Last week, I talked, by phone, to Richard Buckner in advance of his show tonight at Vino's about singing with himself, his philosophy on making albums and what makes a good performance.
You hadn’t put out a record in nearly three years. All your fans want to know: What have you been up to?
I scored a film. It’s [“Dream Boy”
] is finally coming out this fall. The score will probably coming out then, too. I spent like a year and a half working on a score after I finished by last one. Since then, I’ve also done some one-off projects. A song for a PBS documentary on sacred harp singing
.Cool. I love sacred harp singing.
I already had a couple of compilations, so I had an idea of what I wanted to do. It was amazing. The producer sent me all the parts. You know, like alto, tenor, treble, bass parts that I had to separate and create an arrangement, at a certain rhythm. It was really trippy. But I learned a lot about theory.So you sing with yourself?
Yeah, it was me on 10 tracks. Doing all the parts.That’s awesome.
It was really fun. But it was hard. Not hard in a bad way. It just took me a long time to wrap my head around it and get the arrangement. It turned out pretty…weird. It’s like ten of me yelling about “broad is the road that leads to death.”So you like doing different projects like that?
I really like getting assignments. Sometimes when I record, I give myself a handicap or two to make it seem like an assignment. Hopefully, I’ll have another film score coming up. I’d love to do it again.
Are you someone who’s compelled to write or who has to compel himself?
I don’t have any other hobbies. When I’m at home — I usually have a home studio set-up — that’s just what I do. I get up and make my coffee and try to work all day. If I have a nice space to work in that’s where I go. When I was working on the film score I was living in Brooklyn and I couldn’t really afford to go anywhere. Now, I live in upstate New York, so there’s really nowhere to go.Are you a full time musician? Take odd jobs?
I did last year. I worked like three different jobs last year. There were a lot of reasons. I was trying to get a job so I could get some health insurance—a couple people I know, musicians, died last year because they didn’t have health insurance. Also, honestly, touring so long, I was kind of getting a little weird around people, and I figured I should take some time off. And I didn’t have a new record out and gas was expensive. So I got some jobs.
I quit my last job in February to start my record and my machine in my studio had a meltdown. So I quit my job and had nothing to do but get my taxes done on time and do some reading. And I hadn’t toured in so long I kind of had to listen to the records and re-learn the songs. You’ve historically been a transient sort of guy; you’ve lived all over the U.S. and Canada, and that sense of restlessness often figures into your lyrics. If you settle down somewhere (and maybe you already have) does that affect your lyrics?
I don’t think it’d affect the lyrics at all. I don’t know if I’ve settled down. I’ve been on the East Coast for like six years, and I’ve been upstate for a couple years. We’ll probably move again [laughs]. I moved a lot when I was growing up. By the time I got to high school, we’d live in 20 or 30 places.
I don’t think it affects the writing much. I mean, I think it’s good to change your environment. It kind of charges the battery up. It makes you aware of your surrounding because you’re keeping an eye on things and not completely at ease. But if I’m in a comfortable place, in an office or studio, I can get stuff done. Just between touring and walking outside of your door, you see enough weird stuff that affects you.You started off pretty country-ish with “Bloomed.” The No Depression crowd crushed on you pretty hard early on. But it wasn’t too long before you traded pedal steel for almost drone-y guitars. The alt-country crowd is notoriously resistant to experimentation or evolution. Did you feel any pushback with “Impasse,” or even earlier, from some of your early fans?
Oh, man. It seems like there’s been bumps in the road the whole way. The whole alt-country thing was so weird. It was like accidental. When I was living in San Francisco, I got a pedal-steel player because I liked the sound of it, and this fiddle player I knew from another band, and pretty soon it was a band with pedal-steel and fiddle. Then when I made the album in Lubbock, I just went down there because I couldn’t afford to do a whole band record, and I thought it’d be great to do a record with Lloyd Maines. If I would’ve had some klezmer connections, I probably would’ve made a klezmer album. It’s always been that way. When I wanted to make my next one, I really liked the Giant Sand rhythm section. And the third one I wanted to build a record using John McEntire’s theory on drumming and how he’d change the shape of songs. It’s always based on an idea to change the songs and take them out of my hand and make them different. The outcome of the records is always quite accidental and based on ideas. The end product is never what I would’ve thought of in the beginning. Which is kind of the point.My wife saw you perform years ago. She thought it was great, but she said your performance seemed particularly tortured. I know one show does not make much, but I wondered how you feel about performing live? Is it something you enjoy? Or feel compelled to do?
I can enjoy it. It’s like a blind date every night. Maybe the sound guy is on acid. Things happen. My ideal thing is show up, nice people are there, the sound guy knows what he’s doing, I get to play on time for the amount of time I know, the audience does not get involved, like by yelling stuff or throwing stuff on stage or walking onstage during the show, and they leave without giving me full reviews of the show, and they leave either liking it or not and I go to the hotel and feel like I got to do my show the best I could.So are you playing mostly songs from “Impasse,” “The Hill” and “Bloomed,” or is this an anything-goes tour?
I’m doing songs from all the re-releases plus all the other ones, too. I kind of wanted to learn songs that I hadn’t played in the past.So will your next record come out this year?
It’ll be next year. I won’t even start until the end of May. The framework is all there. I just have to start it and figure out the sound. I need to finish by the fall, and I’ve got all summer to do it. Hopefully, I won’t have to go back to working the forklift. [laughs]