In the world of Cincinnati rock n’ roll, Buffalo Killers really need no introduction. Having risen from the ashes of the much-loved garage rockers Thee Shams, Buffalo Killers make thick, juicy, fuzzy “blooze-rock” with loving dollops of Southern rock, back-porch-country, and good-times psychedelia. They've toured with the Black Crowes, made records with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys - they're the band I name-check when out-of-towners ask me, "What's a Cincinnati band I need to listen to?"
Zach Gabbard plays bass and he, along with his brother and guitarist Andy Gabbard, write the songs. Drummer Joey Sebaali powerfully keeps the beat. I recently spoke with Zach about the current state of the Buffalo Killers, their upcoming album, and why they like Cincinnati so damn much.
Buffalo Killers' most recent release, Ohio Grass, a six-song EP put out in support of Record Store Day, will be digitally available on August 2oth. Make sure to catch them at Bunbury on Friday, July 12. They'll be on the Amphitheater Stage at 6:30pm.
Eachnotesecure.com is contributing to CincyMusic.com to help preview artists performing at the Bunbury Music Festival. John Crowell began writing for Each Note Secure in 2009. He writes interviews and live reviews. Because he likes things that are weird for the sake of being weird, he is Each Note Secure’s resident aggressively unpleasant music enthusiast. When not on the internet, John enjoys drinking banana daiquiris.
I understand if was your father who first got you into music, is that right?
Yeah, Dad played music and had a band when we were kids. That's what we would do on the weekends: get the families together, hang out, and play music. Dad taught me and Andy how to play. He gave me the best trade he could. It's a big deal to pass that on to your kids.
Now, which one of you is the older brother?
That's interesting, because it seems like with rock n' roll, there's been this long tradition of older siblings introducing cool music to their younger siblings. Do you do that with Andygrowing up?
I think so. I think I turned him on to some some stuff. I used to take him some music. Andy is eight years younger than me, so he was still in school when I was out [of the house]. Andy was in bands too, he started playing guitar when he was eight. He started figuring out ACDC songs by himself by the time he was nine or ten. Everybody was so proud of Andy, how quick he picked up things. Andy's the best musician I've ever known. He can play everything; he can sing every part.
When we record, a lot of times Andy is ready to go before the mics are up. We've been working with Mike Montgomery for a while at [Cincinnati recording studio] Candyland. He jokes that he can't even get the mic set up fast enough for Andy to get the parts out of his head. We'll record something and Mike's just getting levels and Andy'll say "No, it's done. Let's go on to the next thing." [Laughs]
We work really well together, and with Joey, we all work really closely; we know each other really well. We're just comfortable playing together. Which is good, because a lot of people don't like being around each other and we do! [laughs]
Do you think that you having eight years between you and Andy helped avoid the typical sibling rivalry?
Yeah, we don't really have any problems . . . at all! [Laughs] That's usually the first question everyone wants to ask: if we argue or fight. Unfortunately, I don't have any kind of good stories for that [Laughs].
Buffalo Killers had success fairly early on, touring with the Black Crowes and recording with Dan Auerbach. What did you learn from all that?
I find everything is a learning experience. When we [toured with the Black Crowes], I had never thought about the concept of playing in big places or making sure that we sounded good. When you go into a small club you can basically control that on your own. The Black Crowes took us completely under their wing. The figured out after the first show that we couldn't afford a crew, so Chris [Robinson] had all their [production] guys work for us. After they loaded [the Black Crowes] in, they would load our gear in - we would help them, of course - and they would run our sound. Chris put us in touch with management people and booking people . . . Rich [Robinson] and Chris have helped us out a lot, even now, continually over the years.
The thing I really learned from Dan [Auerbach] was just to "do it." We would go in [to the studio] and do everything really quick. I'd never been been in a studio where you didn't have to wait around for the engineer to play his Nintendo game or whatever the fuck, or answer his phone all day long. With Dan we just went and got right to work, there was no bullshit. I thought, "Oh man, I do kind of like the studio experience." I had never liked it because it felt like you were always on somebody else's time. With him, I finally realized, "Hey, we can control this environment, I can shut everyone else out."
Now we just go in and do it, everybody knows their place. Joey knows what he's gonna do and I know I'm gonna do. We just go in and do it rather than sit around and bullshit and smoke dope the whole time. [Laughs]
Being one of the better-known bands in Cincinnati, how do you feel about the local music scene?
When we first started doing [shows], we realized we needed to go other places to play. I think a lot of bands in Cincinnati realize that and they're just, without knowing, following in each other's footsteps in a way. When I first started, that's what the Greenhornes were doing. They helped us get our first shows out of town and we just started doing it, just going out on the weekends and making it bigger from there. Everyone seems to know that.
There's just a good musical foundation for everyone to jump off of. There're always cool bands coming through. Dan McCabe [MOTR owner, MPMF and CEA producer] and those guys always have something cool going on, always bringing something new to town. Everywhere's not like that, unfortunately. [Laughs] We'll end up playing with a band like the Sundresses - I don't see the Sundresses when I'm in town - but we'll end up playing with them in Rochester, New York or something. It's cool, you get to see these people from your hometown, you're both out doing it, and you're both blowing whatever geeks you're playing with in town offstage. Everyone takes it seriously. It's not just a "play a gig on Friday and get drunk" kind of thing.
None of us live in Cincinnati anymore, actually. Andy lives closer to Dayton and works at Omega Music part time. I have a farm . . .
A working farm?
I have chickens and stuff, but it's not a working farm, no. We only make records here, I guess. [Laughs] I have kids and we sold our house in Northside and moved out here . . . I live in Madison Township.
Do you think there's value to growing up in the country instead of the city?
I don't know, I didn't grow up in the city! I grew up in the country. I thought it was time to get out of the city, for me. I moved there when I was older . . . but . . . it was time to get out and spread our wings a little bit.
We have a studio - well, it's not a working studio, but we rehearse in a barn and we can practice here. I couldn't really do that in the city. The kids get to run and get wild, so it's fun.
Buffalo Killers's music seems to typify something interesting to me about this part of the country. In southeastern Ohio, there seems to be this great mixture of Midwestern culture and Southern culture. I hear the same mixture in your music: blues and rock n' roll with strains of southern rock and country.
The country vibe has definitely come out more nowadays. As we've gone on as a band we're less likely to say that [style] doesn't fit [in], not that we ever said that. It's just been opened up and we just do whatever.
[Our record label] Alive doesn't really critique what we do, they just let us do what we do. No one's telling me anything, we're just doing whatever we want. Other record label relationships it's always, "You should do this," "Maybe you should do that." Now, we just do whatever we want and they love it! [Laughs] New ground has definitely been covered.
We grew up listening to country music. Grandma and Grandpa would take us to Bluegrass festivals and dad would teach us Neil Young songs, so everything we grew up on is definitely in our music.
Do you have anything planned for the follow-up to you last full-length record, Dig. Sow. Love. Grow.
It's in the works now, actually. Hopefully it'll be out by fall. With my brother and I both writing it's easy to have a new record quickly. You only have to write half a record and the other half takes care of itself! We've just been doing it fast and getting faster. At this point me, Joey, and Andy have been playing together for ten years or so, and Andy and Joey were playing together even before that. It's really easy to just go into the barn and say, "Alright, here's how it goes." I just watch what Andy's playing and follow along and it just falls into place. It comes super easy. Just don't think about it too much.
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