Featured / MUSIC

A Conversation With Brian Buckley (Part 02)

The Brian Buckley band is one of the best bands I’ve ever heard live. They’re true performers. They love music. You can see that while they’re onstage.

Sometimes, they lose themselves in what they’re playing and it’s as though they’ve forgotten there’s an audience. Sometimes, they’re so engaged with the crowd that it’s like being at a big house party. Whatever the recipe is that brought these four together, it’s awesome

The Viper Room In L.A. was pretty packed for the CD release party on November 15th. Fans and those who were new to the band were treated to some kick-ass live versions of “I Am Human,” and “Bye Blue Sky” from the “Hysterical Blindness” CD. From the new CD the band played “I Guess I Don’t Know My Own Strength”, “Funeral” and my personal favorite “Soundtrack”. There were some new songs and some old favorites and it was great.

Here’s the second part of the conversation I had with Brian the day before the show.

Brian Buckley & Mike McGraw at the Viper Room // ©Jennifer Dorner

IMP: If your latest release, “Without Injuring Eternity”, had come out when it was originally recorded would it have changed the trajectory of the band? It’s different – it doesn’t feel like it falls third. Would it have changed where you guys went musically?

BUCKLEY: I think it would have. I think you’re right. I think it would’ve. I think when we recorded it, it was a hellatious process. It was amazing and pure Hell. Mark Howard, the Producer; he’s like a mad scientist. He pushes you to do things you don’t necessarily wanna do but you know you wanna do ’cause you’re gonna learn from it.

I think that if it had come out when it was supposed to, which was before “Hysterical Blindness”, and in our minds it did, I don’t think that “Without Injuring [Eternity]” would have gotten the appreciation that it has. Thank God to these wonderful listeners. I think “Hysterical Blindness” gained us a little more ground. [Hysterical Blindness] is a bigger record, a louder record

IMP: More accessible?

BUCKLEY: A bit more accessible and “Without injuring” is very much an atmospheric record which is what we were going for. It’s one of the reasons that we approached Mark. Because he comes from that Daniel Lanois camp of, “let’s do something different here than we all think it should be.” So we were actually very, very proud of the sound we got. We wanted that very kind of dark, kind of foreboding sound. I mean the record deals a lot with mortality…

IMP: Is that why “day of the Dead” imagery?

BUCKLEY: Yeah, exactly.

IMP: And what about the quote while you’re on it. Were you thinking of it in the sense of the most popular interpretation?

BUCKLEY: We actually loved the quote. I was going over different album titles and not really liking any. For whatever reason I have a real difficult time with titles. I get really angry really quickly if it doesn’t pop to me. I just wanna name it one word. I just get really angry because I spent so much time on the song and everyone’s like “What’s that called?” and I’m like, “it doesn’t’ have a name, shut up.”

I just get really perturbed about it and with “Hysterical Blindness”, it seemed right because, at the time, for about 2 years I was going through a really hard-core bout of panic attacks. Kind of we were going for more of the frantic feeling of questioning your own sanity to a certain degree.

And so with this record [“Without Injuring Eternity”] it was always about .. if I were to leave today – If I knew today was my last day would I appreciate my regrets? would I hate my regrets? Would I have any regrets? What would it be if I could look back for one second because I think just in general everybody is now, now, now. Even technology now has added to that – everything is boom, boom, boom, [Whispers “which I love.”]

Sometimes I think you don’t stop to reminisce because you’re so convinced that right now is the most important thing; which it is. We were talking about that, discussing that very intensely and Al said – “You know what would be a great album title? I love this Henry David Thoreau quote,” he said to us. We all went, “wow”, what if it was called “Without Injuring Eternity? It would be a great album title. “Al I think you’re a fuckin’ genius.”

And he’s like – “Hey I’m not trying to push anything on anyone.” But no – that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to talk about; what this song collection is to us. These three words put together makes perfect sense for what we’re trying to do.

