donderdag 22 september 2022

King Buffalo - Struggles, doubt and acceptance...


Interview with Sean McVay from King Buffalo

Struggles, doubt and acceptance...

“I was really writing with the anticipation that nobody would ever read them, and no one would surely hear them.”

It’s the end of the summer. A summer where much of the world finally got to experience King Buffalo live. A summer where the love for King Buffalo seemed to grow exponentially with every week that passed. A summer that still had us all anticipating that third album, the final part of the King Buffalo trilogy, that amazing Regenerator album… Well, we managed to rope vocalist Sean McVay into talking about that album, and the two that came before…

We managed to see King Buffalo live at Desertfest Ghent back in October 2021. The Pandemic still a major factor. And we saw them again at Krach Am Bach festival in August 2022, with no restrictions whatsoever. In Ghent they were one of the few bands in the main hall that got their sound right. And on Krach Am Bach, they were one of the many bands that got absolutely everything right. “Krach Am Bach was definitely our favorite show of the European summer tour. Amazing. One of the best crowds we ever had.” And it was…

We do always wonder how much we really want to know about our heroes. Do we really want to know how deep the hole was Sean McVay crawled out from? Or why he ended up there in the first place? Do we want to know every little detail of his pain? And do we really want to know how old bass player Dan Reynolds is? Or do we want to keep all or some of the mystery alive? Perhaps Sean doesn’t even want to talk about it? It might in fact still be hard to sing about. But now that the trilogy is done and everything is out there for us to enjoy, or even find solace in. It will be something that might come up now and again. But let’s start with perhaps the most important question first… What do you love about music?

“Well, yeah, interesting. I love performing obviously. I mean we tour so much and however long the timeslot is we get to play, that part makes the touring awesome. I mean, I don’t need to ride around in a van for seven or eight hours a day, you know. But getting to perform is awesome. That little moment in time and space where it’s just you and the crowd, is amazing, rewarding and why you do it. Outside of that, there’s the recording process. There’s just something about creating something out of nothing that taps into human existence. Making something. For me it happens to be music, for other people it might be building a house, designing a car, making food, the act of making something, creating, is intrinsically rewarding.” 


And now that you’ve finished the trilogy, what is the predominant emotion?

“Relief. Euphoria. It was difficult to make. We struggled with production delays, getting the record finalized. There were certainly times when we worried, or I worried, if we would ever get it done. Perhaps because of self-doubt, struggling to find lyrics, proper guitar parts, or whatever. But there were a lot of struggles, and it feels like a relief that we overcame all those personal doubts. And then having those three albums in our hands, was really, wow, we really did it. It was a proud moment.”

Nothing bittersweet, like, we’re not doing the project anymore?

“Well, a little of course. More like, now what? Now, what do we do? Haha. Luckily, we have so much touring ahead. But there was definitely a moment of, now what do we do, we have to switch modes. Luckily, there’s a lot of King Buffalo business nowadays to keep us busy. And I mean, even before these three albums, we had just done Dead Star. And then immediately started these three records, within the space of a couple of months. It has been a very busy time. I’m definitely looking forward to having a short break before moving on to the next project, and we’re all looking forward to touring with all this new music. Cause we’re extremely proud of what we were able to do.”

The trilogy was jammed out during the pandemic. How did you know it would be a three-record project and did you immediately feel which song or which part had to go where?

“Well, no, it took some time and effort. We had this huge basket of songs and we had to try and group them. But somehow, even if it was an arduous and laboring job, they all did seem to fall naturally into certain categories. And I soon had the bones of the albums and then knew that The Burden Of Restlessness had to come first. Cause of the way I was feeling at the time, it felt like the record that needed to be made. Especially when you look at them in hindsight, they are all vastly different and yet there are things that carry through on each of the three records. To me, it now feels completely obvious that all the songs on Acheron belong together. I cannot imagine putting Burning on Regenerator for example.”

Was all that pre-work food for a lot of discussion?

“We are a pretty democratic band, but early on, we had so much recorded material. So, it was just me, going through all that stuff, picking the best parts, finding the gems, and sending it to the guys. That’s also because I have all the right equipment, the pro-tools and stuff. It’s not like I demand to be that guy, I’m just the guy that goes through the aspect of all that because I have that gear. And because I was so immersed in the entire thing, I would often send multiple mails with suggestions and there was definitely some back and forth. But not that much.”

