A Conversation With Brian Buckley (part 01)

Brian at home in L.A. // ©CKinzie

Last week, I drove about twenty-eight hours, through three states in four days to Los Angeles. Crazy right? Not really. It was where the Brian Buckley Band was having their CD release party.  I’d wanted to see the band perform live ever since I’d seen Brian solo in Vancouver.  With some help from a friend, I was lucky enough to head out on a crazy road trip.

On October 16th of this year, the band released their third CD, “Without Injuring Eternity”. It was recorded second but tied down contractually for four years. November 16th, 2012 at the Viper Room the band celebrated the long-awaited release of the new CD with family, friends and fans.

I have spoken with Brian a couple of times on the phone and he was gracious enough to meet up with me in Los Angeles for our first sit-down interview. We met at Brian’s home in L.A., and sat down to chat with his dogs providing non-stop entertainment.

As always, Brian was thoughtful and candid. He thinks about what he says but doesn’t hold back. It’s endearing and, sometimes, quite amusing. If I weren’t already a fan of the band’s music I think I’d find it impossible to avoid catching Brian’s enthusiasm. He believes strongly in the kind of music he creates but is always quick to say there’s room for everyone’s talent in the world.

We spoke for a long time, about music, creating, the band and future possibilities  This is the first part of the interview.

IMP: Can you describe the sound of the band? You guys are bits and pieces of everything.

BUCKLEY: That’s a really difficult question, I think. Because people always ask that of you if they’ve never heard of your band. “Oh you’re a band, cool man. What sort of style is it?” And that’s like the first road block. I really don’t know how to answer that question. I usually say that we’re kind of inspired by everything and totally inspired by nothing. We don’t let ourselves be led by a particular sound or a particular band.

It becomes something that I feel almost kind of goes against us sometimes. It’s a positive thing for us not to be able to be pigeon-holed into one particular category. But sometimes it gets a little hard because people are like, well, give it to me in a sentence. And you’re like, “I dunno. I just don’t know!”

There are rock elements, there are jazz elements, blues elements, the singer/songwriter obviously very much involved. There’s some weird-ass heavy metal shit we do sometimes. It’s a blend of everything and it’s a blend of nothing.

Really, like, I love when people say “oh you sound like so and so,” or  “We saw the show last night and you guys sound like this band and this band with a little bit of this band.” And I’m always like, “Oh that’s a cool compliment” but I would also just kind of like to sound like us.

I have a conversation with someone about this probably four or five times a week. Where I go – “I just don’t know how to answer that question.” I think the problem we have now, where we’re at in terms of popular music, is that people have to go, “Well, I’m into country. I’m into pop. I’m into dance, house or rap. Hip hop. Rock or whatever.” I have a feeling that in the next 50 to 75 years it will just be; I like music.

For me, there’s everything. I grew up with everything in front of me. My dad is a musician. He’s a piano teacher. I listen to Chopin as much as I listen to Jimi Hendrix as much as I listen to the Mamas and the Papas. I heard everything.

IMP:  What about the rest of the band? They seem like they all have different interests and backgrounds.

What’s interesting is that they all have different influences than I do. Al [Albert Estiamba, the band’s drummer] went to Berkeley. He loves everything. If there was anyone who loved everything it’s Al. He’s what we call our Zen master. He’s like our Yoda. First of all – unbelievable at what he does on the drums. But he loves jazz, he loves experimental tunes, he loves Zappa. He’s huge into different genres. He’s the most incredibly intelligent musician, musical historian you’ve ever met in your life. This guy can name anything.

And then you’ve got Krishnan [Krishnan Swaminathan, bass player] who is the latest member to join the band. He and Al can sit and talk for hours.

IMP:  Krishnan teaches music too, right?

Brian at home in L.A. // ©CKinzie

BUCKLEY:  He does, he teaches at MI. He’s hilarious. They’ll just sit and chat. They can talk about whatever, who recorded so and so that time they played Philly in ’45. And you’re like, What?

So Mike and I kind of laugh because we’re the uneducated musicians and they’re the very educated musicians [laughs]. Mike has a quote – “I eat music for breakfast”. And that’s what he does. He wakes up. He eats, breathes, shits music – everything is music.

He hears something and he’s like, “this African beat is really cool. Maybe we should try and incorporate that in this tune.” And we’ll listen to it – and it’s like, “wow, yeah, man I’m into that.”

And then he’s like “I heard this other thing on Sigur Ros. It’s really cool how they did this car horn harmony here. What do you guys think about trying that?”

So all of us bring different things as opposed to the kind of typical metal band that all gets together and talks about how much they love Megadeth. You know, “Let’s play fuckin’ power cords until we fuckin’ drop.” That’s not us. We’re hilarious. We’re the opposite. We work from the song.