Obviously, when we approached the front cover I had this idea of putting someone in Día de los Muertos [Day of the dead] and luckily enough I had my wife to back me up on this because she’s Mexican.

It’s very funny how Americans don’t celebrate death almost at all. And for whatever reason, in Mexico it’s really intensely celebrated. Parades and walks to the Virgin Guadalupe. Really intensely we celebrate the memory of these people that we’ve lost. I thought how interesting it would be to have and emotionless Día de los Muertos because typically when you see these people in parades, they’re smiling. There’s life in them but here’s this woman who is a blank – almost like Death staring at you.

We just finished shooting [the] “Funeral” music video which I’m very excited about. It was originally conceived by my lady, believe it or not. She took a look at the front cover after we shot that and she was like, “I’ve got this great idea – what if the narrative went this way?” – and it was amazing so we went up to Joshua Tree and shot it.

Yeah. I feel like that quote really meant a lot to as. It came at the right time. (And funny, how the record got held by the label.) How we had to buy the masters back. It kind of became this thing of looking back and looking forward and looking back and looking forward which is essentially what the record is for us. And had the record been titled earlier on, we laugh – it’s hilarious that it took us four years and each year took longer than the next. And it felt like an eternity.

IMP: I’ve interviewed a lot of bands. But you guys are more than just the four of you. There are all these creative people around you: Filmmakers, actors, photographers, writers, all these people who are part of this universe. Does that speak to the way you guys are creative? Bringing other people in?

That’s a good question. We like to think of it – that we just got blessed with really talented friends. I also think that if you’re gonna spend money on a project, work on it, and collaborate – unless it’s somebody that you’ve been dying to work with, like, I mean I’d love to work with Steve Lillywhite. I think he’s just a genius. If it’s not something to that extent to me it’s like – the loyalty amongst friends.

I know that the people that we work with are gonna give me everything. Whether it’s directing the music video, or editing the music video or doing color direction for the music video or dancing in the music video or what have you. I just trust them. It really boils down to that which is a rare, rare thing. Especially rare in this industry and especially in this city.

I think when you have friends that you love dearly and dearly and your recognize their talents and you have faith in them it’s kind an easy – you wake up thinking this is what I wanna do and I have a very firm belief in the vision that we’ve got. Who should we get?

There’s a hunger to our very small community of artists that is unmatched, in my opinion, to others. Other artists are waiting for the ball to drop, like waiting for that moment when Steven Spielberg calls me and we’re off and runnin’. You’re gonna wait for that phone call for a very long time if you don’t get up and do something on your own.

And we’re also of the school of thought that – the world’s in enough trouble these days. Why spend a gazillion dollars when you do something very beautiful for not that much money. That sounds like we’re cheap or something. You don’t have to be Interscope records – even though I have a lot of respect for Interscope records – maybe they don’t do this anymore but years ago they would drop all this incredible amount of money – mind you all recoup-able – so they spend a million dollars and release the cd and then get the money back from the artist. And the next thing you know, you’re like, “wait I didn’t really need to make a million dollar video.”

“I probably could have spent fifty grand and done a really amazing job. We didn’t need to have the highest paid make-up artist.” You know what I mean? I think we just got very lucky and we’re also very aware of each other. We have a lot of belief in one another.

My wife is an unbelievably talented actress and,to her, acting is as important as producing and producing is as important as acting because she knows that there are going to be opportunities that come her way and that she’s going to have to create her own opportunities in order to be fulfilled. And I think that’s really important.

Mike McGraw, Brian Buckley, Albert Estiamba, Jr. and Krishnan Swaminathan at the Viper Room // ©Jennifer Dorner

IMP: Now when I first saw you in Vancouver you were by yourself. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say how great you guys are live as a band. Do you have any difficulty translating that sound to the “full band” sound?

