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(photos by Erin Gabbard)
At a barn out in Howler Hills Farm, south of Dayton, Ohio, two brothers, Andrew and Zachary Gabbard, have a jam session with their longtime friends Sven Kahns and Joseph Sebaali. They plug in, turn on, and start howling psychedelic tunes into the night as they have done for years – just a group of lads laughing and making music together. The rock band Buffalo Killers recorded their eighth album Alive and Well in Ohio with mellow and harmonious vibes over the course of a year. No stress, no rules, and most importantly, no “faking it.”
Released this fall on Alive Naturalsound, the Gabbard brothers produced their new record with the sole intention of creating an authentic sound that stays true to their roots. According to Buffalo Killers guitarist and vocalist Andrew Gabbard, the band is more committed to playing with energy and passion than to engineering their sound professionally.▼ Article continues below ▼
“I am not much of a gearhead. We’re not learned scholars of recording. That’s what we were excited about, to be able to have our hands on it [the album] and break the rules, because you can’t just do what you want when you’re paying to record at a studio,” Gabbard says.
Keeping their hearts and souls embedded in each track, the band, rather than layering their album drum-first, recorded songs on Alive and Well in Ohio with first a live track comprising all of the skeleton instruments, later on adding tracks for vocals or extra guitar spice.
“We always do the basic instruments live together: we’ll do the guitar, the bass, and the drums [first]. We try to isolate everything the best we can with walls and stuff, but we try to get a take with very good energy, and then we’ll overdub, we’ll double up a guitar track. We’ll do the vocals and add all the fun extra stuff that we want to add after we get the basic track. That’s just what we’re most comfortable with. You know, looking at each other in the eyes while we’re recording,” Gabbard says.
Creating a raw and unadulterated sound is so important to Gabbard that, even while writing lyrics, he usually trusts his stream of consciousness above anything else to crank out line after line. With tracks titled “Applehead Creek” or “Death Magic Cookie,” one might think that there is an aura of deep symbolic imagery surrounding Alive and Well in Ohio; however, this album’s surreal and mysterious lyrics were not written in the cryptic and metaphorical fashion to which they appear to have been. In fact, most of his words, according to Gabbard, were written on-the-spot.
“A lot of the lyrics I had for this album, I just tried to add as much imagery as I could. I usually will write a song, and I’ll just keep the lyrics that first come into my mind – whether they make sense or not,” he says.
The evocative lyrics on tracks like “Applehead Creek” or “Outta This Hotel,” were written to bring images to the minds of listeners; images that, Gabbard says, have been written for the sake of imagery itself – not necessarily for any greater purpose.
“With ‘Death Magic Cookie,’ I just thought that sounded cool. I don’t really consider myself to be a very good lyricist or anything, but I just try. I enjoy a lot of fantasy- weird books and stuff, I just to try to add that imagery so that when you learn what I’m saying, it will paint a picture in your mind,” he says.
With more surrealist lyrics, a slower tempo, and a vocal softness attached to Alive and Well in Ohio, the album strays from the styles of previous Buffalo Killer records. Unlike the rockabilly vibes of their 2008 album, Let it Ride, or the gritty and soulful energy in their 2006 self-titled debut record, the band’s more recent work is, for the most part, much more relaxed.
“We try to take a different approach to each record. We don’t exactly have a direct inspiration for the music, we just work on songs and try to give it as much life as we can. [We wanted to] get a good take of it with the best energy and not put too much thought into it,” Gabbard says.
Even with a constantly evolving style, and a widening span of musical taste, Gabbard says he cannot predict or plan the stages to come. The band’s “keep it real” mantra extends to all aspects of their sound, including their self-vision as a group of artists. Buffalo Killers limit themselves to no single genre and refrain from squeezing themselves into one musical culture. They do not consider themselves a ’60s-style band, nor an indie rock group – just four music junkies who will add spices of other genres to their sound if the inspiration slaps one of them in the face.
“More so than anything else, we’re super music fan nerds. That’s one reason why, in my opinion, someone else might listen to our albums and think they’re all the same, but the truth is we’ve changed a lot. In terms of experimenting with new genres, the way that this band works is that me and my brother write songs. If I get lucky, and I just happen to have a spark in my head that gives me the idea to write something in a genre, [I will do it]. That’s something that’s really fun, when we get an idea that kind of sounds like something we wouldn’t do, and then you take it to the other guys, and everybody puts their own flavor to it, and then it turns into a Buffalo Killers song,” Gabbard says.
Buffalo Killers’ natural authenticity is an attribute rarely mirrored by popular artists. It is easy to call one’s art unique when he or she intentionally creates it to be different in every way possible. Gabbard does not cling to grassroots branding, nor does he any cliché style. When it comes to developing their music, writing their songs, or enriching their tracks with nodes of influence from other bands, nothing is done for the appeasement of their listeners, and nothing is created to fit a specific musical scene. What is the secret to such a level of self-comfort? A strong sense of fraternal musicianship as a band.
“It’s all the songs we’ve worked on and all the time we’ve spent together. We know each other very well, and we trust each other. We really don’t tell each other what to do, as far as parts or what not. We’ve spent a lot of time together in a van, we’ve done a lot of stupid shit together, and we’ve grown up together. We trust each other,” Gabbard says.
Despite the long string of small shows and press releases behind them, Buffalo Killers did not record Alive and Well… with anyone telling them what to do, nor any crowd urging them to change their style. They need not the approval of record producers or music critics because they have taken hold of something far more meaningful: who they are as one united piece of rock and roll’s story.
“I feel like in this stage of Buffalo Killers, we all just know who we are. We’ll probably always be locked in with the ’60s-style psychedelic bands, because that’s just the game that we jumped into when we started, but it kind of sickens me at this point when you play with a band, and their songs aren’t very good, and they’ve all got a big, giant Orange amplifier, and they’re wearing bell bottoms. I question a lot of bands’ inspiration for playing music. We could care less if we never sold a record, or if anybody cared, because whether anyone gave a shit or not about us, we’ll still be making records,” Gabbard says.
Standout Track: “Black Halo”
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