More from Luke Buda ahead of the Phoenix Foundation’s fifth studio album release, including stories on new drummer Chris O’Connor, sloppy Phoenix gigs, and the Kasimier.
“I think Luke Buda is one of those rare people who just effortlessly exudes musicality. I love how he looks so utterly at peace when he is playing music. I think the differing perspective LPB brings to the Phoenix is crucial to them not being just another ‘indie’ band,” music blogger Jeremy Taylor told me. I caught up with the Foundation’s amusing (co) front-man over peppermint tea and gingernuts at his Aro Valley home. He riffed on Fandango, being Flying Nunny, new drummer Chris O’Connor, sloppy Phoenix gigs, and the Kasimier.
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ALEXANDER BISLEY: What are you listening to this evening?
LUKE BUDA: I’m listening to Real Estate, because I hung out with them at Laneway after the show, and they were really nice dudes, and really, really into Flying Nun. It always surprises me anew each time about how much people fucking love Flying Nun in the States. And Real Estate sound so Flying Nun, I hadn’t realised. They’re like “Are you a Flying Nun guy?” and I was like “Oh, one of our albums came out on Flying Nun” and they’re “Really! Oh we meant, do you like it?” I was, “Yeah, man.” “We got the opportunity to play in Dunedin last year, it was really great.” I’m, “Oh yeah, Dunedin, okay, yeah well, Dunedin’s cool.” So I check them out, totally nice, mellow, Flying Nunny music.
AB: The Independent said the Phoenix (Happy Ending era) are “The most potent band to come out of New Zealand since the far-off days of the Chills. Gorgeous.”
LB: I don’t think we sound that Flying Nunny, apart from the occasional track.
AB: So you didn’t see Real Estate when they played Wellington?
LB: No I didn’t. I hadn’t really heard them. I think I got asked to support them but I didn’t have the time to prepare a solo. I don’t really do solo gigs.
AB: I think the Phoenix are one of Wellington’s best bands, and I’ve seen you guys do damn good gigs, like the first Fandango performance at Puppies. Over the years, I thought a few of your gigs were sloppy. Do you think that’s fair?
LB: Yeah definitely. Much less these days. It’s a much lower percentage ratio of that now, and hopefully that’ll keep going down. We don’t necessarily collapse on the ground and writhe about and kiss all the girls in the front row and do crazy sexual dance moves and blow things up on stage. We look at our pedals and play the music. “Yeah man, we let the music do the talking, y’know?” Definitely done some shit gigs, but, you whittle it down, you get better.
And going on tour overseas, you get so much better. When we went to New York for the first time, I remember having an epiphany. There’s so many fucking bands. And all of a sudden I went, “hang on, these bands aren’t better necessarily than the bands back home in terms of originality or ideas or whatever, they’re still the same woefully low-success-ratio, in those criteria—that’s the right syntax?—but they play so many more gigs, and they’re so much tighter. So much slicker.” Because when you go on a tour in the States, you can go all year. But when you go on a tour in New Zealand, what do you do, five, six gigs? There’s nothing that makes you a better band than playing twenty gigs in a row. When you see a band that’s done heaps of touring, they bang ‘em out. And it means the energy stays there and gets a chance to rise.
AB: You were in New York for Eagle vs. Shark?
LB: Yeah. We went to the States and did more gigs than we’d ever done in a row, twelve or so.
AB: In Shihad documentary Beautiful Machine, Jon Toogood says you need to be doing lots and lots of gigs to distill it down.
LB: Real Estate, they got on stage, and sounded really tight and focused and like they’d been touring lots. You almost feel a bit sorry for New Zealand bands, that they can’t do that. I suppose it takes a band a lot less time to get heaps better, if they can do that touring.
AB: Sad that Richie Singleton’s no longer part of the Phoenix, but Chris O’Connor, he’s another dynamic drummer. I saw him first at WOMAD 2007 with Don McGlashan and Billy Cobham. So Richie, he’s focusing on his environmental work these days?
LB: He was the only dude in the band who had a massive other thing other than the band, and he sort of was concentrating on that, and he was quite fully booked up with climate change conferences and shit like that, and maybe he just started feeling like, rather than just being really excited about playing the drums, it was like he had to do it for the rest of us, but actually he wanted to be concentrating on that shit. And it’s a totally amicable split and I think he’s a seriously considerate and awesome dude.
AB: I liked that Sam, when he announced Richie’s departure on your social media, linked to the Phoenix’s great ‘The Drinker’.
LB: Oh, did he! What did he say? Is that ‘cause it’s the first song that we ever recorded with Richard?
AB: It’s an elegiac song, a song to farewell someone with.
LB: There was a strangely gruelling audition process which was an amazing musical journey because with each drummer we were a completely different band, and in the end it was Chris. He’s awesome, kind of open to whatever, and then he can make music out of it. If someone in the band, say Conrad, who’s probably the most likely to say something like this, suggests to him that he should hit a piece of meat with a broccoli, then Chris is likely to go “Oh yup, okay”, and then do it, and do it with full commitment and to the best of his ability, and perhaps even make it funky.