BUCKLEY: That’s a great question. Um. No. Only because I write the songs just me, yeah? So I have that – will always be part of the medium. You know what I mean? It comes from a very solitary place. but I have so much belief in the individual talents of these guys and we’re such a family unit. We’re very close. It becomes incredibly easy to approach them and go – “Okay look. Here’s the idea, and here’s where we’re going with this and this, you know, I don’t know what’s next. So help me fill in these blanks. I fucking dare you.”

And then they’re like cool, alright, let’s try this thing here and that and blah, blah, blah and the next thing you know – in an hour and a half we’ve got somethin’ slammin’ that we feel really comfortable playing and we look at each other and go, “Let’s record it.” And we all whip out our iPhones … yeah, it’s hilarious.”

IMP: Technology again…

Yeah, it’s fantastic. So as far as it translating from solitary singer/songwriter to, for lack of a better word, rock band I’m very lucky. I’m very lucky because I know other artists have a very difficult time creating a positive dialogue with their band and going, “Okay, this is the vision I have now; I want your vision.” Which is something I’m very hard-core about.

You listen to old Zappa stories and he’s got, like a BB gun and is shootin’ at his band members goin’ “I said to do it like this!” We’re the exact opposite. In fact, it’s almost hilarious. “Did I step on your feet there?” “Bro, I can brew the coffee.” “You brewed it last time, I can get it.” Like we’re just overly nice to each other which I think is important. I think a lot of people think that that’s not necessarily being honest but, um, because we’re dealing with such heavy issues with the music anyway. There’s no need to kind of, attack one another. We always come at it very open and communicative and I love that about us.

IMP: So, have you ever, at all, been tempted by the popularity of the one guy with the guitar at the moment. It seems like every second artist is…

BUCKLEY: … the one guy with the guitar. Yeah, we walked into the Grove the other night on my wife and I’s anniversary and we went to go see “Lincoln” or something and we went to the Grove and they had a stage set up and it was, what’s the guy that won American Idol recently? Same name twice! Phil Phillips!

IMP: Who’s actually not all that bad.

BUCKLEY: No, he’s the guy I’ve been happiest to see win that. But even just watching that I thought to myself, “Oh my God, this poor guy is literally singing Christmas tunes.” I would blow my brains out. I might freak out. You know? But he’s got millions of dollars and guys in a smoke and mirror room sayin’ “and now we’re gonna take him here and he’s gonna go there…”

IMP: Pick this shirt for him…

Yeah, exactly! And that kind of shit. And then you see, and it’s very rare for it to happen differently, something like Mumford & Sons and I love what they do. It’s very particular what they do. You know – four dudes, he’s got the kick drum in front of him and I love it. So in that regard. Do I ever think it was just me?

IMP: Have you ever been drawn to that? You know like – man, if I did this shit for five years…

BUCKLEY: You know I don’t think so – because I’m just so annoyingly grateful for my band. In fact I was talking to Jason Manns about this last night. We hung out and were playing some tunes trying to work on something for tomorrow night. We wanted to just jam on just one track together. It was funny we spent two hours on it then we went well, if we need to cut a track in between two sets I guess we’ll cut this one. Artists are ridiculous, totally ridiculous. We were laughing so hard plus we’d had four or five vodkas. [Brian put on a drunken slur] “You know if it’s not work for you? We can cut this.” [Laughs]

But I was telling him, it must be easy because it’s just you and your guitar. You literally play to your impulse, that’s fantastic. It must be awesome. And he’s going “It must be so awesome for you.” ‘Cause he’s playin’ with a band tomorrow night which he doesn’t ever do – and he’s like “It’s fantastic! I just had so much fun doing it” And I say to him, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m very lucky.”

Because there’s something kinetic, something really organic and real between the four of us so when I leave rehearsal – you understand why artists are typically drug addicts because you’re just like [shakes and looks over excited] and you have to get home and you’ve gotta go to bed. I think it’s always easy to kinda go “the grass is always greener”. Some producers we’ve worked with who will remain nameless – it would just drive them crazy. “You love what you do too much, just shut the fuck up. Let’s get angry.”

