After two EPs, the Oxford, Mississippi-based indie rock band wants to release a full-length recording.
Nothing prepares you for coming over a rise and seeing fire trucks parked sideways on the I-10, feeding four lanes down to one. That was my plight on the way to South by Southwest, and for the most part two of the four lanes stayed empty except for the dicks who sped around everybody to try to skip the line and nose in a quarter-mile in front of everybody who was waiting impatiently to merge into a single lane in a more orderly, civil way.
"Hold on, I've got to nose in here," I told Jim Barrett of Oxford, Mississippi's Young Buffalo. He was on the road as well, approaching Austin from the north to play SXSW, and he was happy to have someone to talk to while he dealt with traffic as well. He and bandmate Ben Yarbrough started hanging out in eighth grade, when the two were learning to play and write songs along with Alex Von Hardberger. In 2009, the three formed the band and started playing together. In 2011, they released an EP, Young Von Prettylips, after which Von Hardberger left. Barrett and Yarbrough continue as Young Buffalo, and late last year they released a self-titled second EP, hiring additional players for tours.
Barrett started playing drums before picking up the guitar, while Yarbrough migrated the opposite way. "I learned about one beat and played that for a year," Barrett says. They have different styles as guitarists and drummers, which helps keep things varied, but not so much so that their EPs lack cohesion. The rush of furious guitars is measured out by drum patterns that keep songs in abeyance, building tension until they get to punky release points. Barrett and Yarbrough not only learned to play at the same time, but they learned to play with each other, which Barrett considers a strength. "You can see when you get on tour the bands that came together for the tour and those that have been together for a while."
One of Barrett's first songs was "Speak EZ," an atmospheric, ringing track from Young Von Prettylips with a tumbling drum pattern that keeps the chiming guitars moving forward at a measured pace. "This last tour, we played 'Speak EZ' a good bit," he says. "It's changed, but I like the way it's changed over the years." The track was key-based, he explains, but it's now guitar-driven and louder, something that's easy to hear. "It's not too intimate. It's a little more obnoxious than our recorded stuff. We try to fill the space we're playing."
When Young Buffalo plays The Howlin' Wolf's Den Wednesday night with The Kid Carsons and Hey Marseilles, much of the set will be previously unreleased material - some of it new, some of it music that simply hasn't made it to market yet. Barrett has mixed feelings about road-testing songs like this. He appreciates the excitement that comes with exploring and recording a song while it's fresh, but "when you play a song day-in, day-out, it tends to change," he says. That nightly tinkering helps to keep a song interesting, and much of that intuitively leads a tune to its best form.
The songs on the Young Buffalo EP are clearly of a piece with those on Young Von Prettylips, but the stand-out track is "Baby Demons," a classic power pop track with surging guitars and drums that push relentlessly toward The Beatles-circa-Revolver chorus. "That came from listening to a bunch of Pixies stuff and older jangly rock-pop," Barrett says. "We wanted to do the psychedelic rock thing, and it worked alright."
Young Buffalo has a backlog of material because it first recorded an album in 2010, but that album was shelved by the label they signed with. Cantora Records later released the band's first EP, and Votiv, their current label, wanted to see how an EP made on a shoestring budget would sell before committing to an album with the band. Barrett likes the immediacy of EPs, but he'd prefer to get an album out. "EPs kind of get lost and don't get as much of a push," he says, and having done two of them, he'd know. Still, he understands that Young Buffalo hasn't done that much touring yet and is in the process of developing a following. "Hopefully this time next year, we'll be touring our record."
Chinquapin Records and My Spilt Milk present Hey Marseilles, Young Buffalo and The Kid Carsons Wednesday night at The Howlin' Wolf's Den. Register here to win tickets. The contest closes Wednesday at noon.