Q&A: Richard Buckner Talks Music, Murder and Musical Career Assassins
For 17 years now, Richard Buckner has been one of the most unique singer-songwriters going. Eschewing choruses, Buckner writes in a stream of consciousness matter that resembles free verse poetry set to a fascinating musical backing.
Although Buckner was erroneously marketed as a hunky country good old boy in the late '90s, his music has little in common with what comes out of Nashville. Working with such noted oddballs as Jon Lansford (The Mekons) and King Coffey (Butthole Surfers), Buckner has released 10 albums that are all steeped in deep emotion and intriguing instrumentation.
In anticipation of his performance Saturday night at Lola's in Fort Worth, and speaking from his home in upstate New York, Buckner spoke with DC9 about his new album that took five years to make, as well as his still tense relationship with MCA Records.
Your new album, Our Blood, was five years in the making. Can you talk about why it took so long?
I usually put out a record every couple of years and tour in between releases. I got a gig to score a film in 2006. I wanted to do a weird tour playing instrumentals from the score, but the film never really went anywhere. I had to start over again and make a record in order to tour. I recorded some new material, but the machine broke down and I lost a lot of that material. I started over again trying to make a record. I recorded more songs, but my machine broke down again. I get it fixed and start making the record again. I get really into it, bringing some other musicians in and starting making overdubs, and the machine breaks down again. I use a lot of old machines. Anyway, I had all the mixes on my laptop, but while my machine was being repaired, my house got broken into and my laptop was stolen. So, I started a third time, but when I got those mixes back, I knew there were things I wanted to change. It was the fourth time that I finally got it right.
Did you ever think of calling the album Cursed?
[Laughs.] Well, I have one called Impasse, so I couldn't call it that. I was going to call it Creative Failure for a while.
What about the album being delayed because of a murder investigation?
I moved up here from Brooklyn and it was probably not the safest neighborhood. It was like moving to Mayberry. My girlfriend got a job on a sheep farm. It is cheaper up here. But we found out that there was this weird family living close by. The cops came around one day and said something happened at that house. They asked if we had been around and we told them we hadn't. We were both at work. I actually had a day job. I was glad that I wasn't at my house with no alibi. The cops took down our info. The cops told us that this spot down the road was a popular place to dump bodies. They found a car with a body in it. The cops came back to my house four months later and took my statement. They took me to the station and asked me questions and took my photograph. After that, I never heard from them.
You could have called the album No Alibi.
[Laughs.] Luckily, after years of never working a day job, I had this forklift job since I wasn't touring. I was actually punched in somewhere. I don't think the cops ever resolved it.
Some early reviews for the new album have talked about you returning to a older style of writing. Do you think that's accurate?
No. I think I really mixed it up on this one. The film score I was working on used a lot of melodies and themes. I was getting more into the music than the lyrics. I came at this new record from a different angle which I think is good. I wrote music in a different way. Usually, I write songs on tour and bring them home and record them. This time, I had time to do different things like crisscrossing melodies. Making this record was a much different experience for me. It's mostly me playing everything. I guess that makes it similar to a few records I've done in the past. When I take a band in the studio, each member brings their own ideas to the songs. This time, it's all me with my own weird, little gestures.
In 2005, you released Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord, a duo album with Jon Langford of The Mekons. What was it like working with him?
He is the best. I would trust him with anything. He is also really sweet and hilarious. We had a great time together. We just decided to try working together. We both had a couple of songs and we figured we'd write a couple more together. We put the album together in four or five days. It was really fun. We recorded in Sally Timms' house.
On 2004's Dents and Shells, you worked with Jeff Coffey of the Butthole Surfers. What attracted you to his drumming style?
It's such a honor to work with people you admire. I saw the Butthole Surfers in college and I loved their shows. And when I moved to Austin, a friend of mine introduced me to Coffey. He was a sweet guy. I am a big fan of tom drums and the guy is a master of the floor tom. I love the way he plays. I had this great live band while I was in Austin and they were all derelicts except for Jeff. The one guy from the Butthole Surfers turns out to be the sanest guy in the band.
How long did you live in Austin?
My stuff was there for a year and a half. I was only there four or five months. I was coming and going a lot. I rented a room in a house that I never really used. When I was there, I was really there as I needed to sit down and unwind. That was around 2004.
Your music is often labeled alt-country. Do you like that label?
I don't get being labeled that. I have never gotten it. My first couple of records had a lot of pedal steel and piano on them, so I guess people started making assumptions. The things I use and the way I use them doesn't really seem to fit that genre. It doesn't matter to me. People can say that I am a singer-songwriter, although I don't like many songwriters. I do like Bill Callahan. His words and music go really well together. I also like Townes Van Zandt. There's not a lot I like in between those two.
You recorded a couple of albums for MCA Records, but the relationship with that label soured quickly. Did you really call the company musical career assassins?
Yes, I think I heard that from someone else that went through the wringer with them. Being on that label was like going back to college. It was a really good lesson in music industry ethics. They were doing things that were ridiculous, breaking promises to people and going back on their word. You have to honor your word. I had to have my lawyer involved in every meeting to make sure they weren't trying to scam me. I learned a lot about the industry, about touring, etc. But, man, it was a pain in the ass.