The Brian Buckley Band is a Los Angeles based band consisting of Brian Buckley (Lead Singer/Rhythm Guitar), Mike McGraw (Vocals/Guitar), Albert Estiamba, Jr. (Vocals/Drums) and Krishnan Swaninathan (Bass). Their studio albums include: For Her, Hysterical Blindness, Without Injuring Eternity and Welcome to the Heart of the City. I recently chatted with Brian Buckley who discussed his musical influences, his inspirations, the process of creating music and some of the challenges that the band has faced. Read what he had to say below:
How long had you all known each other before you decided to form the band?
“That’s a great question actually I had played a little guitar when I was a young kid and had maybe 6 months worth of lessons with a neighbor around the block sorta thing. I was very passionate about music but not very passionate about practicing which is pretty typical for a kid around that age (I started at 8 or 9. Somewhere around there). So very long story short, I just continued to play anytime things would seem turbulent in my life. I would go back to the guitar and it became a sorta therapy for a myriad of reasons.
I ended up going to CA Institute of the Arts for my college degree. It was an incredible experience to say the least. This past Thursday I went back to speak to the class for the generation coming in. That was a lovely experience. I’ve done it a couple of times. It’s just extraordinary to go back there and remember what sparked all of this.
Anyhow, I went to Cal Arts and started playing more and more. I never learned how to read music which is actually stupid (laughs). When you look back on it, it’s something that I’m very passionate about. I wanted it to come to me naturally, very organically so I sorta avoided that (learning how to read music) like the plague. I started to play a couple of coffee houses here and there and do it under the guise of not really caring all that much and just wanting to play. I loved it. After I graduated in 2002, a few years later, my best friend died sorta unexpectedly by suicide and it was something that affected me greatly. It was something I never expected. He was a very passionate supporter of what I was doing even though I was riddled with self-doubt, he was the one who was behind me in a lot of ways. During that time, a friend of mine was involved in a movie called Cry Wolf, he had become friends with Jared Padalecki and so we had mutually started to hang out all the time. When my friend passed away, Jared knew how important my music was to me. He knew it was something that I was going to for solace and peace and he lovingly offered to produce it, just to put down a recording. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to accept anything from anyone. I’m a proud guy. I think friendship should be based strictly on friendship. But eventually I caved in and I just adore him for it to this day.
I ended up recording For Her, the first record that we recorded and that sorta led to this need to look for a band. We ended up getting signed for the record, or I did rather and needed to find a band fairly quickly. Mike McGraw was with another band and he was in the process of leaving that band and was the first to sign on. We started playing coffee houses together. After Dan left the band, Albert Estiamba, Jr. came aboard, so we sorta fell in love with each other and this quirky sound we found. I just started bringing songs to these guys during rehearsals and we’ve been connected ever since. So very long story short that’s how we came into existence!
We cater to a predominantly emotive approach. We don’t sugarcoat anything as far as what might sell well or what might be accessible for the listener. We’re desperately trying to connect and that’s our best quality and our worst quality. That’s the thing that motivates us and the thing that gets in our way. We have songs for a producer, or radio campaign and it’s great but it’s 7 minutes so we need to cut it down. Nostalgia, that feeling of going home, feeling like you have a home base, that’s what we’re looking for. I’m emotionally connected like when I was sick and my mom used to cook me chicken soup. That’s absolutely audibly and emotionally what we’re looking for.”
Who are your musical influences?
“That’s a great question too. There are so many I could list. There would be volumes (laughs). From childhood to now! One thing that I really like is that we have a collection of tastes which is really lovely. I’m a huge fan of the British band, Elbow. I love Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead. What Dave Matthews Band has been able to accomplish with an original and frighteningly authentic sound is extraordinary. I’m a big Jim Hendrix fan. I’m really across the board. My tastes are eclectic because I love all kinds of music as long as it’s trying to reach for something greater than itself. That is important to me when you get artists that are truly artists and searching to work with other artists is great.
There are lots of stuff I enjoy and even local bands here in Los Angeles that are fantastic across the board. I listened to anything you could imagine and my dad raised me on Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and while my friends were playing Nintendo, my dad was showing me “This is a song called Purple Rain (laughs).”
Under what genre would you classify your music?
“To be perfectly honest with you, that has always been one of the most difficult questions to answer for me for a variety of reasons. Namely, it’s kinda like when someone asks you “What kind of band do you guys sound like?” Hopefully the answer is we don’t sound like anyone (laughs). Then the next question is “Give us a definition of your sound”. I’ve sorta stumbled on that and I’m not quite sure how to respond.
I guess the simple answer is that it’s hard to break it down according to genre because we’re trying to blur those lines. But, I think maybe sorta like a folk, rock, singer/song writer experimental. Even artistically, it’s something we’re trying to avoid at all costs. However, you also want to reach people you’re trying to connect who may not be sure what you are.”
Can you tell me about your process in creating music?
“When I sit down to write, I don’t generally write when I’m happy (laughs). Though strangely, I try to push a lot of hope when I write. It usually starts with me and the guitar and kinda branches out from there. I just start thinking about what I’m feeling and it sorta streams of consciousness. There’s no real building blocks to work with. There’s no real diagram. You just kinda go. You put your foot to the gas pedal and see where the car takes you without putting your hands on the wheel. It’s terrifying but at the same time, thrilling. That’s what I do and when I have what I think is not a completely inept song, I usually work on it and work on it.
