Frontman, songwriter and producer of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Tom Rees, goes full geek with John-Paul Davies on recording studio revelations and finally getting to play America.
Last time we spoke you were in the middle of recording your album while producing The Bug Club. How important is it for you to contribute to the development of other local artists on the Cardiff music scene?
Tom Rees: Oh, that’s a very polite, very kind way of putting it because more than anything I just enjoy working. I think our boomer parents kind of instilled this idea of hard work is best – you know, if you want to achieve your dreams, work hard. So I’ve got this inbuilt thing that I just love working, but more than anything, it’s just fun.
I’m really lucky to be in the sort of realm of work that I am, it’s just a fun job to have, so I can’t really complain. So I think the support, and all those elements, are just a byproduct of a very selfish reason: me wanting to have fun – it’s all about me! Whichever way you spin it, even when you think it’s about other people, it’s all about me.
The best way I can describe the production on the new album, Backhand Deals, is ‘clean’. Was that a deliberate move, to avoid any gimmickery but keep it radio friendly?
Yeah, I just always loved Steely Dan records. I always liked the old T. Rex stuff because they sounded filthy dirty. But, as I grew up, and [now] being a producer as well, you strive – well, I’m trying to strive – for the cleanest record possible. And from the perspective of recording it’s a really interesting thing. As I grow up, I’m more interested in pop sensibilities because I realise that 70s rock music was the pop of the day.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, another producer in Cardiff, and he was saying kids are crazy about recording to tape these days – you know, saturating stuff. But in the 70s, 80s and 90s, they weren’t trying to do that. They were trying to make it clean, only the fucking tape was stopping them from doing it!
We’re very obviously liable to be compared to 70s rock bands, so before we started making Backhand Deals, I thought it’s was really important to try and differentiate ourselves a little – try and bring it into the now. The most important thing people don’t realise about all historic bands, the Beatles or the Eagles or all these huge bands, is that they were using the technology that was available to them at that time and being revolutionary with that technology. Now there’s a tendency, perhaps, to look back – to use that technology because it made so many people famous, dude, or successful. When in actual fact we should be using the tools that we have now.
So that’s the aim of the record: the pursuit of me trying to get the cleanest record possible. Of course, I’m going to fail, because I’m not insane. But that’s an important part of it. Even with the cover of the record and all the stuff surrounding the record, we want to make it so now, so anti-70s, that it pulls the music along.
Then you’re taking musical inspiration from the technology you have now, just as those artists did back then?
Yeah, absolutely. [Otherwise] it’s just going to be trying to replicate sounds that you’ve already heard. I was watching a video where Justin Hawkins from The Darkness sais when you write a song, you’re just chasing the music – I’m sure loads of people say this. I think the pursuit is what creates music, and a sense of uniqueness in that music. If you know where you’re headed, being like, “oh, I just want to sound like this,” it’s not very fun and doesn’t really inspire that much creativity.
So is it deliberate to offset the 1970s vibe with 2022 production? Because that comes across in the lyrics as well, where you’re singing a beautiful melody against some pretty cutting words.
Yeah, for sure. It’s creating a contemporary reference point. Again, if it comes from a position of self-awareness – we know we’re ripping off 70s music in the songwriting, if we pair it with some contemporary referencing, then it helps again. People very easily pigeonhole you in one place. I’m a big fan of offering forced dichotomies: the song sounds really 70s, but I’ll try to make it as pop as possible just to throw people off the scent.
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard are seen by many as leading the charge for Welsh indie rock, does it feel that way to you?
No, not really. There’s so many great bands doing work in Wales at the moment. Like The Bug Club selling out rooms all over the country – England, Wales and Scotland. I think there’s a tendency for Wales to be quite a small pond, which is absolutely fine – it is, in comparison to the UK and the rest of the world. For that reason, if we as a band have some level of success, then it‘s easy to point and be like, ‘Oh, those guys are doing really well’.
I feel like we’re writing big stadium rock songs that people love and that’s great; we love every iota of the success we’ve had, and I love the perception that we’re leading things. But I think in terms of what people actually do to contribute to the scene in Cardiff, and Wales more broadly, there’s so many bands that are doing such a better job, quite frankly, than we are. There’s Bandicoot in Swansea; Adwaith are doing great things for the Welsh music scene. We’re just singing it all 70s.
But you know what I’m like – if people are gonna say, “hey man, you’re leading the charge,! I’m just gonna say “Yeah!”
Is there any pressure after the SXSW online gigs and being asked to open for Noel Gallagher in the Albert Hall for you to be the next big thing?
You probably hit the nail on the head there. I think there’s probably a 50/50 match of anxiety and excitement: I’m kind of getting over the pressure of the album being big now. More than anything, I feel really confident in the record that we’ve made, and it feels like a very personal record. It feels very honest about our perception of what our music should be – what we think music should be, more broadly. And it feels like it tells everything that we want to tell about the music industry, the sociopolitical landscape of the world today. I feel like it says a lot about us.
And I think that’s the most important thing; it doesn’t need to be a huge number, I feel like it just needs to be out there now. For us to feel like we’ve actually done some good work in putting it out into the world.
For you, what is the most unbelievable thing on the Buzzard schedule for 2022?
Just going to America. We’re doing [Austin showcase festival] SXSW next month, which, after it got pulled for the pandemic, I thought is never gonna happen again. I spent my whole time as a kid loving loads of American bands, like the Eagles and Glen Campbell and all these guys, the Beach Boys and stuff. I just always wanted to get out there too. I mean, it’s the home of pop culture and it’s just a home of ridiculousness… the home of everything going wrong as well. I just never thought we’d be doing that.
I’ve tried lately to be a bit more present and a bit more appreciative of the smaller things that are happening. Like having our own tour that people are actually buying tickets to. Just because I’ve been in so many bands before where we’ve got to the point where we’re supposed to be on our first tour, nobody’s bought tickets, and we thought, well, maybe we shouldn’t do this. So I just think having our own tour is amazing.
Backhand Deals is released on Communion Records on Fri 25 Feb
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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