‘Andasol’ is the first album from Ash Black Bufflo, arriving ten years into a musical career that has seen tracks and scores appear in several theatre productions and modern dance performances, staged in the USA. The record is an astonishing piece of work, literally uncategorisable, as it skips from genre to sub-genre, taking in folk, Cinecitta-style sound collages, abstract jazz, post modernist drone-rock, neo-classical, and all the while retaining a very focused feel, with an emotional depth that grows with each play.
Ash Black Bufflo is actually Jay Clarke, a warm and intelligent fellow from Portland, Oregon. We caught up with Jay and posed a few questions for him to cogitate upon…
How do you find time for all the projects you work on?
My wife and I had a little boy exactly 11 months ago tomorrow and I’ve learned to never really stop working. That’s a lie–I nap sometimes. But it does focus the mind to have a little person around. Maximise time.
Vinyl, CD or digital?
The balanced, clear-thinking side of me says that the three have a place–I use them all and have had vivid listening experiences with each. Now that that guy has left the room, I can tell you that digital sounds like shit, makes you more of a McListener and generally takes a small sliver from what is real and holy in the world.
Is making music a viable way to pay the rent these days?
I’ve got friends that do it, so yes. They are the lucky few and God be with them. If you’re of a bent that prefers what most people call music that “grows on you” then not really. I’m still in the camp that believes that one doesn’t choose to make music (or any kind of art) because it’s fiscally sound. Most people don’t realize that making music is like making kitchen cabinets. There’s very little cavorting with angels and gentle brushes from the lips of the muse. Measure, cut wood and screw in place. The glory is in the making and that’s about it. To keep the metaphor going and also bring up a totally other problem, no one is going to make you good kitchen cabinets for free. They have a skill, you have a need, so you pay money for it. You might want cabinets in the future and chances are, you’ll go to the same cabinet maker. Otherwise all the cabinet makers will get into plumbing.
Well, it’s a personal thing. The short version: when I was 18 I was building houses on an Indian reservation and in that time was kindly taken in by a woman in the tribe who for some reason identified me as someone she should reach out to. She had two sets of twin kids–two boys, two girls–and no husband. Amazing woman. I stayed with her for awhile. My brain changed a bit. I was not a loved person there, outside of that woman, to be totally honest–this white kid strolling around town, speaking the language (speaking it poorly). In order to take a break from myself, I went for a short trip to the Black Hills which is/was a sacred place (a burial ground) for the folks with whom I was staying. So I drive out there in a rickety old VW Bug and this most sacred of places is lawn dwarves with pickaxes and flashing yellow signs offering up cheeseburgers–the worst kind of tourist, there’s-gold-in-them-hills! hell that you can imagine. In the middle of all this (I’m pounding the steering wheel and cussing a lot) there’s a hand-painted sign that says “Come See the Amazing, Real, Last of Their Kind, Ancients of a Lost Time, Roaming and Free, Proud and Majestic Buffalo!” but they had spent so much time selling the whole idea that they didn’t have enough room at the end, so they had to drop the A out of Bufflo. It said it all, really. Instead of having that single tear moment where you realize the world is rough and never going to be the same again, I instead realized that these were my real people, and try as I might to deny my true nature, I was complicit in a lot of things that most 18 year-olds think they are above or outside. “I’m a sensitive artist! These are the problems made by those other people! I’m learning another language!” Still, there’s a kind of courage that admits one’s place in the world and keeps on keeping on. So I adopted that dropped A Bufflo to remind myself that I’m not king-shit and to use everything, even the personal swirling murk. It’s your murk–you might as well get something out of it. I’ve since found there’s enough tar and trash in my own life for a thousand albums.
The album ‘Andasol’ is a trip, dramatic and ever changing. What was the journey like for you?
Tough at times for sure. Lots of long walks where the predominant theme was my lack of talent and character. At the end of the day I enjoy sitting in my underwear with a cup of coffee and working on problems in the music. The real issues only occur when the album is done and you have to parade it around in public like a prized hog.
Has Portland always been your home? Give us a flavour of the place, which from 6,000 miles away appears to be a musical hotbed, particularly in recent years.
I moved here in 1999, started playing music in bands then and haven’t stopped. Portland’s gifts are good musicians and no identifiable sound. It has been like this for a long time. There’s very little industry out here so we’re left to our own devices. No one is saying you need to sound like somebody else. Everybody kind of knows one another and pulls for each other though of course there’s the usual rounds of ill-wishing and backstabbing. This makes it sound like Grover’s Corners a bit, but it is an easy place to live.
Tell us a little about your involvement in film and theatre work.
I stopped touring about five years ago and decided to write my own music but didn’t want to take the usual route of busting my ass to write something only to jump right back into the world of touring and playing live. I felt like a beer salesman playing music in the states. “Are you ready to party tonight?” etc. etc. I wanted to collaborate with people (but not other musicians–dictator, for sure), I wanted the music to be heard and I wanted a hard deadline to help stint any laziness or hemming and hawing on my part. My solution was theatre and film work where you get all of the above three. That was my woodshed in some regard. No bullshit, don’t lie to yourself, you have a week to get something out so just fucking do it already. After a bit of that pressure, I felt steady enough on my own legs to start working on the album.
What are your inspirations?
Oh there are tons. If I had the hot poker in front of me, I’d say the handful of people that I know who work on their art on a daily basis, don’t talk about themselves like I’m doing right now, put the work out and move on to the next. Those people and Benmont Tench.
Name five great works of art (record, book, film, painting, architecture, whatever!)
You magnificent bastard! Man, these are the questions you always want to get but then spend the next week second guessing yourself. A slight digression–I once went and saw Wayne Horvitz play. This guy is a monster–just slaying women and making love to dragons. He’s a god among us….Anyway, I like this guy right? so I shakily ask him backstage what he’s listening to and he gets the face that I got when I read your question–like he’s smelling bad cheese. Finally he says “I should probably say Stockhausen, but I’ve been listening to nothing but the Rolling Stones.” Again, a god among us.
So, in the spirit of civil exchange with no regrets, I present the following:
–A Sport and A Pastime and Dusk by James Salter
–Bach’s Cello Suites (there’s your Stockhausen answer by the way)
–Music from Big Pink
–Had I a Hundred Mouths by William Goyen
–Thanh Hoang, Falling Bough, and Nila by Walton Ford
Charlie Chaplin said that the public don’t know what they want, only what they don’t want. Your thoughts please?
The idea of the public is a tough one. I try to ignore them (or it) as much as possible but need them (or it) as well. People count–you can’t annihilate almost 7 billion people because you’re afraid of failure or your dad never gave you any approval or whatever your hang-up is that divides you from everyone else. Still, you can be drowned by the crowd–best to go some things alone. I’m hedging this one pretty hard. How about this: at the end of the day, there are some who are for you and some who don’t care and some who are against you. The problem is, you’ll never know who is who so you might as well assume the best and see who buys your cabinets.