I spend at least a few months working on it without anyone hearing it because I’m incredibility sensitive about that. I’m 100% protective and you know, a mother protects her cubs (laughs). Eventually I take it to the band and the band helps me. They create their own parts. They ask “what about this, what about that.” It’s very democratic in that way. Like a skeleton with a few organs in it. They help me put the cardiovascular system in and put the flesh on it and hopefully put a smile on its face. Then we deliver it to whom we’re playing for or to the studio.
It really starts on a very simple level. It’s just me and the guitar and then the layering begins. Inevitably, what I start with changes dramatically by the finished product (laughs). If you heard any of the songs from Hysterical Blindness or the first version of Friendly Fire, I mean, it doesn’t sound remotely the same. It’s not even in the same vicinity of the finished product (laughs).
Songwriting is a very sensitive process and I’m just honored to be able to do it even though I second guess my ability. I constantly tell my wife, you’re kinda blessed with a burden because you can put everything that has happen in your life in a song. It’s a benefit to your craft. In that way I feel very lucky because if I didn’t have it, I think I would go crazy (laughs). That’s a very long-winded answer (laughs).”
What were some of your most memorable moments on stage?
“That’s a good one. That’s a good question. Aw, man… that’s a tough one (laughs). I suppose, without specifying dates, I would have to say and this is not to cop-out, I would have to say…just in general, the opportunity to perform whether it’s to 1 or 1,000 people, I find to be an extraordinary gift. When you get someone gathered around to listen to an hour or an hour and a half of your music, it’s an extraordinary experience. It’s an out of this world feeling of gratitude and appreciation.
I don’t think I can choose one specific time. We have this attitude. You never know what day could be your last, this performance could be your last. It sounds sorta finite and fatalistic. So we take great pride when people come to listen to us. When they’ve got so many choices and a million websites to look at and 3 trillion songs to listen to and everything is at your fingertips. When people get off the computer and their hand-held device and actually come to a show and lock in emotionally with us, it’s memorable!”
What or who has inspired you when creating your music?
“I would have to say that there’s a what and there’s a who. Mainly, the feeling of mortality mixed with a feeling of intense love is usually what fuels me. Especially love as terrifically cliché as it sounds. I don’t think there isn’t any songwriter who has picked up an instrument in the history of the world who has not been fueled directly by the desire to love someone so intensely that they can’t see straight. That need to connect so intensely that I can’t put into words. You want it to be exactly the way you feel in your heart.
I’ve been in love with my wife for a very, very long time. For Her was written after our first breakup many, many years ago. Since day one, she has been a muse of mine that has fueled every lyric. It’s something that I don’t take for granted ever (laughs). So I guess that would be the answer. To find a human being who finds the strength to love me despite all of my shortcomings. Love is what every artist is after. You’re trying to pursue the truth. It’s like the beast of burden on your back.”
What are some of the challenges your band has faced?
“Many. We have been through a plethora of roller-coaster rides. I think that’s the life of someone who creates art, who does it professionally. You’re just in for…there’s never any compromise. I think that the world wants to look for black and white and you’re looking for grey. You have to be open to that. A lot of people don’t want to hear that. They want to hear the latest pop princess. So we’ve been through a lot in terms of being signed and then having to go away from the label, creating a new record and then having to go out on our own. It’s all fuel to the fire. You try to smell the roses when you’re seeing that everything seems to be going right and people seem to connect. It helps with these bad moments when things get so low and you can’t see the horizon. These good moments…I’ll look back and commit these good moments to memory (laughs).”
How has your approach to creating the music changed from your first album to your latest album?
“It’s changed drastically. Each album is a portrait and you approach it differently and come at it from different angles. If I could define it in one word: For Her would be love. Without Injuring Eternity would be death. Hysterical Blindness would be chaos. Welcome to the Heart of the City would be hope. It’s a really lovely way to give it a common thread and feel. Like a portrait has meaning. Each track has meaning and what you’re searching for is a common denominator.
When you’re listening to it, you say I can feel these things pushing and pulling. So every time we approach a record, it’s got to be a different way from what we did before. Friendly Fire has more of an atmospheric vibe. For Her had a singer songwriter vibe. For Welcome to the Heart of the City we wanted to be more eclectic. A bombastic kind of hopeful vibe. You start it one way and life sorta directs you another way. Each approach is different in the approaches we make.”
Your music videos are amazing. Which of your music videos is your favorite?
“That’s tough. Man, I don’t know. That’s so hard. It’s like asking, you’ve got three dogs, which one is your favorite? I don’t know. It’s so hard (laughs). I think each one gives me something different. They’re all very intense. Each director brought something to each video which I really appreciated.
Noah Gilbert directed As If. He’s an amazing director. Sarah Wilson is another incredible director. The most recent video was directed by a guy named Sergio Abuja who is just a wonderful artist and everybody brought some thing different to it. You’re hypersensitive with the videos because so much work goes into the preproduction. So, I can’t pick just one I’m particularly happy with (laughs). Friendly Fire has no real narrative. It’s just basically us performing. We’ve never done anything like that before.”
What current projects are you working on?
“We’re going to do another music video for a song called Some Old Story from Welcome to the Heart of the City. Right now, we’re doing experimental recordings. We’ve been working on these recordings to put out a record in hopefully the next year. We’re doing a lot of shows in and out of Los Angeles.”