About The Burden Of Restlessness, was it obvious you had to bookend it with Burning and Loam?

“That record is very much a reflection of what I was feeling at the time. I definitely wanted to start it off with Burning. Coming out with a bold statement, setting the stage, throwing that big angular riff out there, here, this is what the record is about. There was some more debate on how to end that record. Do we want a hard cut? Do we want to end grandiose? Once we zeroed in on that, we ended it super grandiose. It works perfectly, this big massive riff, this huge soaring lead, and then, just silence… It’s a really good way, in saying: wow, where’s the rest. And then go into the next record.”

And then comes Acheron… Which you recorded in a cave. Are you by then, at that moment in time, becoming a bit daunted by what this project is becoming?

“Oh yeah, definitely, it was already very real during Burden. We already had moments where we though, well, okay, we might have bitten off a bit too much here, trying to do three records. And then with Acheron. Logistically, it was so difficult. Setting it up and doing it all in one day in a cave, was just a monumental task. So much work, in such a concentrated amount of time. So intense. It was the kind of thing where I’m super proud of what we did, how it turned out and how it came to be. But it also serves as a daily reminder that I will never ever record in a cave again! It was horrendous, carrying all the gear, setting it up. The temperature and humidity were absurd. It wasn’t something we really thought about ahead of time, and then when you get down there, within minutes, all your gear is just sweating, dripping water. And you yourself are sweating, more than you have ever sweat in your entire life. And yet you are cold at the same time and pounding water just to stay hydrated. Extremely bizarre, and not something we will do again, but the time there and the end result is rewarding.”

And finally Regenerator, bringing closure to the three-album project. But also bringing closure to the feelings, emotions, trials, and tribulations of what you and we along with you went through. It’s probably the biggest thing I took away from Regenerator. Comfort, relief, reassurance. Perhaps not all is well, and perhaps not everything will be well. But in some form and to some extent, we will be well, if we choose so…

“Well, I think so. I always like to hear what people pull out of it. And if that’s the way it resonates with you, than that’s the way it is. Everything, like art and music, we experience in very personal ways. We knew we wanted to be somewhat optimistic on this record. It’s not ray of sunshine, or walking on sunshine, but there’s a degree of acknowledging that things can be, not great, but that it will not always be that way. And all we can really do is be here now. And work beyond whatever is happening. So, I think I interpreted like you as well. And that we all go through stuff, some worse than others, but there are ways to not necessarily get over it, I hate that phrase: ‘get over it.’ But to somewhat come to terms with it. You know, I think the whole record is about trying to find your way to come to peace with and move beyond some of the things that might have been a problem.”

You are way more personal on these records than before. And that, it seems, makes it paradoxically enough, way more universal. How difficult was this for you? Perhaps it’s one of the reasons these records resonate so big with so many people?

“That could be the case. It was a real struggle for me. Lyrics have always been difficult. It’s a terribly slow and arduous process for me. I self-edit all the time. I can sit down with a notepad or a laptop and I can write lyrics for hours and then in the end only have two lines. You know… Well, it was always very difficult… And in all honesty… Well, I haven’t really talked about this, and it’s a little strange for me to talk about it publicly. I mean, the records get lumped in as a product of the pandemic. But it’s all about things that were happening before it. Intense and problematic things came to light in my personal life that were hard to deal with. I started going to therapy a couple of years ago. It’s what helped me become a better writer, for one of the things that happened, was that I just started to write for myself. Like journal entries, honest and not something anyone would ever read. I was really writing with the anticipation that nobody would ever read them, and no one would surely hear them. This allowed me the headspace to be able to be as intimate with it as it became. Particularly, for example, The Knocks. That was very scary to write down. It was even scarier to send to the band. Those words, with my little note stating: ‘Hey, I feel this might be the song.’ And then waiting for a reply, it was nerve wrecking. But they thought it was great and comforted me with their words. That process, of writing like self-exercise and just doing it for yourself is already rewarding. And then the fact that people relate to it so well, is even more rewarding. It’s enormously flattering and comforting.”

