A few weeks back, we headed out to the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood to catch the Matt Pond on his ten year anniversary tour for the excellent album Several Arrows Later. Opening up for Pond + co. was a band we were only marginally familiar with beforehand, Oxford, Mississippi’s Young Buffalo. As it happened, for me, it one of those instances where the band before the band you came to see stole the spotlight a bit in the greatest of ways. I’d heard one or two songs of theirs before, but, witnessing their full catalog of beautifully varied, complex pop songs and experiencing first-hand their surprising mature stage presence, I became an immediate fan.
I recently got a chance to find out more about the band in talking with one of Young Buffalo’s two singer/song-writer/guitarists, Jim Barrett. He was kind enough to expand on the band’s origins, talk about their song-writing, and tell me what it’s like to grow up in a real-life Friday Night Lights.
raven + crow: Alright, forgive us—this is almost always our first question—but where’s the name come from?
Jim Barrett: The name comes from when I texted Ben about hanging out or something in high school. Really came from nowhere. I started using it as the title for some solo stuff that would ultimately become the first Young Buffalo songs. Sorry, not that interesting!
Yeah, those questions usually result in foggy memories at best, but we still feel the need to ask. We caught you all at the Troubadour when you opened for Matt Pond, who we’re longtime fans of. But this was one of those great instances of coming to see a particular band and—no disrespect to Mr. Pond—being really shocked at how much like they’re opener. How has it been touring with those guys?
Yeah, hard to believe the 6-week run is almost over! It’s been great! The crowds have been super receptive and hanging with the MPPA guys and girl has been a blast.
Yeah, we love em. Now, you all have this really weirdly, uniquely awesome mix of southern-inspired rock and kinda glitchy, nuanced, note-filled melodies and packed rhythms, especially with your guitar lines and drums. I think some of the best examples are on “No Idea” + “Old Soul”. Any idea how that sound developed or did it just…happen?
We love writing and playing pop music that is a little off-kilter. That’s just what interests us for some reason. It was definitely something that developed over time, writing and recording for years with Ben. But, it also just kind of happened. We didn’t really go looking for a specific style.
Always the best approach. Some of the guitar work especially reminds of the British band Jonquil—what are some bands that inspire you all, either individually or as a band?
Ben’s biggest influence is probably Johnny Marr of the Smiths. The Talking Heads, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones are all big influences. I’m a big fan of Brian Eno, and some of the old kooks but i’m also a fan of folks doing some really cool stuff right now: Twin Peaks, UMO, etc.
Nice. Is it true you + Ben have been writing songs together since high school?
We actually started in middle school, so like 2004 is right around when we started.
Man. I assume you develop a sort of second language when you’ve been working together for so long. Do you guys always write as a team or do you have certain songs that are Ben songs or Jim songs?
It kind of depends on the song. On House, the majority of the songs were a group effort; either Ben or myself would bring in the main idea and the other one would finish it out with either guitar or drums/bass. There are some outliers where the song was just there and it’s kind of hard to be like “Dude, i’m pretty sure the song’s good as is!” But we’ve both gotten better about communicating when we’re collaborating or when someone needs to be hands off. Getting older has helped that aspect of our band tremendously….
Oh, I’m sure. I asked you about the band name, but how about the album title, House? I assume it ties into the album cover somehow?
It actually ties into a song more, and we just went with it for the album cover. “My Place” is kind of the centerpiece to the whole record and it was originally titled “House”. For, like, 4 years that song went through a ton of musical changes, but it was always “House Song” or “House”. We loved that song being the focal point of the album, so we changed the name to “My Place” and there you have it—album title!
Well-done! I’m sure you guys get this a lot, but what’s Oxford, Mississippi like? I’m kinda picturing the town from Friday Night Lights.
I can totally see that comparison because everyone loves their football. Oxford’s got way more too than that, though. Most of our friends are artists, writers, or musicians and so there’s been a big community for us creatives in that town for quite some time. Everyone is kind of leaving to go and get their art out there, and for us, there’s tour. It’s a cheap place to live, and we all have jobs that are cool with us leaving for months on end to play shows.
So are ya’ll Ole Miss fans or is this more one of those ‘raised in it, so I rebel against it’ kind of things?
Ole Miss, all the way.
Nice. And how was SXSW? Had ya’ll been before?
SXSW was great. Hectic, tiring, pointless maybe, money-draining, but great? Yes, this was our 4th time doing with YB.
Any plans for after you finish up your tour in May?
Yes! We’re going back on tour in June and then Europe/UK in the summer. Hopefully more stateside touring this fall and then recording LP2 after it’s all said and done!
All sounds awesome. Well, thanks a ton for taking the time to talk. Really loved your set and the album—can’t wait to see ya’ll again and hear more.
Thanks guys! Thanks for Listening!
New York friends—you can catch Young Buffalo as they open up for the also excellent Mat Pond at Bowery Ballroom this Friday, and we’d highly recommend you catch them both. All else, check YB’s Facebook page for additional live dates and download their debut full-length, House, via iTunes.