Ahead of the Phoenix Foundation’s fifth studio album release, Luke Buda riffs on Glastonbury, Jarvis Cocker, and the Phoenix Sound.
Luke Buda is the Phoenix Foundation’s funny (co) front-man. One February Friday night we discussed Fandango at his Aro Valley home over peppermint tea and gingernuts. “Don’t forget the biscuits. No biscuits, NO INTERVIEW,” he’d emailed. Both of us were tuckered out, his kids weren’t sleeping. Theatrically throwing the Griffins double-pack up behind his record player to stop us from overindulging, Buda talked entertainingly about Glastonbury (“disgusting”), Jarvis Cocker (“very friendly”), and the Phoenix Sound (“marijuana psychedelic”).
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ALEXANDER BISLEY: Tell me about a memorable gig during the last few years?
LUKE BUDA: We played Glastonbury, which is quite a horrific experience, to be honest, because it’s a hundred and seventy five thousand people, and there’s a hundred and seventy five thousand people’s worth of portaloos, and there’s a hundred and seventy five thousand people’s worth of overflowing-with-shit portaloos and the entire site smells like shit and mud, and it’s just quite horrific. In fact, on our Facebook page, we’ve got photos, it’s amazing. It was so muddy your gumboots get sucked off your feet. That’s how muddy it is. Gumboots that go up to here. I saw a dude take his cock out and take a piss in the mud by a queue for a food stall at Glastonbury, that’s what it comes to. Anyway, they have a secret band everyday, they have a surprise band. Turns out on the Friday while I was setting up my tent and whinging about Glastonbury, Radiohead were playing their first King of Limbs performance a few hundred metres away from me. I didn’t even know it was happening.
I also missed the Fleet Foxes, Primal Scream and Morrissey that night, but the next day we played and then we were wandering around afterwards and it was a much nicer day, and we hear that there’s gonna be a secret band on at the Park Stage and that it’s either going to be David Bowie or Pulp. “Well, you can’t lose with either of those.” It turns out it was Pulp doing a surprise gig. First time most of those people had seen them in seventeen years, I think. There was quite an amazing atmosphere. A site-specific atmosphere because it was the British, and the band are a British icon, or Jarvis is a British icon. I don’t think you would have that vibe anywhere else in the world other than Britain, where they were singing every single lyric—thirty thousand people or something going up this hill—in Jarvis’s accent, down to all the little inflections, and because the stage was heaps smaller, and thousands of people turned up, you couldn’t hear the band up the hill, but people were still singing and I thought that was quite an amazing vibe. What happened when they played ‘Disco 2000’ was a British icon playing a smash hit to an adoring, worshiping crowd. Quite overwhelming.
AB: This was 2011, the Buffalo Tour. Would you go to Glastonbury again?
LB: Haha, interesting question. Probably. But it was pretty horrific. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be somewhere where I have to feel intense fear and anxiety when I have to go for a poo. Do you know what I mean? “Oh my god. Oh my god, what am I going to do, where am I going to go, look at that, all the toilets are disgusting.” There were sanitary pads stuck into the corners of the portaloos. Bloody pads. You’d lift up the lid of a portaloo and the shit would actually be like that, like pretty much touching the bottom of the lid, and they’d have massive tractors with silage tanks at the back siphoning shit out of the portaloos the entire time. I found it quite traumatic. Our tent was about twenty metres away from the rave tent, so we had a ‘fuckin’ Glastonbury banging rave’ like twenty metres away from us. [mimics: “Butz-butz-butz-butz.”]. Lying there at night we had duo tents, and me and Sam [Scott] are both going “Oh my god. Oh my god. Fucking hate it.”
AB: The thing I like about VIP accreditation is getting to use a clean toilet.
LB: That’s one of the most important things. Our English tour manager sent us an email before Glastonbury, “Lads, make like you’re going to fucking war. Gumboots, bring everything you need. Rain jacket, gumboots, if you want hand sanitiser, y’just gotta have all that shit in your bag, y’gotta have everything. The toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitiser, bottles of water.” I think the only way people do it, because it’s England, they just slam the drugs, pretty much, and so it just doesn’t matter. But at Glastonbury people die there every year, and it’s not even because of getting crushed or anything similar. In 2011 a government aid who had a VIP ticket died of a heart attack in a portaloo. Nobody heard him because it was Glastonbury, and he was in a portaloo in the VIP section. They’ll be clearing up the tents and there might be a tent with someone who died in their sleep. It’s a crazy place.
AB: You guys opened for Jarvis in New Zealand after the endearingly eccentric Krisk EP came out December 2009?
LB: The much maligned Krisk. Which I had a listen to recently, and I thought, “the fuck’s wrong with people? It’s just a bit of a fun piece of shit.” It was just a bit of tongue-in-cheek throwawayness. You don’t hafta get all precious about it, eh? Yep, I’m glad you say that. I find it highly entertaining. But then of course it’s also full of in-jokes and shit, so that’s why I find it entertaining, right?
AB: Jarvis came across as depressed in that memorable Britpop documentary Live Forever?
LB: I’ve only met him a couple of times, but I don’t think he is anymore. He’s fifty or something and he seemed a person who’s come to terms with his success and icon status, he was a really nice dude to us. He was very friendly. He sat down next to us at the Wellington show and said, “Ooh, your manager tells me you’re comin’ to the UK next year. Ooh, you guys should get in touch, I’ll buy you lads a beer.” Which never happened. Cunt. But, yeah, played us on his show, and was definitely, for someone who has been a megastar, a real nice dude. Gives it up on stage. Definitely. Goes for it. Full commitment to the drama and the glory. Sometimes I feel like all of us Kiwi types are almost at a bit of a disadvantage there, because New Zealand’s kind of lackadaisical? I mean, how many New Zealand performers do you see going that far? There’s not many, it’s like you have to break through some kind of weird internal New Zealand barrier.
