Donna The Buffalo’s Current Ride By Mick Skidmore
It's been quite a while since Donna the Buffalo released a studio album, but the Ithaca base-band is back with a superb new disc, the aptly titled Life’s A Ride (Reincarnate Records). The album marks the first recording by the current line-up which includes founders Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins along with more recent recruits in keyboardist Kathy Zeiger, bassist Bill Reynolds and drummer Tom Gilbert. The other original guitarist Jim Miller plays and sings on the album, but left shortly after its completion to pursue personal interests.
The 12-tracks album features material that is split evenly between the pen s of Nevins and Puryear. They've added some extra textures and a few guest players and the resulting disc is simply their best studio album to date. Highlights are Nevins' "Blue Skies," "Rock of Ages" and the title cut, and Puryear's "Deeds of a Few" and the funky grooves of "Everyday" and the gutsy grooves of "These Are Better Days." Overall the album is tighter and more focused than some of their previous releases, but it still boasts that eclectic mixture of Zydeco, rock, old-time, folk and country that goes through the Donna the Buffalo groove blender.
Mick Skidmore- I’ve been listening to the new album and think it’s your most cohesive and best studio album to date. Sonically I think the album is really good but also the overall vibe and feel is a little tighter. Was that a conscious effort or did it just come out that way?
Jeb Puryear- Well, yes we were trying to the music groove right and trying get the singing a little more out there. We spent more time making this because we built a studio and then we tracked it over a longer period of time. Sometimes a song if we play it a lot will come into focus with the band and then sometimes go out of focus for a little while and then they come back into focus again. So we kind of did more tracking sessions and collected the ones that were good. But if you just go in the studio for a week you may have a song that you really want on the album but it's not in focus with the band, and a lot times you just won't get it. We had three or four tracking sessions for the album so we had more time.
M.S. So were there less pressures working in your own studio?
J.P. (laughs) Well we didn't quite achieve that. Just getting everybody together at one time is sort of a pressure within itself.
M.S. I guess you could say it is a different set of pressures.
J.P. I enjoyed it a lot, but I guess some people enjoyed it more than others. Sometimes it led to some relaxation but in another way it since we weren't spending tons of money per hour, on occasion people would show up late which resulted in a lack of focus and annoyed some people. But anyway I think overall it came out good.
M.S. I agree, I really do think it is your strongest CD. Had you collected this material for a long period of time, I certainly recognize some of the songs.
J.P. Yes, but as far as we are concerned we just continually write songs and they get added to the repertoire. Basically what you want to put out is what got recorded well. Sometimes if you don't get a song up to its potential and you put it out, it becomes like a bad feeling later.
M.S. There’s one of your songs on the album that I think is one of the best things you written, "Deeds of A Few." Do you want to tell us what prompted to you to write it as it’s quite political, and very Dylan-ish in tone?
J.P. Yes, well we were doing quite a few Dylan covers before Jim left the group. That might have put me in the mind for that kind of chord structure or whatever. That song was just a basic impression that came from this whole Iraq war business. It just seemed to me that when that kind of thing happens if you just imagine a thin layer of our society at the top making these decisions. If the whole country on its own without any heavy propaganda effort from the top got to decide whether to invade another country or not, basically I don't think it would happen. Who bares the brunt of it just the regular people and they don't give a shit about them. This has to be the first kind of democracy that we tried to uphold, even though we say we have. Usually it's dictatorships. Lately I've been thinking that if we could only live up to our ideas we would be in a totally fine place.
M.S. It’s easier said than done.
J.P. It is easier said than done but you have to try.
M.S. It’s a great song and I hope the message gets across to some people…This is also the first time you recorded with the current line-up. Did that have a significant impact on the sound?
J.P. Yes, probably. It seems like every time we make a record there is some sort of transition and we kind of went through it again. Jim plays on some of the record and
that was a pretty interesting event.
M.S. What happened?
J.P. Well, whatever, basically relationships, this that and other. But basically it is hard to quit a band so you end up holding on longer than you wish then things kind of go sour in other areas. What happens is you just reach a point where you just don't want to do it anymore. The good news is that since then we have been playing really good and everybody is cheering up.
M.S. How different is it for you playing without the second guitar player?
J.P. Well, there's more space to move that's for sure and that's fun. That's one of the good things about it. The first night that we did it without him we, were playing way up high in the registers. A lot of the playing before was staying out of the way, more than making something happen. It was like finding something that you could even be involved with and still not mess it up. I said "We'll have to start playing down the neck or down the keyboard to fill up that space." It's been cool. It's kind of musically entertaining because you have to invent new ways to keep it going and keep it interesting.
It's just a part of life. It doesn't have to be a negative thing; people have to do what they need to do. Jim was frustrated on not being able to work done on a lot of big projects that he had going even before he got into the band, like making big long trips in the jungle and all that stuff, so that's the way it works.
M.S. Is there any one specific guitarist that has influenced your playing or have you drawn from a variety of players?
J.P. I like Mark Knopfler a lot, I like Jimi Hendrix guitar playing a lot. I don't know it always comes out different. As far as influences that and all the African music and all the different instruments like accordion or that chugging Cajun sound. I'm influenced by various pedal steel sounding stuff. A lot of the time it is trying to get the guitar in a song to do something that's from another instrument.
