Have guitar, will travel
Indie-rock legend Barbara Manning catches up with alt-country troubadour Richard Buckner
I first met Richard Buckner standing under a tree 20 years ago while I was visiting Chico for the first time since the breakup of 28th Day. Buckner had recently moved to Chico and was making music with my old bandmates. Our paths would cross again. as Buckner soon left Chico (where he spent a semester at Chico State) for San Francisco, starting his own band, The Doubters.
Buckner has been caught up in the anticipation of waiting for something to come to him and the impatient need to pursue it. Since the critical acclaim of his 1994 debut, Bloom, his major record deal with MCA and his recent releases on ultra-hip indie record label Merge Records, Buckner has lived the life of a wandering American troubadour. His prolific music career overlaps a decade of frequently changing locations with a revolving cast of bandmates gleaned from the upper crust of the indie-rock scene.
His eighth album, Meadow, is being released in September, with Buckner touring the United States for two months starting this week. He’ll stop in Chico Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Now you are living in Brooklyn—how is that? Your longtime producer, JD Foster, lives in New York; is that one of the reasons you moved there?
Well, I had all my stuff stored in Austin, Texas, while I was traveling so much, and you know that gets expensive, plus I just had to get out of there anyway, just ‘cause Austin is pretty crazy. I ended up finding this cheap place in Brooklyn. I never thought I’d move there. I thought you had to be rich to move to Brooklyn.
I really am impressed that everywhere you’ve ended up you’ve managed to work with great people. For instance, when you were in Lubbock, Texas, your recording was produced by Lloyd Maines (legendary musician/producer and father of Dixie Chicks vocalist Natalie Maines). How did that work out?
I was living in San Francisco at the time, but I had heard Lloyd Maines from years before, and I knew he was a great player and then, while I was in Atlanta, I met someone who had worked with him. I just flew to Lubbock and we made the record in five days. It wasn’t planned out; he would call some friends up and say, “Hey, you want to put mandolin on this kid’s record?” It was like your uncle coming over. [Laughs]
The way you record is so organic; it seems wherever you go for a while you end up recording music. What kind of recording gear do you travel with?
I’ve got this tiny room just crammed full of stuff. I have a couple different things: I have a digital 24-track work station; I have this old 8-track mini-disk I do stuff on sometimes—and it’s so easy, just a few big knobs like a kid’s Mattel machine. I keep those with me all the time. It’s fun to go back and forth with the equipment. I have digital format but I am not smart enough; usually when I am recording with someone else I let them do it.
You’ve used different places to record, from big studios to apartment hallways, but one of the more interesting places you’ve recorded is in a pencil factory.
It’s a space we went to in order to get noise, like loud amps and drums. It’s a space that JD Foster shares with Sue Garner (from Matador band Run On). Well, this abandoned pencil factory is her work space, and JD sometimes shares it with her. There are skill saws in one room, and you can play really loudly there, which is great ‘cause you can’t play drums in JD’s place or in my room.
It sounds like a truly urban recording session.
It truly was! I’m surprised you don’t hear more of Brooklyn on the tapes ‘cause some kids were shooting off fireworks when we were recording and sometimes I think I can hear it in the background.
Meadow is your eighth album and the second one for your current record label, Merge.
They are all so nice. If you have to do business it is great to do it with these guys. They are all musicians, and their approach is very natural and organic, like talking to friends. They have easy-to-read contracts in musician language.
You are about to do a U.S. tour. Will you have a band with you or play solo?
I’m just taking one guitar player. I’m doing the tour in my pickup truck, and I can only fit one guy. I usually travel alone, so it’s going to be fun to have someone on stage with me.
I have to commend you for keeping on going with your music career. I found it getting harder and harder to tour, so I decided to go back to school.
Barbara, it is getting harder. There has definitely been a large change in the music industry over the last five years. Things can get real tough, and it is totally noticeable how it’s gotten harder to tour over the last few years. If not for credit cards I probably wouldn’t even be talking to you right now.
Barbara Manning is a former member of legendary Chico band 28th Day and an occasional contributor to the Chico News & Review.