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By Mary Chang
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!
My final interview at SXSW 2015 was with five-piece avant/experimental group Meltybrains?, and it turned out to be a lively one, with the focus of the conversation bouncing around like a pinball among the four band members who came out to chat with me: Tadhg Byrne, Micheál Quinn, Donnacha O’Malley and Brian Dillon (bassist Ben McKenna was busy packing up the band’s gear). Meltybrains? were eager to talk about the unique aspects of their music, which are many and varied but combine on stage to create an impressive and memorable effect. Their performance style incorporates an entire gestalt, often including visual aspects such as their all-white attire and signature face masks, which you can see in the above photo and hear discussed in the interview streaming below.
All five members of Meltybrains? have background experience as classical musicians, and they integrate the discipline of classical musicianship into their practice and performance routines, though they describe their style of music as experimental pop rather than avant or classical. Each of the band members brings his own unique set of musical influences to the sound, including pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, acoustic folk and classical violin.
The band have combined electronic sound production expertise with technical instrumental skill, including the use of “unapologetic auto-tune” as a deliberate effect. We also talked about the use of unusual instruments, including a fiberglass violin, and they named Los Angeles composer Miguel Atwood Ferguson as an influence on that aspect of their sound.
For better or for worse, all five members have equal input on the band’s decision-making and composition processes. Unlike solo artists or bands with an established leader, Meltybrains? have to make a concerted effort to get themselves on the same page, and they admit that even the smallest decisions often take a lot of time, though the end result is worth the occasional strife.
Meltybrains? played two official SXSW shows, including the Music From Ireland showcase on the Wednesday night and the full Irish breakfast on Friday, and they took plenty of time to enjoy Austin in the surrounding week. Be sure to listen all the way to the end of the interview stream to catch the funniest story I heard all week at SXSW 2015, regarding the Meltybrains? set at the full Irish breakfast.
Meltybrains? are scheduled to play live shows in Belfast and London later this month, as well as possible festival dates. We at TGTF have already featured their video for ‘Donegal’, but we look forward to another single due later this spring and a possible EP release in the autumn. All of our previous coverage of Meltybrains? can be found here.
As the rain came down in earnest outside BD Riley’s Irish Pub and throngs of people found their way inside for a pint at full Irish breakfast, I was faced with the difficulty of finding a quiet spot for an interview with Irish rock band Buffalo Sunn. We did eventually scout out a location and I had a quick chat with three of the band’s members, as you can hear in the interview streaming below.
I couldn’t resist asking the stereotypical interview question about the band’s rather unique moniker, and in the course of the response, I also picked up an interesting bit of trivia about Ireland. (Did anyone else know that there is a buffalo farm at Tayto Park in County Meath?) It turns out that Buffalo Sunn created their name out of an interest in Native American symbolism and 1970s-style Sunn amplifiers, which were known for the quality of their low-end sound.
Buffalo Sunn have been together as a band since late 2013, after two of their members moved on from a previous project called Sweet Jane. Their sunny melodicism and reverberant guitar sound might call to mind the West Coast style usually associated with Californian rock bands, but as we discussed in the interview, their lush three-part vocal harmonies are a trait often linked to Irish bands as well. Buffalo Sunn’s current album ‘By the Ocean, By the Sea’ was released in Ireland last October and saw releases in Germany, Austria and Switzerland earlier this year. Before SXSW 2015, they played live dates on the A+R Worldwide Passport Approved tour earlier this spring, including a notable show in Portland, Oregon. With wider release of the album planned for later this year, the band will follow their visit to Austin with planned appearances at the Musexpo industy event in Los Angeles and Canadian Music Week in Toronto.
Stay tuned to TGTF for my upcoming coverage of the full Irish breakfast showcase at BD Riley’s.
Many thanks to Elvera for her help with this interview.
I spent much of the morning at Friday’s full Irish breakfast fretting in the back of my mind about the pronunciation of violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s name, even after hearing it enunciated aloud the previous day on the Lost In Austin boat ride by another Irish artist, The Lost Brothers‘ Oisin Leech. As it turned out, when I interviewed Mac Con Iomaire after his set at BD Riley’s, he put me at ease on the subject right away. In the interview streaming below, we discussed the difference in ambience between the Thursday and Friday venues before moving onto Mac Con Iomaire’s background experience as a solo artist as well as playing in Irish bands The Frames and The Swell Season.