And how is it now to sing those words on the stage? Or to hear them being sung back even?

“It’s a little weird. Still. I mean, to be perfectly honest, singing some of The Knocks in particular, in front of a room full of people: ‘Don’t think I wanna live no more.’ It’s a little… It’s heavy you know. It feels very naked. But I am very proud of this song, lyrically as well as musically, its one of my favorite songs, and there is something about saying that in front of a room and realizing you are not alone in your room with your notepad. And we’ve gotten some really good feedback on that song as well. Some fans that come up after the show to tell us how much that song means to them. A woman gave me this really great, really heartfelt letter about some of her struggles, and how some of our songs were able to help her with that. That was really humbling. It means a lot. To feel that comradery or something and to know that you are not alone with your problems, and that by talking about your problems, you might help someone with theirs. Which I can also feel when I see someone in the crowd singing along with some of the words. You can really feel that it’s often like a cathartic experience for them. It helps them get something of their chest, and to see that, is an enormously cool, fulfilling, and humbling feeling.”

You do still come across as the reluctant vocalist now and then?

“Err yeah, I always thought of myself as a guitar player that sings. But particularly on Regenerator, I really wanted to make a conscious effort to not be afraid. You know. Not be afraid of my voice, of letting it be the voice it is, and to really try to sing more, and search for more vocal melody. Instead of just doing the classic King Buffalo drone voice. It was an interesting exercise. More specifically, the one that really pushed me out of my comfort zone was Firmament. I had never done anything like that. And still when I hear it, I go oh my god, I can’t believe I did that. It’s just bone-dry guitar, there’s nothing there, just my voice and a guitar, and that’s it. It was scary to show my voice like that and difficult to get right. It’s hard to judge yourself then, especially if you are so self-conscious of your voice. But I’m very proud of the result and of myself not being afraid or shy to try something like that.”

You already mentioned a few tracks you’re proud of. But I would love to zero in on a track that might not get all the attention it deserves. The Interlude. It feels like the perfect stopping point for Side A, and give the entire record the perfect amount of flow. Was it always there?

“No, it wasn’t always there. That kind of came about while I was at home noodling around. I had this guitar arrangement that I liked, and it felt like it provided a good little transition in the middle. A way to get from Hours to Mammoth. Without it, the transition did not reel right, there wasn’t enough flow to the record. It added a sense of rest, respite, it gave the album that extra bit of quietness. I love that it has that little piano part in there. I love the way it ends. I kind of had been playing around with it at home and when I sent to the guys, I hoped with every fiber that they would agree to putting it on the record. Well, luckily, they agreed.”

And now you are off to ride that enormous wave of appreciation for the King Buffalo sound...

“Yeah, the amount of support we receive from our fans is astronomical, and it’s been incredible. It’s always a bit surprising, we’re just three simple guys from a small city, and we are just trying to make stuff we enjoy, and to get this amount of feedback and support is truly humbling, and trust me, it’s not something we take for granted.”

Oh, before we go... Bernie Matthews once again mastered the albums. Who also did albums by K.D Lang, Body Count and many more. How did King Buffalo ever get in contact with him?

“Well, funny enough, he moved from LA to Rochester, and came through the studio where I used to do engineer work. You know, fifteen or so years ago. We kind of hit it off and when he and his wife wanted to open a Jazz club slash Mexican restaurant I did remodeling work for him. I then played in an earlier band and we asked him to produce, but we were of course that awful shitty band that broke up during the process, so he spent all his time and energy to make something that was never finished. That was embarrassing, but luckily he never lured it over me too much. So, I’ve known him for year and whenever we have stuff we just naturally bring it to him. Cause, he’s awesome. He knows his stuff. A true pro and is an absolute magician into translating our music to vinyl. It’s a different animal to master for digital or vinyl and he’s not heavy handed, doesn’t change the way our mixes sound. He shapes them, polishes them and make them sound the way they do. We can’t thank him enough.”

Well, we can’t thank you enough for the amazing trilogy you delivered and for your time and energy today. One last question before you go: it’s very difficult trying to guess Dan’s age. What’s his secret?

“Haha. Well, yeah, he’s an ageless wonder. But you will have to talk to him about divulging his secrets.”

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