I’ll bring the song in and then we’ll all work together and they’ll write their parts off the song. Nothing is more important to us than the story of the song. That trumps everything else. So if somebody doesn’t play for an entire song then that’s the way it is. If Al’s literally playing the ride symbol on ¼ notes for 4:45 seconds he will do it because it’s not about what we do it’s about when we do it.

IMP:  How do you create? Some of you don’t read music, right?

BUCKLEY:  Mike and I do not. Al and Krishnan do.

IMP:  So how does that work?

BUCKLEY:  When I first started playing music my Dad (My dad is a piano teacher) was like “well, I’m gonna teach you how to play the piano. We have a piano. It’s free. Perfect. You’re gonna love this.” So I sit down but then I’m like, “I wanna be like Jimi Hendrix.” So he goes okay – he gets me a guitar. I have one year of guitar lessons where I’m learning basic chords. I’m 8 or 9 at the time. And I turn to him maybe 6 or7 months into it and I said “I don’t wanna practice.” He said, “well, you have to practice if you want to continue playing.” “I don’t wanna practice.” “Why not?” “I don’t wanna learn how to read. It’s annoying to me and I hate it.”

So all these years later I still tease him about it because I just don’t… there are some musicians like Al and Krishnan and it’s a part of who they are as a musician. To me, it’s like; if I take more classes, if I pull the curtain back and see Oz it’ll freak me out. You know what I mean? If I write in the time signature of 9 I won’t know that I’m doing that. Then I’ll approach Al and go “hey this sounds like a weird cadence. What’s happening here?” And he’s like, “Oh that’s .. You’re playing in 9.” And I’m like, “Oh I dig it, you dig it?”

So Mike and I are very much those kinds of players. Instinct and impulse takes us where we go. Al and Krishnan are very much those kinds of players as well; they just have an educated background behind them so they can point out our insanity. [laughs]

They can point out our insanity and go “this is what’s happening here.” I will typically, 99% of the time, bring the song in and we’ll sit down and work on it. Usually, that’s how it goes.

It seems the most constructive for us. Sometimes I’ll write 20 songs in two weeks. Sometimes I’ll write one song in four months. I don’t ever push it. It’s gotta be like vomit. It’s gotta be involuntary. It’s gotta be like blinking. If it’s not it feels pushed and I write the worst dishonest bullshit ever. And then I don’t ever play that for anyone.

Which also completely frustrates our manager who is just the most amazing human being alive. He’s just incredible. He’s always teasing with us; “I bet there’s more new songs. Did you write another new song? Did you?”

[At this point Brian feigned looking sheepish but he couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he nodded]

Yeah. “Stop writing new songs!!” We do it too much, I think. We have maybe 100, 150 tunes no one has ever heard. We’d love to get them to people one day but it’s just a matter of time and money and all those other things.

IMP:  You guys ask pretty big questions. With the new CD there’s death, love, life, dreaming, wishing – the whole bit. Where does that come from? Is that just how you see life?

BUCKLEY:  That’s a … wow… that’s a good question – as I start crying. [laughs] I feel like music has always been a very therapeutic thing for me. And I think if you’re not asking big questions (which is fine if you’re not – I don’t blame Justin Beiber . If the dude’s gotta buy a silver Mercedes, you gotta do it – you know what I mean?) I just feel like if you have something to say and it’s something that’s poignant and real to you then I could imagine that there’s someone in the world that – it’s poignant and real to them as well.

And, that’s why I – not that I avoid it – I do it kind of under cloak and dagger. I try to avoid politics as much as I can in my music because I believe that… I’m a humanitarian at heart. I feel like that’s what’s most important to me. I think, also, a lot that informs the way that I write is just, is not putting any expectations on it. I’ll work backwards to forwards, forwards to backwards; it just kind of depends on how I’m feeling.

As far as the bigger topics: Death and love and that sort of thing. I’ve been through a fair amount of it in a short time of my life. My best friend killed himself at a very young age, 20 years… so that kind of shit…a lot of that shit happened very early on in my life. It began to form me in a way that I didn’t suspect. I don’t generally sit down to write when I’m happy. [laughs] It just doesn’t happen for whatever reason.

Oh! We’ll have to press pause and you’ll have to meet my beautiful wife!

[Brian’s wife, Natalia Cordova returned home and we paused our interview to make quick introductions.  Not only were there fans coming into town to see the band perform live, but Natalia’s family had traveled from Mexico for the party, and they were heading out to meet up after the interview.  After a quick hug from Natalia and some time spent petting the dogs again, Brian and I  settled back down to continue.]

I just don’t write when I’m on a cloud. Bouncin’ around, up and down. There’s no part of me that goes, I should pick out a major chord and… [starts laughing] let’s sing about God knows what. All that said, I do believe that if I haven’t got some sort of hope in the tunes then I haven’t done my job.

