Brian Buckley Band, a four-piece band from Los Angeles that consists of Brian Buckley, Mike McGraw, Dan Boderman, and Albert Estiamba, Jr., are masters of the post-ballad experience—each riff heaves and pours through your very being, driven by a beautiful paradox of unmistakable woe and self-sufficient joy. No song is too fast; none are too slow. The very edge of moderation lies somewhere between brokenness and healing, remorse and satisfaction, the tragic vocals of “As If” and the scratching bass in “Always and Forever.” Their latest album, Hysterical Blindness, is an apt role-reversal of instruments that puts percussion in the forefront at times or lets the actual vocals slide out of their communicative role and take on another, rhythmical vocation. And still we are inexplicably tied to the emotional and U2-like feel of Brian’s vocals in “Mother’s Day.” They won the “New Music Night” competition sponsored by House of Blues/LiveNation and SonicBids, celebrating with performances at House of Blues in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Check out my exclusive interview with Brian Buckley, who talked to me about writing lyrics, his piano-teacher father, and the beauty of spontaneity…
Candace Butler: How did you meet Dan, Al, and Mike?
Brian Buckley: That’s a really good question, and I’ll try to keep it as brief as I can. Mike was playing in The Haskells, and I met him through them. Dan I’ve known since I was 17 or 18 years old and we’d play at bonfires and such, and I met Al through Arthur Barrow, who worked with us on For Her–he produced Frank Zappa and Billy Idol–which was really great. He’s an incredible producer—and so is Mark Howard and Chris Hughes. Mark was the producer of Without Injuring Eternity, and he worked with Tom Waits, U2, and Bob Dylan. We produced our last album with Chris, Hysterical Blindness.
CB: I’m glad you brought up Without Injuring Eternity because I wanted to ask you about Boom Goes the Dynamite—Was that a working title for Without or is it a completely separate body of work?
BB: Yeah, we had changed the name to Hysterical Blindness and it came out June 21st. We had originally named it that, but—you have hopes and you have this idea and sometimes that changes. The painter sits down and tries to say what he wants to do but then it doesn’t really happen that way whatsoever. That’s the beauty of recording. It’s like a dam breaking—you put your finger in one hole and three more break open.
CB: Well, it can be a struggle. I can see that in your lyrics. I mean, if you write them down, and then read them back, they’re full of such compassion and empathy—
BB: That’s a great compliment. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I used to burn them. I used to take them to the kitchen sink and literally burn them. “Empathy” is a great word. Being empathetic is a gift. As a songwriter, you tend to second guess and second guess and second guess and do revision after revision after revision. It’s a scary journey and it’s an awful feeling when you think you don’t get it right. You’re not just thinking of rhyming, but sentence structure and melody. And past those three things, you ask “what are you trying to say, man?” Are you letting the poetry get in the way? (pauses) It’s so easy to say “I love you.” But you write it 95 ways, shoot them all down like duck-hunting and then say…“I love you” sounds pretty good. (laughs) Between you and me, if it were up to me, I’d sing with no lyrics. But the flip side of that coin is that you lose an important part of communication there.
CB: What’s your favorite part of touring and live shows?
BB: The unknown. Everything that factors in—you don’t know how the sound system will be or what the crowd will be like in a particular city. Things happen spontaneously and you never know when your sound will go out or you’ll break a string, but there’s also that feeling of converting those who haven’t heard you and that excitement you feel when you first walk on. And if you can convert that one person, excite that one person, if you can associate a feeling what that one person in the audience, you’ve done your job.
CB: I get that, I’m with you. I guess that’s what you want people to walk away with then they leave your show, too? That connection?
BB: That ability to take it home and get a further experience from it. Nothing pleases us as much as when someone connects with us. It’s hard—it’s incredibly difficult. You want to connect with them on a humanly level and help them see or experience something new. It’s difficult in this industry—especially when you make a living at it (laughs). I mean, everyone walks into a movie theatre expecting it to be a mind-blowing experience. Everyone wants to be blown away by what they’re hearing and watching, and there’s always that risk involved. There’s always that risk that you’ll jump and the fucking parachute won’t open, you know, but you take that risk because it’s worth it to feel your feet on the ground. The juice is worth the squeeze, you know. That’s what’s so great about social media: everyone wants to be the first to tell their friends about how great something is or what they’ve found that’s new and exciting, but there’s an adverse to that where they might also be the first person to say this really sucks, you know? I’m lucky to play with the guys that I do because they all have the same interest in taking that risk. It’s integral. If all you care about is the applause, then you’re not going to be happy with the work you create in the end.
CB: I wonder, then, since your songs have been featured in several movies and tv shows, including Supernatural and ABC’s The Reaper…What aspects of your music do you think people are really relating to—what is it that complements the scenes they’re paired with?
BB: I don’t think you ever write with an emotion. You don’t try to push your writing like “I’m gonna write this song for this.” I think that’s when you get on some iffy ground. What’s satisfying for us is when a producer comes to us and says, “I think this would really fit with a scene or mood,” because, like I said before, you want to be writing from someplace that’s real or present in yourself. So it makes it just that much more glorious when people come up to you and say, “this is what I got from this song” and how it helped them get through this or that—that’s so much more than you ever expected for the song. You hope and pray for those moments. It’s a cool thing.
CB: Well, I have one last question for you: what is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
BB: Anyone? Ever? Out of all the questions we get asked, that’s a really good one. (pauses) My father. My father and mother have always encompassed me with love. As cheesy as that sounds, when some people talk about what an abomination their childhoods are, mine wasn’t. My parents are really kind and supportive. My father—we were having some struggles with my first record For Her and I would listen to it over and over and go into full-on panic mode, telling myself it should be better. He’s a piano teacher, and he said, “You have to let the kids go to college.” It didn’t dawn on me then, but it did the next day. You have to let it be; let it breathe. Relax. You want the final project to dominate, to be great, but you have to let it go, and if it wasn’t right, if you strike out this time, you have to go pick up that bat again. Pop can do no wrong, you know?
CB: Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
BB: Uh, yeah. B.J. Lobermann, our manager, and Shauna O’Donnell, who has interviewed us before and does our PR work, introduced us to BeatCrave. They’re all fantastic. I mean, them—and our producers, my band, everyone. We really won the lottery with our team.
First published at BeatCrave, where readers voted Brian Buckley Band their “BeatCrave Fav” for the month of November 2011.