Reno, Nevada, is known for a lot of things — bright lights, desert-scapes, nickel slots — but a hotbed of indie music it is not. Until now. According to some, the Biggest Little City in the World is experiencing a musical renaissance of sorts. And at the helm of the movement is none other than Buster Blue. The two-year-old quintet is a quirky amalgamation of multitiered instrumentation, bold four-part harmonies, and a live show that borders on the theatrical. When the band cruised through town last month, they brought with them an arsenal of head-turning gear, including accordion, sax, and a whole lot of heavy chains and buckets. Still, these five are greater than the sum of their parts, and the proof is in the recordings. On their debut full-length, When the Silver’s Gone, the band dishes up dirge-like anthems, dusty folk stompers, and raucous gypsy-punk-meets-country-rock-outs that truly place them in a category all their own. The band rolls back through town this Saturday for a return engagement at Muddy Waters. Below, guitarist/trombonist Andrew Martin talks haunted recording sessions, crazy travels, and the changing face of the Reno music scene.
How did you guys all meet? We actually all grew up in the same town a little south of Reno called Gardnerville. We all went to the same high school at one point. Bryan [Jones] and Jay [Escamillo] were playing in coffee shops, stealing their neighbors’ pots and pans and using them as drum sets because they couldn’t afford one, then Bryan wanted to play bigger shows and was writing music that needed more instruments on it. He knew us from school, so I joined the band and started contributing, then Rachel [McElhiney] joined the band, and we had a couple of different bass players before Brendon [Lund], who we found when we all moved to Reno for school.
What’s the music scene like in Reno? In the last couple years, it’s actually been blossoming. There was a lull for a while with the same group of people doing the same type of music over and over again. There have been some pretty good venues opening up, which actually allows bands to stay in town and grow. Four years ago, or even two years ago, it was like, “Okay, here’s the band; now we need to get the hell out of Reno so we can do something with it.”
Tell me a bit about recording When the Silver’s Gone. We recorded in this haunted opera house in Virginia City called the Piper’s Opera House last January. We recorded it in four days, and we were almost snowed in, and we stayed at this hotel across the street called the Silver Queen, which has its own aura about it. Lots of haunted stories and things like that. It really set the tone for the session; even though it was a darker vibe, it brought a good vibe to the album.
Do you have any ghost stories from your stay? The piano tuner at the opera house made us say goodnight to the room every time we left. He told us stories about the Silver Queen and how people would see or hear people walking down the halls and they’d jiggle the handles to the doors but no one would be there. … It was definitely that kind of vibe the whole time we were there.
Where did the album title come from? For us, the songs really tell a story about losing a loved one, leaving home, dying, but around that, there’s this hopeful vibe to it. We didn’t know what to do, and Brendon came up with this idea of being around the mines when the silver’s gone. To me, it’s kind of a message about Virginia City; when the silver’s gone, when any kind of good thing or sparkle is gone, what’s going to happen next? I think that’s a pretty good representation of the album.
You guys have been touring like crazy. Any good tales from the road? So many. [Laughs.] We had a 20-hour van ride back from Seattle. We had the bright idea to go up there during the winter and tried to drive over the passes at midnight. Lots of strapping on of chains and things. We have a lot of horror stories involving tire chains, but I guess every touring band has those.
Buster Blue plays an all-ages show at Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) this Saturday, December 3, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 966-9328 or visit busterblue.com for info.