If you listen to Tom Petty – “Free Falling” – it’s actually quite a depressing song. But something about what he’s saying and the way he’s saying it makes you go “yeah, man I’ve been there. I’ve been exactly where he is.”

That’s why I love that moment in “Jerry McGuire”; it’s hilarious. He’s just signed the big guy and he’s trying to listen to the radio and he hears free fallin’ and his hair is flowin’ in the wind and he’s like… [sings] “Free fallin'” and you’re like – I’ve been there. I’ve had that moment.

IMP:  When you have these big Q’s and big beautiful things – the flip side of that is that there’s the big down. So that sort of fits with what you’ve said – if you feel like you’ve experienced a lot of both and it comes together to create this roller coaster ride.

BUCKLEY:  Yeah. Thank you – I mean, I feel like – I don’t know how normal people live. It doesn’t make any sense to me because I have this outlet. Thank God I have this – it’s being blessed with a burden which I’ve said a few times. There have been times when I’ve wished I could just have a white picket fence and go to my job nine to five and come home and have babies and do that sort of thing. There are times when you’re screaming and whatever’s happening, when a promoter is pissed off or a sound check isn’t going well – or a million other problems or issues. You start going – wow – I just wanna play music. I don’t wanna deal with all this other heinous shit.

You gotta sacrifice a lot to have your voice be heard. If you’re gonna sift through all that other bullshit just to get to that point – you’d better have something significant to say to me.

The bands that I have a real love affair with – Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Elbow, Dave Matthews Band, and Elliot Smith – all these people. When I listen to their tunes I feel like they really dug deep. They’ve sat down and gone “What in God’s name am I trying to say? What do I have that is worth someone putting the record in and pressing play?”

Not just clever melodies, anybody can do that. Am I really trying to have people fear their ghosts? Because that’s what I’m trying to do… I want people to dig deep when they listen to what we’re doing and at the same time, get a feeling of release. There’s a difference between watching the Boss play the Super bowl halftime and watching the Black-eyed peas play the Super bowl halftime. No judgement on either. But I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan – and when I watch I think this guy’s giving everything he’s got. And then you see the Black Eyed Peas and they’re like – kinda dancing back and forth to a two chord melody. And it sounds like someone was sat at a computer somewhere and went “tonight’s gonna be a good night.” And then someone was like [sings] “tonight’s gonna be a good night”. Not saying there wasn’t a lot of work behind it –because that sounded fairly judgmental but I just think that when you dig deeper you have the potential to have greater things happen.

IMP:  And that’s interesting because – don’t hate me for this comparison – but when I watch you guys and I see the direction you take and the way people respond to you I think of Prince. Please don’t hate me for that.

BUCKLEY:  Are you kidding? [big grin]

IMP:  There’s a group of people who get him, and there’s a crowd that’s like I don’t even know. More are like he’s …

BUCKLEY:  He’s a genius.

IMP:  Yeah, and that seems to be the burden that you guys are gonna bear as well. You can’t be pigeon-holed. You probably wouldn’t throw your new CD on at a pool party…

BUCKLEY:  Which is true and it’s really awesome that you said that. First of all, thank you. Because Prince, for whatever reason, and this is why he’s just Godly to me musically. You can throw him on at a pool party and then you can go home and cry and snuggle to your pillow while you listen to “Purple Rain”. He just kind of does everything… which I feel like we’ve been doing more of. I feel like we knew it wasn’t ever gonna be easy for us.

We’re a very hard-core live band. We believe in it very intensely. I feel like we knew that going in. When we signed, ’cause we’d been approached by a couple of bigger labels, and we signed with Sonic 360 which is a more independent – more artist friendly label. That was one of the reasons we did that. ‘Cause we wanted to have control over our own destiny because we want more than anything to play Madison Square Garden – we’d love that – but if in order to play that you have to sacrifice what you do as an artist then, to me, it’s not worth it.

We always understood at a very early stage that it was gonna be difficult for us. And I think we also – I mean to be honest with you, Charlotte – I think we kinda thrive off it. I think we kind of fuckin’, you know, we like the feeling like nobody does what we do. Just like we don’t do what anyone else does, obviously.

That’s kind of our motto before shows. We’ll all sit and do a shot and put our arms around each other and go, “no one does what we do.” We do something very specific and it’s nondescript ironically.

There’s much more to come. Stay tuned and if you haven’t done so yet – go and listen to some of the band’s music.  You won’t be disappointed.

iTunes // amazon // cdbaby

Brian Buckley Band Website // Facebook // Twitter

Brian onstage at the Viper Room in L.A. // Photo courtesy Jennifer Dorner

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