February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
I was fortunate enough to speak with the late Jeff Buckley just 6 months before his death (of accidently drowning) in late May of 1997. This interview was conducted in Boston, during a brief concert stop for the album “Grace”.
Jeff was only 30 years old when he passed away, but he left us some truly transcendent music. Read on for a bit of insight into one of the great musicians of the 1990s.
Q: There’s a huge line outside.
A: It’s strange how all this is happening because I never, ever gave a demo anyone. I never shopped a deal and I never brought my work to anyone “official”. It would have been wrong somehow, wrong for the music. It needs to have a real sacred setting for people to understand it. You’ve got to start things off with friends who are like-minded or even strangers that are like-minded. Sending your music to established artists or labels or magazine, I mean there is something to be said for tenacity, for trying to pursue recognition that way, but it just doesn’t make sense for the best work. And if you do make an amazing work, it’s sometimes not the best way to be heard. You have to get on a sacred space, like a stage, and do your testifying that way.
Q: Is that how things happened then, playing at Sinee Café in New York, being a regular act there and word spreading in an organic way from people who came to those shows?
A: Yes. I had a friend, Daniel, who got me the gig there. Someone else had opted out of Monday nights so Daniel took two and I took two and then there were a slew of Monday nights open and I just went on and on. And then I started playing a lot of little places around there, around the Lower East Side and a little bit uptown, just anything I could get, I took.
Q: How long were you doing that?
A: Two and a half years.
Q: Because you, and the music, seem to have emerged fully matured.
A: It was never like that before and it’s still not, really. It’s still kind of half-baked. You’ll see with the next album, it’s always kind of evolving. I just get to things kind of late. I have a sort of shy self-esteem – meaning it’s shy of healthy.
Q: What were you doing before this?
A: Oh, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been a janitor. I’ve been a burger flipper. I’ve been an electrician’s apprentice. I’ve been cheap construction labor. I’ve worked in a clothing store, a hotel. Been in all sorts of bands. Scuffled.
Q: So a whole slew of shit jobs.
A: Everybody in the working class – works. That ethic still hasn’t dissolved. But there was a real message inside that that I had to stop doing things that were taking energy away from what I felt would really fulfill me. So I had to organize my life.
Q: Are you a regimented person, is that how you work?
A: No. Look at me, I’m a mess! No now more than ever I have to regiment myself, which is very hard. My bunk is full of shit. I never sleep in my bunk, I just pack it full of shit. But I do feel that regimented people do better work, longer.
Q: I have your solo ep and I saw you at the Sinee and I’ve also seen you with the band. Do you have a preference?
A: They are both different. Different disciplines. Different things are possible. I’m able to move from place to place quicker, to more extreme places dynamically and material-wise – when I’m alone. Because it’s just me. But I prefer the band situation. I prefer the relationship. Music is meant to be that way. It’s meant to be interdependent. It all sort of happened backwards for me in a way. I was playing solo in order to find the right band. But before that happened I got signed. But I was still staving off working on anything until I found the band. So I would go to the label and say, “oh yeah, I’ve got these great guys” – but they didn’t exist. I didn’t want the label to pick a band for me and I sure as hell didn’t want any session players, because then it would just be dead. I wanted a band that would last and eventually form a creative organism. Because that’s what a band should be. That’s what bands are for.
Q: How did you eventually find them?
A: Mick, the bass player came to a show and he was attracted and that was the first. Michael, was the last to join. We’d been friends for three years or so and he’d seem most of my shows and he knew where I was coming from. And Matt met with Mick and I one night and we played as a trio and immediately came up with music – the music for “Dream Brother”. So I asked them all, please stay through this album and then, if you want to stay, stay. And they did.
Q: Are there any other bands right now that you’re drawn to? That you feel are doing something interesting or innovative?
