Richard Buckner: Interview
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tolerate Being Alt-Country
With a brand of music that transcends labels, it's no wonder Richard Buckner
flies under the mainstream radar. His subject matter isn't always typical, his
approach isn't copied, and his wayfaring lifestyle makes it hard to capture him
in the glaring media spotlight.
Fresh off the heels of releasing his new album, Dents and Shells, for a
new label, and finishing up a tour with Damien Jurado, I was lucky enough to
catch up with Richard Buckner and learn a little about touring, recording and
I believe this is the last date of your tour?
Yeah it is, yeah.
How's everything been going?
It's been great. The whole thing's been with Damien [Jurado] for 6 weeks and
then we had another band named Dolorean opening the first part of the show and
these guys finishing the last part. They're all really nice guys and they're all
traveling together. I was alone in a pickup truck, so I got to tour with the
band instead of being alone. The shows have been great.
How's the new material working out?
Usually when a new record comes out, I feel for the audience. Like, the songs
aren't known for maybe a year, year and a half, but I already get requests for
the new songs from the record, so it makes me feel good from my point of view.
Are there any personal favorites the crowd requests?
The second song off the [new] album, called "Firsts," which is a nylon string
ballad-y song a lot of people seem to like a lot.
Do you have any favorites you play while on tour?
Not really. Right now, the show's kind of morphed into one big song. I don't
really take breaks a lot of times, or if I do, it's one or two in a set. It
depends on what's going on that night and what I need to do to survive the show.
Sometimes it's louder and sometimes it's softer. The newer songs are closer to
me now, but I don't always play them. It's whatever feels good that night.
Do you work with a set list?
It's kind of whatever I remember and whatever seems to work from the last song I
just played. I just mess around the neck until I find the next progression that
Did the election faze you on the tour at all?
It fazed a couple of shows. The night after, we played in Tucson and everybody
was really depressed and tired. It was that way for a few nights. I was
depressed and tired. I think it was just the long battle for nothing. We had the
playoffs and the election, so we had low or late turnout for half this tour
How does the road (touring) usually affect your writing?
I travel with a portable minidisk player so when I driving I can get ideas down,
and then I have a digital 8-track that I can take into hotel rooms and do demos
on. I've gotten a bunch of songs written that way. Whenever I have time off, I
just bring out the 8-track. If you're in a town and you don't know anybody and
you have the night off, what are you going to do?
You try to put good writing to music instead of sitting down and writing the
lyrics first and then maybe putting music to them; is this your usual process or
is it a little more complicated then that?
It's all over the place. I've been working in home studios or half-ass home
studios for years now, so the writing leans more on the home recording process
than it used to, in a way that I can get away with coming up with a melody and a
song idea and arrangement and then having the luxury to write the words as I'm
writing the music on something you might keep. As opposed to just playing with
your guitar and writing it down which is what I do about half the time anyway.
So, it comes all ways. I'll have a melody for years and put words to it later or
I'll keep changing the words over a period of years. And some will just come in
five seconds. The last record, I found two songs I didn't even remember writing
on a minidisk player that I got for the record. It happens every way.
You've recorded albums with a full backing band, you've brought in guest
musicians, and with Impasse you did it by yourself more or less. Is that because
of the music you're writing drives you to record like that?
In the case of Impasse, I did it because I had somebody to record with and I had
gone to a studio to record and got about halfway through and didn't like how the
initial process turned out. It didn't excite me. So, I was broke basically. I
just went and bought some cheap recording equipment and we did it at home. I was
married at the time, my wife played drums, so she played drums and I played
everything else. It was out of necessity that I made the record that way. It was
a good learning experience. I learned a lot about recording; I'm not really an
engineer. I learned a lot about instruments I don't really play like slide or
bass, but I played them on the record because it fits in the mix.
I've read in other interviews how you tend to shy away from being labeled as
an alt-country artist or a singer/songwriter; any particular reason?
I don't really care. I just don't really. I don't what it is. I mean, I use that
kind of terminology when I try to describe bands to people, like "Well, they're
kind of the third wave of the minimalist movement." You kind of do that to help
explain where you're going. I don't really care, it doesn't apply to me
personally, you know.
It feels like whenever I read about yourself, or other artists that are
lumped together with you, you get pigeonholed.
Yeah. Well, I think it's because I use a pedal steel on a record. I think that's
the real reason. But that's fine, it's all publicity and it's not a pain in the
ass. I don't know what it is. It's just one of those things. You're just like
'Well, alright. That's just what it is.'
Why the change to Merge? Did you shop yourself around?
No, I had a label and I probably would have used this label again (Overcoat out
of Chicago). The guy's a friend of mine. I had done 3 records with him, but I
think change is good whether you think. I felt like it was a good time to
change. I changed my label. I changed my booking agent, my publishing situation.
Kind of regrouping everything to keep it more intact in my own mind. I had some
demos that I had done in Austin with my drummer and I wasn't really shopping,
but I called Merge and got their demo address and sent it to them just because I
wanted to see if maybe somebody else wanted to do it. They're a bigger label and
I love all the bands on their label and I wouldn't have sent it out to anybody
else. If they wouldn't have done it, I would have gone back to my other label,
but they said yes. It was kind of a lark and it worked out good.
How do they treat you differently? Do you feel a little more pampered because
they deal with a wide variety of artists?
No, the old label's one guy, that's about as pampered as you can get. But this
label's great because they have so many people working there and they all have
special areas they work in and they're all really nice people -- they're not
like L.A. business shit, it's like North Carolina dudes. It's really a pleasure.
If you have to do any kind of business, it's better to do it with those kinds of
people because they talk your same language and ultimately they have the same
work ethic and you're probably less likely to get fucked.