halfway into my conversation with Archie Powell, lead singer/guitarist/mastermind behind Archie Powell & the Exports, and I'm starting to think he should change the band name to (shout-out to all of you Seinfeld fans out there) Art Vandelay & the Importer-Exporters (and for non-Seinfeld fans, importer/exporter Art Vandelay is an alias for the character of George Costanza, used as a cover for scoring a date with Marisa Tomei). “That show is responsible for a good 25% of my personality,” reveals Powell, after we somehow end up on a Seinfeld tangent. And like the much-loved sitcom, listening to Archie Powell & the Exports' latest LP, 2012's Great Ideas In Action, is roughly an episode's-length of deliriously fun power-pop. It's a follow-up to the Chicago-based foursome's 2010 debut, Skip Work, and songs like “Crazy Pills” elevate them to the forefront of energetic, keyboard-driven rock. Read on to find out more about Archie Powell's great ideas, and how he and his Exports are putting them into action.
Band of the Day: Question: Your first album is called Skip Work, and you have songs on it like “Job Fair” that seem to be a commentary on unemployment in the U.S. What real-life situations inspired it?
Archie Powell: I was unemployed for a pretty long time after I finished school, not long enough to get really destitute, but I didn't have an applicable degree to real life. I have a painting degree, so I wasn't expecting anything outrageous to come from it. But it was the same with a lot of people I know. We were all dealing with the same thing [post-graduation unemployment] at the same time, so the album speaks to that.
Band of the Day: I saw on YouTube that you guys were on the game show “Cash Cab.” How did that come about, and what was it like?
Archie: [laughs] Yeah, we were on “Cash Cab,” and it was rad! I think it was actually harder with the different host, because the ones I watched [on TV, “Cash Cab” New York], I dominated. But it paid for our holiday party! We were able to buy a keg and a bunch of food, which was pretty rad.
Band of the Day: Do you regret not going double-or-nothing in the video bonus round?
Archie: $400 sounded pretty good at the time, but I got a lot of shit for not doing it.
Band of the Day: Would you say that it's the biggest regret of your life?
Archie: In the top three, easily [laughs].
Band of the Day: How did your YouTube channel, ExportTV, get started?
Archie: Kind of just for fun, really. There's a lot of bullshit on there [laughs]. We bought Blip Cams when those came out, and it was really just to amuse ourselves, but it turns out it's a pretty useful media outlet.
Band of the Day: Is Regis Philbin still a favorite of Brian's [one of their videos is a bit called “Ask Brian While He's In The Shower,” in which he playfully reveals his love for Philbin]?
Archie: [laughs] I'll have to call him up, or ask him when he comes to town. But I'd say that chances are high that Regis is still in good favor with Brian.
Band of the Day: Your latest album title [Great Ideas In Action] is inspired by a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip, where Calvin comes up with an idea that he thinks is great, but no one else agrees. What ideas, music or otherwise, have you come up with that you thought were brilliant, but had trouble convincing other people?
Archie: Join my band [laughs]! Work a shitty job and go on tour all the time. That's pretty hard to convince people.
Band of the Day: But you managed to do it.
Archie: I guess I'm tenacious! I got pretty lucky with the crew, that's for sure. When you find people who are all kind of in it to win it, and want to kind of pursue the vision that you have, you don't take that for granted. That's for sure.
Band of the Day: When did you realize that this was the right combination of people for the band?
Archie: Probably right away, when we were putting together everything. I had known everyone previously, and it all worked out pretty organically, except for [drummer] RJ. We found him on Craigslist.
Band of the Day: How did that all happen?
Archie: It's funny you mentioned Brian. He was actually our first drummer, but he got a job at the Milwaukee brewers. He moved from Chicago, but that was a pretty cool excuse! So then we put up an ad on Craigslist, and he [RJ] was the only person to respond, which was outrageous [laughs]!
Band of the Day: What was in the ad?
