Interview: Ben Yarbrough and Jim Barrett of Young Buffalo

By on Friday, 10th April 2015 at 11:00 am
 

This past Monday night, Oxford, Mississippi rock band Young Buffalo played a show in Washington DC just prior to them joining up with Matt Pond PA as support for a 6-week long tour of North America, their longest outing in their band’s history. Prior to their set at Black Cat Backstage, I chatted out back with the band’s primary songwriters Ben Yarbrough and Jim Barrett, who also share lead vocal duties in the group. They were excited to chat about the upcoming tour around our large continent with the New York City-based band, as well as their debut album ‘House’ that was released at the start of March on Votiv Recordings.

Like myself and Carrie, the band were in Austin for SXSW 2015, but despite the inevitable exhaustion that comes with a week of heavy festival-ing, Jim tells me that between the end of SXSW and this gig in DC, they’d done several shows including “spring music festivals in the Southeast…but this is the first show on tour that will get us up and running, we’re joining up with Matt Pond tomorrow in Boston, and we’ll do a loop around our great country.”

Young Buffalo seemed to me a strange name for a band from Mississippi, so I asked them where their got their unusual moniker. Ben explains: “I started recording some solo stuff after when I’d worked with Ben in high school bands and stuff. I had just some solo stuff I’d been working on for a couple months in about 2008, 2009, and I started calling him (Ben) ‘young buffalo’. I would text him and ask him if he wanted to meet up…”

He looks over at Ben and says, “I didn’t even call you that to your face.” Ben nods. “Yeah, you’d say, ‘hey, wanna meet up, young buffalo?’ Kind of a weird nickname!” “It kind of became the name of my solo project”, explains Jim. “We tried to change it, but we couldn’t come up with anything else”, Ben interjects. Jim agrees. “Yeah, for our first couple of shows, we said okay, we’re just going to keep it, and that was that.”

Because TGTF has written a lot about Oxford, England bands Glass Animals and Stornoway in the last year and that Oxford is famous for being a knowledge base and university town, I was curious what Oxford, Mississippi’s claim to fame was. “The university!” both of them shout with a laugh. “That was the whole intention behind naming the town Oxford”, says Ben. Jim adds, “it was to get the state university, and it worked! We have a double-decker bus and an old telephone box” that Ben says was donated somehow through the two cities’ ambassadorial relationship. (I suggested that us here at TGTF should hook them up with bands from the other Oxford for a UK tour in the future, so if any Oxford band reading this is keen, hit me up.) “We’re also known for a bunch of writers: William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Tom Franklin, and a bunch of musicians. We’re on the up and up, I think.”

Speaking of musicians, I ask Ben about the current scene in Oxford. “It’s great. It’s nice because it’s a college town, every 4 years you get new bands to pop up. Like right now there are 10 to 20 new bands that have just popped up in the last few months that are constantly playing shows out there.” Jim adds, “there were a lot of established bands and everyone has either gone on tour or moved off, the kind of bands we were coming up with, 4, 5, 6 years ago. But now there are a bunch of new kids coming to school starting their own bands left and right. It’s like every time we get home, there are more and more bands, and that’s great. It’s a creative hub.”

Next, we discussed their new album ‘House’ and the making of it. “It was a long process, from writing and getting everything together in the time just so we could get lined up for getting in the studio with (producer) Dave Schiffman”, explains Jim, “it was a super long process, about 2 years. There was a lot of waiting and a lot of writing…there was a lot of demoing and redemoing and figuring stuff out. Once we got out to LA with (Dave) Schiffman, we laid the tracks down and we did the album exactly the way we wanted…it was very intense patches of work and long spans of inactivity. It’s been a couple of weird years, but I think we’re better for it. I think the album came out great and we’re super pumped about it.”

I ask Jim about the origin of album standout ‘Sykia’, and if it’s named after someone. “It’s named after a beach village in Greece…I was over there studying as a freshman in college, and I went on a weekend excursion. Everyone else had planned stuff and the school I was with, they told me and my friends, ‘hey, you all should go do this, since you’re not busy’. So we did the holy wine thing, and it was a really special place. For me, it was completely self-sufficient and they didn’t need anybody else. I’d never really seen a community like that, working together like that. I also got really, really drunk with a Greek couple and this other guy. No-one could understand each other…but basically we got to the point where we got so drunk, we could finally understand each other. That was a special spot, so I wrote a song about it.” What a nice story.

We then switched gears to chat about SXSW 2015 and their experience this year in Austin. “It was the best one that we’ve done, for sure”, insists Ben. “There was pretty much a good crowd at every show and at the last one at the UPROXX House (Saturday night), it was really packed out and we got a lot of good feedback from that one. All and all, it was really fun time.” He was stoked that “Danny Trejo and Bill Murray were apparently were at that show”, although only their drummer Tim Burkhead saw Murray. We all know Radio 1’s Huw Stephens met the American comic a while back, so it’s not so far-fetched to imagine we might see a Tweet from Murray bigging up Young Buffalo. We now wait for the inevitability with bated breath…

Many thanks to Ben and Jim for this great chat. Best wishes to you guys!

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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