IMP: ‘Cause that’s really not the point, Brian.

BUCKLEY: Exactly! It is not the point to be happy about what you’re doing.

IMP: That’s right. Lay off on the creating! So I’ve got one more question that is a bit of a fun one – not a heavy one.

BUCKLEY: I like the heavy ones. [Grins]

IMP: I figured you would. But… what’s your earliest memory of music?

BUCKLEY: I would say, my dad playing me “Live in Monterey” Jimi Hendrix. As far as the memory that stands out in my mind of me going “This makes me feel something.” For whatever reason, listening to “Purple Haze” and “Wind Cries Mary” and “Castle Made of Sand” – the hairs got up on the back of my neck and I was like, “what the hell is this?”

The Brian Buckley Band at the Viper Room // ©Jennifer Dorner

And also, John Williams’ soundtrack for Star Wars. Don’t know why that is. Had that on a little turntable and an 8-track. Oh my God, I just loved it.

IMP: Oh, if we could get back what we had on 8-track.

BUCKLEY: I’m tellin’ ya. Oh! And then my dad came out to the song. He was dressed up as Darth Vader one year for my birthday. All the kids are runnin’ around and all this and he comes out and I was like “Darth Vader’s here!” – you know I was like, six. And I remember seeing his shoes and I remember, for whatever reason, that stuck in my mind. So. Darth Vader left later that day. Maybe a day later Mom asked me to grab somethin’ in her closet so I go in the closet to grab whatever she was after and I saw those shoes. And it dawns on me that my dad is Darth Vader and I am Luke Skywalker. I was convinced for two weeks, Charlotte, that I was fuckin’ Luke Skywalker.

IMP: That’s awesome.

BUCKLEY: Yeah, [Laughs] and people wonder why artists are mental.

IMP: So… what now?

BUCKLEY: Your guess is as good as mine. [Laughs] No. Tour next summer which we’re really excited about. Hopefully do like San Diego to Seattle or even Vancouver if we can. We’re gonna do a lot of stuff on the road. Continue playing L.A. Obviously, this is our home base.

I’ve written original songs for this particular film called “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud” which is being produced by Gil Bellows who was in Shawshank Redemption and Ally McBeal. Just a brilliant actor and an extraordinary artist and a lovely human being. He’s just kind of the whole package. He had heard our tunes and approached us to write this selection of songs. I went overboard, of course. He asked for 12 and I gave him 32 or something like that. He was like, “I didn’t need a triple album I just needed a few tracks.”

So we’re gonna finish that. I’m very excited to get into the studio with Krishnan. That’s something that – since Dan’s departure, which was very hard on all of us. Very necessary for him but very hard on all of us because we were brothers-in-arms for a lot of years. But I’m very excited to get him [Krishnan] in and see where that’s gonna go because the dude is just freakishly amazing at what he does. He’s so, so, good. So I can’t wait to see what kind of energy that will be among the four of us.

As far as whatever that fourth album will be? We kinda wanna stay independent for the next year and then see where we go from there. Which works in our favor, obviously, because we have our three records completed. We own the masters of those three records. And then we can kind of start fresh. But I wanna put out one more record before we take that next level as far as seeing what label interest we have and where we might go. So I’m really excited about that as well.

And, you know, I think also with the patience that we’ve had through all of the shit that we’ve gone through. There’s some great stuff too but a lot of fuckin’ madness that we’ve gone through. It’s time for us to just strictly focus on creating and playing music. Which is why we’ve gone through all this other nonsense.

Brian may not be Luke Skywalker but he’s certainly got some special powers when it comes to music. Really? The only thing left for me to say is that this band is everything that music should be about. There’s much more to come from them musically and I think it will be a great journey to watch.

Mike McGraw, Brian Buckley, Albert Estiamba, Jr. and Krishnan Swaminathan at the Viper Room // ©Jennifer Dorner

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