Archie: Drummer wanted for pursuit of ridiculous lifestyle? We only got the one reply, and it was RJ. It worked out pretty well as you can see. I was prepared to be sidelined for six months to a year 'cause drummers are hard to find. We just got really lucky.
Band of the Day: Why are drummers so hard to find?
Archie: 'Cause drums are really hard to play, and parents don't want their kids to play drums because they have to keep them in the house. They're very loud!
Band of the Day: If taking crazy pills is no way to catch your thrills, how do you do it?
Archie: [laughs] Skip work! That's my official answer. See what I did there? Tied together my entire career [“Crazy Pills” is a song from their latest album, and “Skip Work” is a song from their first].
Band of the Day: Nice, it's like a Seinfeld episode, when they bring the storyline back around.
Archie: That show is responsible for a good 25% of my personality.
Band of the Day: Does that mean you might start busting out the Elaine dance onstage?
Archie: Yeah, we'll see, if I feel pretty inspired!
Band of the Day: For your latest album, you originally recorded 14 songs, but shaved it down to 11. How do you decide which songs to shave off?
Archie: It's kind of just like a roundtable thing. Everyone gets together and goes, “OK, what sucks?” It's kind of weird. You don't know how it's going to turn out, ever, 'cause the reason you're recording is because you're pretty sure it's going to turn out good. But you don't know how it's going to come out on the other end of the Play-Doh magic molding machine, you know what I mean? Some songs just don't stylistically fit or flow with the rest of the big picture or whatever, so it's just something you have to feel out.
Band of the Day: How does one become an honorary Export [as their fans are known]?
Archie: Let us sleep on your floor? Cook us breakfast? I don’t know. It's not hard to win our approval. We're pretty agreeable gentlemen!
Band of the Day: Have you come across that a lot, people just opening up their homes, while you're on the road?
Archie: Oh yeah! You have to rely on the kindness of strangers for the most part, really. We don't have any money at all. A hotel's out of the question. Now we know a lot of people all over the country, so often times we have friends we can stay with. If we don't, sometimes we'll honestly have to get on the mic and go, “We don't have a place to stay, any Good Samaritans willing to volunteer?” Sometimes they do, and it always turns out really great.
Band of the Day: What are some of the most extreme ways you've saved money while on tour?
Archie: We haven't saved any money at all [laughs]. We actually just had the per diem discussion, like, “Hey, we should probably work out a per diem system,” which is kind of unfortunate because we just got back from being on the road for a month and everyone was starving to death. I mean, you know, don't feel sorry for us because it's still a rowdy, excellent experience. It's just sometimes we're eating nothing but noodle cups and peanut butter on open-faced bread, and that's it for the day. You know, it can get pretty gnarly [laughs].
Band of the Day: Who or what do you blame for getting you into music?
Archie: Blame? That's a funny question, yeah blame for sure… who can I blame my ridiculous situation on? It wasn't my folks, they didn't really push pop music on me. My dad was a musician, but didn't have a record collection. I didn't start paying attention to music on purpose until I was like 10 years old? It was probably just from my friends, maybe some neighbor kid? Maybe it was Andy Lesko? Yeah, I'm gonna go with Andy Lesko. Shout out to Andy Lesko! 'Sup, dude [laughs]?
Band of the Day: There's been a lot of buzz in the news about zombie face-eating attacks going on. If you had to pick an Archie Powell & the Exports song to a) calm the zombie and b) induce a zombie attack, which songs would you choose?
Archie: I don't think I've written a zombie attack song yet, we have to get gnarlier before that happens. And any of the slow-burners on the first record that are kind of boring would be a good 'subdued zombie/put to sleep' kind of song.
Band of the Day: You're not supposed to say your own songs are boring!
Archie: I'm being facetious. Everybody gets sick of the old stuff. That's why you write the new stuff.
Band of the Day: So what's next for you guys?
Archie: Summer festivals, hitting the road in the fall and writing the third record are all in the works. We can't get lazy.