Avi Zahner-Isenberg, the birth name of musician Avi Buffalo, has spent the last nine months composing and recording music in and around his hometown of Long Beach, California. By no means has he spent that time cooped-up in a studio. Instead, Buffalo’s been grinding away onstage as well as off with a constant stream of shows in the L.A./Orange County area with his new project, Litronix, which plays the Funzone in downtown Santa Barbara on Friday, April 22, along with a solo set by Buffalo. The Santa Barbara show is the only stop of Litronix’s mini-tour of the California coast with Avi Buffalo’s solo act on the bill, so it’s a special occasion.
Litronix started out as the solo project of singer, multi-instrumentalist, and beat-maker Kevin Litrow. Before Litronix, Litrow was a member of L.A.’s 60 Watt Kids, a surf pop-meets-Animal Collective-meets-Ty Segall psychedelic rock group, and Dance Disaster Movement, a brooding, fast-paced experimental EDM duo with post-punk overtones. Litronix is a much lighter, equally ’80s-influenced project incorporating layers of glowing synths with random vocal effects and Buffalo’s meandering guitar weaving a chaotic web of melody.
Buffalo expressed that he was always a big fan of Litrow’s music, and their partnership began two years ago. “I first started recording his music with my own recording equipment,” Buffalo said during a recent phone interview with The S.B. Independent, until the two hit it off musically, “and then we started finding other people to record us, and [produce] the new Litronix album together.” The resulting record, titled Pump the Gas, is set to be released “in the next three to four months is a reasonable guess,” according to Buffalo. Though Litronix was originally Litrow’s project, Buffalo was given free rein over the record’s production along with producer J.P. Bendzinski.
At times, the band made use of unusual combinations of instruments. After recording his music using RC 50 loop pedals, analog synthesizers, “a couple other devices, and strange ways of making sounds, beats, and loops,” Buffalo said, Litrow plays the recorded music “through two different amplifiers, a bass amp and a guitar amp, running his loops, his synthesizers, and his guitars through [them] and a PA system. Inherently, that’s how his songs are composed.”
Litrow’s songwriting process is different from Buffalo’s, which usually involves sitting down in front of a computer, recording a chord progression, and layering on whatever parts he sees fit. “So [Litrow] performed the songs live in the studio, and then me and the engineer and him brainstormed, ‘Okay, who can we find who can add more?’ So, let real drums on top of the electronic drums, or add other instruments, other effects … different vocals, harmonies, and layers, and separate frequencies so we can get more out of them.” Pump the Gas has more than 20 total side musicians, pretty much all from Southern California except one guitar player from Italy.
Avi Buffalo started focusing fulltime on Litronix after a falling out with his managers during his tour for his 2014 album, At Best Cuckold. He explained in a lengthy Facebook post that the years following his last two successful albums “caused a lot of pain and drained my creative energy.” Focusing so much on his solo career as Avi Buffalo limited him from working with a wide range of artists, experiencing romantic relationships, and “liv[ing] in one place at a time such as Los Angeles or New York or anywhere else with a large and exciting concentration of beautiful artists to work with and learn from every day.” Claiming he had “no time to be devoted to a sluggish incarnation of my teenage self,” Buffalo did not re-sign with Sub Pop Records after his two-album contract expired and declared his solo career officially over.
However, he is now in the process of writing his third full-length album as Avi Buffalo, though determining how and when it will be released is still far in the future, though not as far as his original estimation: “I will probably be 40 or 50 when that happens and extremely fat,” he said. So far he has “a tentative sequence” of about 14 songs, as well as a surplus of unreleased songs from his last album.
Buffalo said his frustrations were caused by inexperienced managers who he hired as he was finishing recording Cuckold. He said his disagreements with them “were more of a spiritual thing. They were very controlling, they wanted a lot to do with what I was performing, and I wouldn’t have that because I’m a very individualistic artist.” Since then, Buffalo has turned to self-management, which he said has introduced a few tedious activities into his work routine, like counting the amount CDs to take on tour.
Now that Avi Buffalo is free from managers who he felt tried to make him “fit into a pattern,” and “feel incapable or that there was too much on [my] plate and tell me that [I] can’t do things,” the singer has been able to cultivate an environment that helps him grow creatively, free from unwanted interference. He says this involves being around a lot of musicians, “being in a healthy, rested place. I feel like being stimulated by a lot of different music is what keeps me feeling I can write the best music that I can. If I’m learning a lot about music.” Learning from past mistakes, and moving forward regardless, seem to have solidified Avi Buffalo’s belief in his intuition, and hopefully continued success will continue to reinforce it.
Avi Buffalo and Litronix play Friday, April 22, at the Funzone. See facebook.com/funzonesantabarbara