It’s fair and easy to call songwriter Richard Buckner a rock ‘n’ roll folk artist. His songs and themes roam across the whole spectrum of contemporary Americana rock. It’s difficult, though to pin his terrific new album, Meadow, with a simple, quick phrase or description. Sometimes droning and easy-rolling, sometimes peppered with bright melodies and fiery electric guitar licks, his new one rocks, rolls, and warms the coldest hearts.
“I’m always writing,” he tells City Paper, speaking by telephone last week from his new digs in Brooklyn. “I wrote when I was kid. I studied writing in school. Even if I couldn’t play music, I’d still be writing. It’s just something I do all the time. It’s completely nerdy, but you have to try and find ways to trick yourself and make yourself do things in different ways. I’m still looking under the same rocks. I go about things a little bit differently, from project to project. I’ll change my method sometimes to try and go on a path that leads me to something new.”
Buckner, a Canadian native, got his professional start in San Francisco and Texas in the early ’90s, releasing a debut in 1994 titled Bloomed. A more fully-produced effort titled Devotion + Doubt (MCA) followed in 1997 with guest performances from Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico and Giant Sand. He carefully veered from full-on rock sessions to simple, softer, solo acoustic efforts through the late-’90s, eventually landing on N.C. indie label Merge Records in 2003.
Meadow, released by Merge last fall, is Buckner’s eighth full-length. It’s very much a collaborative effort between the songwriter and Guided By Voices guitarists Doug Gillard and Kevin March, Mekons drummer Steven Goulding, and other guests.
“Before I ran into Doug, I was going to make the album all by myself at home,” Buckner says. “I’d been working on some soundtrack stuff, and I had the idea of making a rag-tag, Giorgio Moroder-sounding keyboard record. I didn’t know what I was going to do. When I hooked up with Doug, we reshaped the direction and added some good drums and guitar. I’m really glad we made the record the way we did.
“Doug was great,” he adds. “They all were. When I make an album, I go in with the songs done and melody ideas, and when I hire musicians, I want them to take my parts and play them with finesse. I have kind of a Bonanza/surf way of playing guitar and I need someone with a little more style with that [laughs]. That’s why I love Doug. He has a really great style. He can take what I did, do it better, and add his own thing. The mini-arpeggios, beautiful solo, and little hooks that he does are great.”
Over a decade into his recording and touring career, Buckner is well into the regular habit of working with new people every year. It’s always worked out well. On this month’s tour, opening band Six Parts Seven — guitarist/bassist/arranger Allen Karpinski, drummer Jay Karpinski, guitarist Tim Gerak, and bassist Mike Tolan — pull double duty on stage, playing the first set on their own and backing Buckner afterwards. SPS recently released their own studio album, Casually Smashed To Pieces (Suicide Squeeze).
“They are an instrumental band from Kent, Ohio,” says Buckner. “This is the third tour we’ve done together. They’re really great musicians and they go along with everything I do, which is really nice. We’re all paying rent by playing shows on the road, so we’re all in the same boat. They’re happy, playing and touring, and I’m happy to have them. You have to keep working with different people to keep yourself charged up. The change in environment helps keep you active … and, hopefully, makes the shows a little better for being more alert.”