AB: It was cool, tight having the whole Fandango played in order at Puppies, building up to ‘Friendly Society’. Tell me about Fandango’s style?
LB: I’ve often thought we’re not really a band that has a very particular our-own-sound. I think our strength is possibly more in our range, like we do quite a lot of different sounding shit. I still see it in a weird way what we do as pop, but the way the Beatles did pop once they’d sort of stopped touring? It’s songs, mostly, but they’re just arranged in different interesting ways, and so that’s Fandango. On Buffalo we were quite happy with the fact that we’d gotten things quite concise. ‘Buffalo’ is a pretty tight song, there’s not really any elongated bits, apart from this sorta funny bit in the middle; on Fandango, it’s 76 minutes long but it’s 12 songs, so there’s only three songs that are shorter than five minutes on it, there’s two or three seven minuters, and there’s one that’s 18 minutes.
We worked on it for over a year, quite slowly. Conrad [Wedde] was in Dunedin, Sam and I, our partners were at university, so Sam and I were stay-at-home husbands, we could only really work on the stuff when the kids were at school-slash-preschool. Conrad would send something up from Dunedin that he’d worked on. It was quite weird, it was kind of strangely maddening because it came together so slowly, and then right at the end there was exponential rrrp! when we went to the Surgery. I think it sounds really good, the best sounding album that we’ve made. I’m excited by it, but of course I am, it’s my thing that I’ve just finished.
AB: I think you’re a pretty grounded kind of guy.
LB: I think it’s good. I think it’s probably a slow burner and it’s quite dense and it’s quite long, and I think it might take people a few listens. I think that was the same thing with Buffalo too, I think people took a few listens to get into Buffalo as well, and that’s a good thing anyway, I reckon.
AB: I reckon also. Both Buffalo and Fandango seem good slow burners to me.
LB: This is twice as long as Buffalo, so you have twice as much to get used to.
AB: I like your Beatlesesque comment.
LB: Not that I’m comparing us to the Beatles. I’m just saying, it’s that approach to music, where you’re not sort of hamstrung by your own sense of what you’re doing. There’s no limits, if you wanna put a reggae beat onto a track, fine, why not? I wouldn’t call us a rock band necessarily, even though we occasionally play rock. So I think it’s more of a general [ethos]. Maybe I am comparing us to the Beatles! I don’t know, man.
AB: Sam once said that he’s more Lennon and you’re more McCartney. Not the best question, but how would you describe the Phoenix’—
LB: Oh yeah, fuck, didn’t get the hint before, man.
AB: Some people say indie, some people say indie-rock.
LB: Yeah, but what does indie mean, though? Because indie to me means probably a bit different than what it might mean to many people these days, because a lot more angsty rock bands have been called indie now.
AB: I think there’s so much cross-contamination from different genres. Why do music writers have to be dull accountants?
LB: Well the other problem is that you risk giving the wrong idea. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like describing it, because it’s not that I think it’s indescribable, it’s that the words that I use might have a completely different meaning, and give the completely wrong idea. But yeah, it’s psychedelic, but gently psychedelic; it’s not heavy psychedelic trip. It’s um—
AB: It’s psychedelic for people who drink peppermint tea on a Friday night?
LB: Haha, yeah it’s marijuana psychedelic, not acid/ecstasy psychedelic. It’s got a little bit of folky fingerpicky, it’s mostly guitar music, but then it also has a lot of synths. I don’t know, actually, I don’t really want to. There’s a yacht-rock track on it.
AB: Formative musical influences who still influence you?
LB: I like Radiohead, Flaming Lips, although Flaming Lips are much more recent for me than Radiohead. I mean the awesome thing about Radiohead is they’re always trying to be contemporary. You certainly don’t hear any Radiohead and go, “oh that sounds like the Beatles or the Stones.” I didn’t like King of Limbs that much until I saw the gig where it sounded fucking huge and awesome. They don’t stop trying to evolve and be alive. Flaming Lips, I loved Embryonic. Some people are a bit down on Embryonic, but I reckon it’s an amazing aural journey.
AB: “The best album I heard in 2007,” Dominion Post music reviewer Lindsay Davis chimed in about Happy Ending. When I interviewed you about Happy Ending you said the Flaming Lips not holding anything back live had influenced you?
LB: I think I’m constantly fighting for that, cutting loose and not being afraid of going grand, and I almost feel like we got there with ‘Bright Grey’. Fandango we’re a bit more comfortable with that vibe, we’re a bit more comfortable in our shoes, and it’s hopefully the defining album. There aren’t any songs that I don’t like on it. There’s one that was a bit problematic on Buffalo, which I’m not gonna name. Future’s gonna be interesting as well; we’ll always say that we’re gonna do this live band sounding album, and then it turns into a crazy orgy of production. At the moment it’s Fandango, Fandango, Fandango, Fandango, Fandango.
© Andy Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved. More images at acpalmer.com/buda.
You can listen to the Phoenix Foundation’s Fandango here. Alexander’s five Phoenix songs: ‘The Drinker’, ‘Let Me Die a Woman’, ‘Hitchcock’, ‘All In An Afternoon’, ‘Golden Ship’.
This is part one of a three part interview. Thanks to Valerie Tan for some transcription assistance, and Andy Palmer for his photography. Recent highlights from Alexander’s New Zealand music series include Fat Freddy’s Drop and the Chills.