Air Mattresses, Books and Vitamins: Buffalo Killers Interview


    Buffalo Killers now consist of an added guitarist/steel guitar player, drummer, and two brothers Andy and Zach Gabbard. They rip with a vintage flavor of smoke, dim lights, fuzz guitar, and harmonies. Completely controlled psychedelic blues, the harmonies are as if Buffalo Springfield played through Black Sabbath’s equipment! Even the softer stuff sounds dirty, a couple songs will make you feel as if you were trapped at the bottom of a well on psychedelics and having your captor singing lullabies. Both brothers sing, the drums are pounded like John Bonham, and the guitars will keep you bobbing around like Zach does while he plays bass. Constrained energy, you feel like its about to blow up –until you realize “This is what its like inside an explosion.” Buffalo Killers have a fresh take on a vintage sound, that’s why they were handpicked to tour with a few of the biggest names, played the festivals, and recorded with some guys who don’t mess around. Adding a new guitarist/steel player to what was a three piece, rock power house, and recording a new album I was excited to ask guitarist Andy Gabbard a few questions


    George Burrows: Producer Jim Wirt helps push bands in the studio – he recorded your new album on Michael Jackson’s console that the “Thriller” demos got tracked on. How did Jim Wirt help you shape your new album and was any of MJ channeled through?

    Andy Gabbard: It was a lot of fun to work with Jim. He really gave us a lot of freedom to do our thing. He was happy with the songs and arrangements when we got there so it was all about getting good takes and good vocal takes. Jim’s a great vocal coach. We work fast and so does he, I think we are a good match. We’ve always got a bit of MJ channeled through us.


    GB: How much time did it take to record compared to albums in the past?

    AG: We recorded this album in about 5 or 6 days.  We were well ready and rehearsed for the session. We try to do things differently each time we go to make a record. We took our sweet time making our third album “3” but other than that we usually hit it and quit it. Like I said, we work fast.


    GB: Whenever you go into the studio do you stick to your own tools first or do you play with all the vintage toys right away?

    AG:We all have our sounds dialed in how we like and stick to it. There has been times when we’ve had studio time booked and my amp was fucked up and I had to borrow someone’s or use what’s there. I have a pretty simple guitar sound. I can pretty much get a tone I like out of any amp with a little tweaking. Unless it’s a Line 6 or something.


    GB: Shake it records released a series of 45rpm records which were songs by the late Eddie Hinton recorded by Drive By Truckers, Heartless Bastards, Wussy, and Greg Dulli. You recorded both sides on Volume 4, which was also produced by Dan Auerbach. How did you get involved with that project? You also collaborated with Kelly Deal for a Tribute to Guided by Voices – what is it like recording a respected artists songs, compared to breathing life into it on stage?  

    AG:I think shake it asked us to do it. We are HUGE Eddie Hinton fans so it was a no brainer. Dan wanted to record it. He’s the man. Can’t imagine recording those songs with anyone else. I love how it turned out. Kelley Deal is a legend and we are not worthy. We love The Breeders and backing up Kelley was like a dream. It was an honor to help her interpret a GBV (whom we also love) song. Good times.


    GB: Both of you sing & write songs, so I have a few questions on your process – which by the way, you are so lucky to have a musician, let alone a brother with such similar style and craft.   Do you have a general idea in your head of what you want your brother to play, and what does Zach write on?

    AG: We both usually write songs on guitar. When Zach has a new one he will show me what he had in mind and let me mold it into my own thing. Sometimes I don’t change anything from the original riff. We kind of have a way of playing together, all of us, where everything just falls in place. Nobody really needs direction because everyone is already there. It’s all about feeling and friendship. We GET each other.


    GB: How much collaboration happens? Do you ever come up with a big riff and then ask Zach to put lyrics over the top it?

    AG: We both write songs fully on our own. And bring it to rehearsal and “Buffalo Killer-ize” it. Songs take new life once everyone joins in. Everyone supports the song and songwriter and we try to do each song justice. Then move on.


    GB: You two harmonize so well, it makes your songs a bit gentler. Does that come naturally to a song or do you have that in mind while writing?

    AG: Most vocal melodies sound good with a harmony or two. Sometimes a double vocal is needed. We just do what sounds best with the song. That’s usually something we work on once in the studio doing vocals.


    GB: Buffalo Killers expands a lot of sounds, but I was still surprised with the reggae sound of ‘Ohio Grass’ ­even with the cover! You don’t seem like a group of guys who give a damn what people think of you, but do you come up with songs and then scratch them because you don’t think it fits Buffalo Killers sound?