M.S. Do you listen to much music?
J.P. I listen to quite a bit but I kind of just listen to what my wife puts on. If I put stuff on I listen to some classical stuff or Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, stuff like that. Sometimes we put on friends records.
M.S. I thought that Kathy’s keyboards sounded great on the new album. Also I thought that the extra instrumentation adds some extra textures and dimensions.
J.P. There's a kora player on "Blue Sky." That's Mamadou Diabate he lived in Ithaca for a while and he is just one of the very, very best and he is just such a great guy and the kora is in the key of that song, so it just occurred to Tara to have that on there and it is totally awesome. I think we had a little more of a record-making attitude on this album. It's actually the first one that we have done ourselves so that just made it more interesting. For the last two we had producers and they did well up to a point. We brought them in to solve problems instead of facing the problems that we had making records like getting into arguments and ideology and stuff like that so when we started making this one we started talking and said, well, that didn't make those problems go away and actually it added another whole person to the mix, and then it became a really cumbersome process even communicating about differences because you had to go through this other person. It became more of a bother and it didn't really solve the problems of getting a bunch of people to work together. Mainly it was just more fun. It's like watching someone bake a cake; we just went ahead and baked the cake.
M.S. What kind of equipment are you using at your studio?
J.P. We are using a 2 inch Otari machine that's an analog tape. We originally taped it analog and then we dumped it onto an IZ Radar and then during the middle of the production when it was getting mixed by various people which was going slow so we ended up getting a Trident TSM board at the studio. It was a 24-track recording. I mixed some of it and Tara's song were mixed by Alex Perialas because Tara didn't want to do it, but I thought it was pretty entertaining.
M.S. Is this a multiple release deal that you have with Reincarnate?
J.P. I guess the way the company set itself up is they want to be an artist-oriented company and there was basically a facilitating structure for bands that had a little bit going on themselves. We have a lot of organization ourselves. This was like something that we could plug into and partner up with, so that is the kind of idea. It's not a huge money deal or anything like that. They are well connected so hopefully they'll get the CDs in the stores. I don't actually get excited about anything unless it's happening. I think it is a good thing, we'll see what happens. It's all based on real excitement about the record.
M.S. Have you seen any change in your audience lately, is it still growing?
J.P. It grows continually but not at a lightning pace or anything. We have been around a lot and played a lot of good shows. The word gets out.
M.S. Have you thought about doing anymore live albums?
J.P. Well, probably not because so many people tape all our shows and trade them all around, so it would really be just like releasing a well mixed version of something they already have in a way. The radio doesn't seem to play live albums like they do studio albums. It just doesn't make an impression. One idea I have is kind of like a subscription and taping our own shows better, but not do a heavy production and people could subscribe and get them in the mail.
M.S. Sounds like a pretty good idea.
J.P. Yes, it might work, but there would have to be enough people that subscribe to pay somebody because that would be a lot of work. That might be interesting and then you'd have a hundred live records!
M.S. A lot of bands are doing the Instant Live CDs so there must be money in it.
J.P. I don't know how successful that really is. It is easy to look at it and say we are making money but when start taking into account all the expenses it doesn't look so grand.
M.S. What do you see going forward with Donna the Buffalo; do you have some grand plan?
J.P. Well, the grand plan got jabbed a long time ago. We don't really have any plans; it's all about just trying to make music. I think at this point within the band we are really down to the lifers that's kind of cool. A lot of people make music and they are really good at and there are some people that's basically all they are and that's all there is to it.
M.S. Have you ever thought about touring overseas?
J.P. I don't like flying. It's not that I won't fly. I just haven't flown in a long time. I just didn't want to start flying to work. I don't know I just didn't like the idea of it because everybody stretches you to the limit. If there was a gig that paid really well in LA and then Chicago and you'll end up taking all those gigs even though physically you can barely do it. You know what I mean.
M.S. I think you guys would do real well in Europe.
J.P. We probably will go at some point. I can always hop the boat or something that would be entertaining. If we do it I would like it to be something that is well set up and not that you are constantly battling with tour, or the feeling that I call abstraction, like why did you go here and why did you do it. It seems like the most real thing is when you play well and you connect with people and it is still the only thing about it. I think that holds true
M.S. How about acoustic performances?
J.P. We are talking about doing more of that because sometimes if you go on a three-week tour it would be nice to play say on a Tuesday or Wednesday and play a small place and do an acoustic show. A rock show works well when everybody is lambasted and everybody is feeling spunky and aggressive so it would be nice to bring in a balance of more textured stuff. We are working towards that with a mind to doing it on weekdays.
M.S. What I’ve always enjoyed is when a band starts off acoustic and then builds the intensity or maybe start electric bring it down and then build it up again.
J.P. Yes, that's not a bad idea and that would probably develop after we determine that there are songs that we just like better acoustic than rock and then we could come out do it within the same set. But if you are playing in the nightclub scene and you are trying to lay something subtle or super quite and pretty it can be pretty powerful, but people always tend to take that time to talk with each other. The energy starts to dip. What you really have to do is start working in theaters which we do some of. I can really see doing it then.