A: Yes, The Grifters are the real thing. A band people should listen to. I met them once and immediately fell in love with them. The Dambuilders are also great – it was a total epiphany when I met that band. Shudder to Think, definitely a band to listen to. The Melvins. Those are bands I feel are real positive forces. Helium are great. This is the thing – if you ask any music journalist expert guy he’ll tell you – “it’s all bankrupt. There’s nothing out there.” But it’s not true. There is a tremendous amount of soul in America, there are great bands. But it’s all underground. You ain’t gonna find it if you expect MTV to feed it to you. Now is the time to go out and get music for yourself. And those bands I just mentioned are the types of people you’ll find and they are fierce! Serious songwriters, writing great songs. The quality is in their sense of melody and their sense of the impact and sound and lyrics. It’s really a ballsy thing to be a melodic artist rather than just having some writing that you sing over. It’s hard to explain why certain music is good. It’s something that gets inside you, uncomplicated, direct, romantic, and melodic. The way the words get into you.
Q: You’re describing your own music in a way.
A: I try. My favorite kind of music is the stuff that stops time. You put something on to sit there and let an experience go through you. The process is not something to glaze over. You constantly draw attention to yourself as a songwriter. It’s a very scary thing to illustrate. To look at yourself clearly through a song. It’s true of all art, all mediums, but for some reason music has a direct line straight into people.
Q: Favorite book, favorite film?
A: I don’t read half as much as I should. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I mean, anything about rootless family life gets to me. Geek Love is about the family and a little about the evils of evangelism through the character of Arturo. But mostly, it’s about family. And as far as films – anything by Elia Kazan. I like cinematic art that is doesn’t have to include violence as the main meat of emotion. Now, excellence in cinema is based on murder, guns. Tarantino bores me. Even though he is very appealing and very facile about putting elements of pop culture into his work. But it kinds of dates it, right? I like East of Eden, Cinema Paradiso, Last Tango in Paris. It takes a real artist to do films like that and not rely on a 45 Magnum to create action. Boring. I like My Own Private Idaho. Despite Keanu.
Q: Did you play a large part in the making of your video?
A: Yes, I got two friends – Mary who takes all the pictures – to do home movies in Brooklyn. And my friend John, who directs plays – to direct. They got it. I didn’t have enough time though. I never have enough time to do anything right. But it will be different next year.
Q: What are you doing next year?
A: I’m going to disappear. Disappear until I come back with ample material.
Q: Are you going to record in Bearsville again?
A: Never. $2000 a day? Fuck that shit.
Q: How was it working with Andy Wallace?
A: That part was good. But I don’t know, I think just by judging at the way the last two songs we’ve recorded sound – we can get the sound ourselves. I can produce it myself. All we need is an engineer. Bearsville was beautiful, we stayed in cabins. The town itself is sleepy, friendly. A lot of reggae shows and young white hippies – all Birkenstock quasi-dread noseringed collegiate potcuppers. It’s a friendly community, but me being a New Yorker – I went insane having nothing to do in my little cabin. The axe murderer cabin I was staying in. The “writer’s cabin” which for some reason had cable TV. Wrong thing to put in a writer’s cabin. But the studios themselves are really good and easy to work in and beautiful. But next time? When and where – I won’t tell a soul. I’ll just show up with the master tapes and say “yup. It’s done, we made it. It’s great.” I’d really love to sneak away and do it that way.
Q: What’s next?
A: To Europe for a tour, but first to New York to shoot yet another video. One thing that I’m kind of disturbed at is actually being on the television, acting, being in something that’s mainstream. And having that whole pirate article in People Magazine (Ed. Buckley was listed as one of the “100 Most Beautiful People”). They didn’t even ask me. It’s cheesy and crappy and I hate it. There are some people on that list who are just unproductive mannequins. And it caters to a certain type of person. Really, a large part of their readership wouldn’t usually have anything to do with me – so fuck them. People Magazine is dirty and cheap and shallow.
Q: Has that article attracted any obsessive fans?
A: You’re joking, but that’s actually happened! There are a few religious fanatics that correlate the songs and the lyrics to passages in the Bible. They just write me incessantly though and have yet to show up with a weapon or anything. Knock on Formica.
Q: Do you consider yourself to be religious?
A: Yes. But I don’t believe in any human organization of God. It just doesn’t work.
Q: You’re spiritual.
A: I don’t know anyone who isn’t.