Interview: Avi Buffalo
It wasn’t too long ago that Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg was rolling out of bed and showing up late for zero period jazz band, sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed after staying out and playing a show until 1 a.m.
It has only been a quick couple years since then, and he’s still not that far removed from the sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed teen of yore, but the difference now is that Zahner-Isenberg is in a band signed to Sub Pop Records and wrapping up his first headlining tour with the aforementioned band, Avi Buffalo.
The transition from playing any and every bill they could get on in their hometown of Long Beach, Calif., to playing national dates at major festivals hasn’t been entirely flawless but it has certainly provided the Southern California quartet with a lot of perspective, which is something not many newly postpubescent indie rock acts can lay claim to.
“I started the whole ‘gonna play a bunch of shows’ thing,” Zahner-Isenberg said of the band’s initial mentality. “We didn’t really leave town…or didn’t really want to.”
And while hindsight is 20/20 and he said that perhaps they were a bit too eager to perform, Zahner-Isenberg still insists that it was the band’s persistence and presence that put them on the radar.
“I don’t regret playing as many shows as we did in L.A. because it was really good for our experience. We never said no to the gig,” he said. “[And] that’s kind of what catapulted us into this.”
And what exactly is “this”?
Well, first producer Aaron Embry came knocking on the band’s proverbial door, which led to legitimate recordings, which led to the band posting said recordings on MySpace, which led to record labels eager to sign the group. And Zahner-Isenberg, while by no means a veteran, knew that to make the music thing work, he’d have to pick a label that let him do what he wanted to do, which is how Avi Buffalo came to the decision to sign with Sub Pop.
And finally in April of this year came the release of the self-titled full-length, which features ten tracks that are soft and warm and full of fuzzy hooks that hearken back to the impetuous innocence and splendor of youth.
As for life on the road as a touring band, Avi Buffalo has not only seen a lot of the world, but has also begun to figure out its place in it, its members having been put to the ultimate test of life on the road together.
“We’ve been through a lot of stuff. This tour has shed a lot of light on some new things,” Zahner-Isenberg said. “We were kind of on like a death trip of grinding against the machine kind of thing, and we didn’t know how to get out.”
But he insists that experiencing it all together has “brought a whole different, much more positive dynamic” to the band. Still, there are downsides to continual touring.
“It makes me kind of sad because you don’t see every place or every person that you want to for very long,” he said with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “But it’s really nice. You get the little sample of everywhere you go, whether you’re there for a couple hours or two days.”
Considering that the first album was born out of multiple years of songwriting, it will be interesting to see what happens with the second one, which Zahner-Isenberg will begin writing as soon as the current tour wraps up in a couple weeks.
His initial reservations about writing a follow-up were a lack of material and a lack of time. But as it draws closer, he insisted he’s been able to alleviate both of those fears by focusing on the fact that the two albums are coming from different times, places and experiences, and more importantly, that it’s a good thing.
“There’s kind of a nice range that we have on the record,” he said, referencing the first album. “It naturally is different.”
Admittedly, the biggest challenge he faces on the sophomore album will be striking a fragile balance between capturing the essence of the band’s sound without sacrificing it for the sake of technology. It’s a struggle which he referred to as the phenomenon of the sterile studio.
“[Working with Aaron was the] gateway into making a hi-fi record,” Zahner-Isenberg said. “That kind of changed the whole thing for me, because I was recording before with a computer microphone.”
But it’s a challenge that the band willingly accepts, which is really all too apropos, as its members straddle the threshold between an adolescent garage band and the real deal. And while Avi Buffalo is definitely the real deal, it has an advantage of being young and aware of just how refreshingly honest its music is.
“Now I’m in a place of wanting to record myself [and you] can’t go back after this kind of sound quality,” Zahner-Isenberg said. “I’m excited to find the balance between…that kind of sound quality that you get even though you sacrifice vibe.”