    AG: We very rarely scrap a song. There have been times where I have a song we are working on, and the next day I’ll come in and say “scrap that. I’ve got a better one”. That’s actually what happened the song you’re talking about “Golden Eagle”. We were working on a different “reggae-esque” tune I had and I came in and switched it out for another I had wrote the night before. Same with Zach. Sometimes you just get real excited about something new and scrap the old shit.  


    GB: Are you the kind of guys that have melodies or notebooks of lyrics waiting for the studio, or are you able to write music on the road?

    AG: I can’t speak for my brother, but I write songs constantly. At work, while driving, at the grocery store. I try to keep a notebook because it helps me remember things. I also record ideas on a recorder on my phone. Sometimes I write melodies and forget them, so I try to do whatever I can to keep track of things.


    GB: The song ‘Get It’ is accentuated with piano and really showcased on album. How do you separate you live sound and album?

    AG: Our live sound is pretty accurate to our studio sound. Only in the studio we can add different special accents. That’s all that’s missing. And we are pretty loose and improvisational live so it’s worth coming and seeing us to see whether we pull it off or blow it.


    GB: You play as a power trio – here at we have a picture of you playing with a lap steel guitarist – do ­you want to stay a three piece, or do you plan on expanding?

    AG: We have added Sven Kahns to our band. He plays second guitar and pedal steel. We’ve known him for years and he’s played on our records. We just want to keep changing and progress and with Sven it makes it easier to do that.


    GB: You are extremely proud of your live sound, any chance your awesome ‘Daytrotter’ session could get pressed on vinyl?

    AG: Maybe if we are short on material sometime. I’m happy with the session. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know, we’ve never thought of it.


    GB: Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes hunted you down as an opener for them on a tour, plus you toured with The Black Keys a couple times – what’s it like playing those big shows, or the festivals you’ve played and then coming back to an intimate club?

    AG: It is fun to play to a big audience. But I feel more comfortable playing in a small dark club. That’s more our style. When you’re opening a big show you usually have a small time to fill. At a small club we can play all night if we are feeling it.


    GB: You did a leg with Mad Alchemy doing his sick psychedelic liquid light show. I’ve seen him with other bands & it’s a throwback to 60’s/70’s that really fits your music so well. Do those colors splashing across yourself and the stage inspire the sound at all live?

    AG: Yeah I guess so. It looks cool. The Mad Alchemist always looks like he’s having a blast and he’s a real nice guy too. It’s a nice change. Makes me feel like Syd Barrett-era-Pink Floyd.


    GB: What gear do you plan on bringing this tour?

    AG: Firebirds, Fender Deluxe and Kustom amps, Earthquaker Devices, vintage Ludwig Drumkits, clean socks and underwear, various kind buds, cassettes, doodle pads, sharpies, air mattresses,  books and vitamins.


    [information] Buffalo Killers’ new album is being mixed at the date of this being published. Until the new album drops, pick up their other stuff….there’s no shipping from their website. And an awesome box set deal -a dream come true for vinyl junkies.[/information]

    Photos of Buffalo Killers at Double Door

    © George Burrows


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    Nathan's father wanted to name him after Jimmy Dean, the country musician and sausage entrepreneur. Nathan grew up in a small town about 40 minutes from Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, and Iowa City. What seemed like Mayberry was surrounded by urban areas with live music. His grandfather owned a restaurant in Chelsea, IA that had live country music and polka dances every Friday night for 30 years. Never learning the drums, he still banged on them with eating utensils, to the burger and buffet eaters pleasure we are all sure. It was also at his Grandparent's house where they would let him slap the keys of the family piano and sing words. His most memorable song was "Me and Uncle Max Driving Down the Road on the TV". Nathan's first concert was The Kenny Wayne Shepard Band when he was in middle school, even though Nathan was listening to and playing in mostly heavy metal and hardcore bands at the time. It was in 2002 when his musical tastes were forever changed at a show with jazz band Galactic opening up for Widespread Panic in Cedar Rapids, IA. This would later be known as Michael Housers' last show, as he passed away only six months later. Although he attended shows before, he has since scowered the Midwest for the next fix. Nathan's tastes kept growing as he correlated the complexity of bluegrass with jazz. He continues to play music but mostly stays focused on learning the pedal steel guitar. He now lives in Waterloo, working as a Drug Store Manager In Training and drags his beautiful wife Leilani around with him to shows when possible. He still hasn't learned the drums or piano.