Many teens use music as a means to escape their troubles, but few are able to shape this concept into a career. Avi Buffalo became living proof of this notion’s attainability back in 2012. The brainchild-cum-band of Los Angeles singer/songwriter Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg was signed to Sub Pop well before its members had even finished high school. Post-graduation, the band’s members celebrated with a brief stint in Europe, where they played festival stages at Reading, Leeds, and Glastonbury in support of their stunning self-titled debut album. At the time, the record was well received by NME, Filter, and the AV Club — and their new album, At Best Cuckold, is no sophomore slump.
The band will hit Santa Barbara’s SOhO this week on the last stretch of its worldwide tour behind Cuckold. In anticipation, we caught up with Zahner-Isenberg to chat about touring disasters, lyrical inspiration, and how to sum up life in an album.
What have been the best and worst parts of your tour so far? The best parts have pretty easily been the shows. Last night we had a really good sound guy, and there have been some radio sets that have been really fun. The shows on this tour have been the best we’ve ever done.
The worst part of the tour has been our van getting ransacked. Some people broke in and stole some gear. It sucked, but it also was a learning experience. We borrowed some gear and learned how to be better on the fly as a result. We didn’t lose everything, but I lost a pedal board I’d spent years curating and two of the guitars that we’d been playing the whole tour with. It’s interesting, because the guitars that were stolen are actually on either side of the new album’s cover. But screw it. Music’s in you, not in what you’re using.
Sounds like good inspiration at least. What are your songwriting methods? Do you typically write music or lyrics first? I usually write lyrics after the music. I often use recording as a way to write; I’ll play the music and mumble syllables until I find something I like. I had a great jazz band teacher in middle school who always said that improvised music should sound written and written music should sound improvised.
Was the process different on this album than on your previous album? I write songs the same way I always have. That’s the security of the project — I write and write and write until I have enough to choose from. I wait for life to happen, for shit to disturb me or excite me, and then I write about it. I collect as many songs as I can and record them as best as I can. Once I have enough, I put it together into an album. … The only thing that changes drastically between albums is what kind of music I’m listening to at the time and who I’m playing with — the natural musical influences. I really want to up the ante on my practice and start playing for hours every day, like I did when I first started. That increased amount of practice, combined with the amount of shows we are playing, is going to really influence my future music.
Do you have an overarching theme for your albums at all? The songs are all interconnected, but not intentionally. I believe that summing up my life in an album that way is simple and complex enough. This new album is primarily about growing up and relationships, mostly, but it wasn’t intentional. Those are both really simple, basic things, but under those umbrellas are a lot of subjects and a lot of dynamics. All these themes get tied together: music, relationships, life, getting older, dealing with yourself.
Avi Buffalo plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, December 3, at 9 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for more information.