Mac Con Iomaire was a last minute addition to the Irish SXSW 2015 contingent, making the trip in support of his new solo album ‘And Now the Weather’. The album, which is due for release on the 17th of April, includes a masterfully effective piece called ‘The Finnish Line’ composed in Helsinki at the end of a particularly long and disorienting tour cycle. In the interview, I refer to the music on the album as “songs”, but as the tracks are instrumental, it might be more appropriate to call them “pieces” of music as opposed to true songs with verbal lyrics. However, the fundamental lyricism of Mac Con Iomaire’s violin style, influenced by modern classical composers and traditional Irish music alike, is at the forefront of the compositions he played for us here.
Having played four solo gigs in 4 days over the course of his time in Austin, Mac Con Iomaire recounted a relatively relaxing experience in Austin compared to many of the other artists I talked with during the week. However, he was looking forward to heading home to begin the more complicated job of rehearsing with a 10-piece band for his upcoming live shows in Ireland.
Thanks to Aoife for her help in coordinating this interview.
In the midst of the madness at Friday’s full Irish breakfast, I was fortunate enough to catch Northern Irish singer/songwriter SOAK, known offstage as Bridie Monds-Watson, for a brief interview at the end of her week in Austin. As you can hear in the interview stream below, Monds-Watson was at this point quite exhausted from the hustle and bustle of her busy SXSW 2015 schedule, but her performance on the BD Riley’s stage had showed no sign of fatigue, and her delicate, soft-spoken personal demeanor perfectly matched the graceful beauty of her songs.
Our previous coverage of SOAK at SXSW 2015 includes her spellbinding performances at Monday night’s Creative Belfast showcase and Wednesday’s BBC barbecue. The somewhat rowdier atmosphere at BD Riley’s Irish Pub might not have been the ideal venue to display SOAK’s fragile, introspective vocal melodies, especially as she played this and all of her SXSW showcases in purely solo style, with only her acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Nevertheless, her set was enthusiastically received by those of us lucky enough to be in the front of the room.
As she discussed in our interview, SOAK’s upcoming debut album for Rough Trade, ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’, features more expansive song arrangements than we heard here at SXSW, including a full rhythm section and some electronic sampling. After a stop at home for some much needed rest, the youthful Monds-Watson will take those more extensive orchestrations on tour worldwide, including a brief trip to the Southern Hemisphere for two shows in Australia and a one-off show in Dallas, TX among her already scheduled European dates. Her summer plans include headline shows in the UK as well as appearances at The Great Escape and Latitude festivals.
SOAK’s debut LP ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’ is due for release on the 1st of June via Rough Trade Records. You can find a full listing of her upcoming live dates here.
Many thanks to Sonya for helping us arrange this interview.
The festivities at Friday’s full Irish breakfast began with pop songstress Orla Gartland, whose sunny and energetic tunes gave a jumpstart to the grey and dreary morning outside. Gartland agreed to sit down for a chat with me after her set, and we took advantage of a dry moment before the rain begain in earnest to step outside BD Riley’s Irish pub for the interview streaming below.
Gartland was warm and enthusiastic throughout our interview, and it quickly became clear to me that the infectious charm of her music is part of her natural personality as well. Her genuine charisma and her self-professed “love (of) a good pop song” have already taken her a long way from the singularly millennial beginning of her music career. Gartland started out as a teenager by playing pop covers and posting her videos on YouTube, and she discussed with me how the very public evolution of her musicianship naturally and spontaneously grew into the collaborative nature of her current songwriting and music making.
Having stopped in Austin in the middle of her American tour, Gartland also talked about her plans for after SXSW 2015, which include live dates in California and a stopover in the sunny climate of Los Angeles for songwriting work on a potential new EP. When I asked about the possibility of a full album, Gartland deferred, saying that while the shorter EP medium is a safer way for her to experiment with her songwriting style at this point in time, an LP might be on the distant horizon. Either way, we at TGTF will look forward to hearing the outcome of her endeavours. In the meantime, you can find Gartland’s current self-released EP ‘Lonely People’ on iTunes or Spotify, or you can check out her YouTube channel right here.
Keep an eye on TGTF in the coming days for my recap of the full Irish breakfast, which will of course include coverage of Orla Gartland’s opening set.
Thanks especially to Regina for helping us organize this interview.
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