AB: He was really good with McGlashan.
LB: Yup, and he was SJD’s drummer there for a while, he comes from the Jeff Henderson/ Happy, experimental crazy jazz set as well. Jeff Henderson and Chris supported Connan Mockasin up in Auckland a couple months ago, and I think they played for three hours. While at the same time he seems pretty happy playing a powerful groovy 4/4. He’s a really inspirational musician.
AB: And Olly, he’s a good roadie.
LB: Yep, he knows where to get the good heroin.
AB: Where all the strippers are?
LB: Yeah. We actually haven’t taken him on tour much, because we generally can’t afford it, but he has a very, very calm head. I think he’s getting more into the swing of things now, getting into telling us off, trying to get us to change some of our bad lead-rolling habits and things like that.
AB: Your favourite venue in Wellington?
LB: Mighty Mighty is not really a music venue. People don’t go there to check out gigs, really. The majority of people are there to get sloshed and score. I think probably the Opera House; we’ve played there twice, but in that weird way we make heaps less money if we play the Opera House because we have to pay for production and all, we have to bring in the lights, we have to bring in the PA, we have to hire the venue, because they have to pay the ushers and all that shit, and in the past we haven’t packed it out, so who knows about the future. Every time we have this discussion our manager shows us the budget. And we’re “oh.”
Same thing with small towns. I’m always going “Let’s do Barrytown Hall! Let’s go to Stewart Island!” And our manager Craig says, “Alright, I’ll do a budget.” The more places in New Zealand we play the less money we make. It’s really insane. The only places where you can make a profit are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin. And it’s just unfortunate that we’re in our thirties and have children.
AB: Well, you gotta knock out the rent.
LB: Exactly. And we’ve got to save some money to go overseas as well. So my favourite venue is the Opera House, but whether we play there this year or not, we’ll see.
AB: Possibly after you launch the album in the UK?
LB: Yup, we’re gonna go to the UK first, because simply, we sold more copies of Buffalo in the UK than in New Zealand, and their summer is in the middle of the year. So there’s gonna be a wait in New Zealand between the album coming out and our album release gigs, but all I can say is we’ll probably be heaps better by the time we get back because we’ll have toured the stuff, we’ll be a tight touring fit act.
AB: Any favourite venues over there?
LB: There’s an awesome venue in Liverpool where we did not play, but we went and saw an amazing band called Fucked Up. Have you heard of Fucked Up? They’re hardcore, which is not really my kind of music, but you just go to see them, there’s about seven of them, horrendously loud; they have this ginormous, obese dude who’s the singer, by hardcore I mean [mimics- “DZHOOFDZHOOOV RAURIRAJJRRAH”]. And he takes his top off, he’s in his undies fat all jiggling around, and they have a roadie whose only job is to hold the mike cable, because pretty much for the entire gig he goes into the crowd and he hugs people, so there’s this lead that goes across the entire venue, and this dude’s hugging people. It was a really amazing experience for a gig. You should check out some live footage of Fucked Up on the internet. The venue’s called The Kasimier, the English version of a great Polish king’s name, Kazimierz. Kasimier’s beautiful, an old-school octagon, we’re playing there this time and I’m really, really excited about it.
AB: Would that rank as one of the favourite gigs you’ve seen during recent years?
LB: Over the last couple of years. I mean I haven’t got any of their albums and I probably would never put it on at home, because I’m never in the mood, really, especially with kids, to have really loud raucous yelly aggressive kind of music. But then like at the gig it’s aggressive but it’s pretty positive vibes stuff.
 Fandango explores the more diverse stylistic range that the band has, Jeremy Taylor adds. “I think it’s a very Buda album, ambitious, lots of songs he sings, and lots of things I think of as being very Buda. I love ‘Sideways Glance’, I think it sounds a bit like Roxy Music. I like the 90s/shoegazey influenced things like ‘Thames Soup’ and ‘Inside Me Dead’. I like the fact that there are songs I didn’t much care for at first, but that have really grown on me, like ‘Modern Rock’. Mostly, I love seeing my friends’ band evolving, and making consistently interesting and innovative music. I’m quite proud of them really, though I would never tell them.” (The Slowboater was also a backing vocalist on lovely ‘Slumber Party’.)
© Andy Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved. More images at acpalmer.com/buda.
Alexander’s five Phoenix songs: ‘Bleaching Sun’, ‘Slumber Party’, ‘Nest Egg’, ‘Eventually’, ‘Flock of Hearts’.
This is part two of a three part interview. Read part one here. Recent highlights from Alexander’s New Zealand music series include Fat Freddy’s Drop and the Chills. Comment/suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or @alexanderbisley on Twitter. At least two witty tweets will win a good, handsomely designed New Zealand CD courtesy of Rattle Records.