Listen to this track by Vancouver-based folk-soul proponent Buckman Coe, AKA singer-songwriter Rick Buckman. It’s “Give Up The Fright” as taken from his debut LP Latest Waking released in March.
The record centralizes Buckman’s interests in classic singer-songwriter traditions across the pop music spectrum, evoking the spirits of Jeff Buckley, and Nina Simone. To my ears, his music also presents a nod to the legacy of John Barleycorn Must Die-era Traffic, and Blind Faith in “Can’t Find My Way Home” mode, too. Based on this, if you’re a regular to this blog of mine, you might be able to tell why this song caught my attention.
After being approached by his promotions company, I spoke with Rick about songwriting, his involvement in the local music scene, and in his first experience in the dreaded music business …
The Delete Bin: First of all, thanks for talking to me, Rick.
Rick Buckman: Thanks for the opportunity man!
DB: Let’s talk about your sound. The mixing of genres is a challenging thing to do while maintaining one’s own voice as an artist, it seems to me. How do you strike a balance between pulling from those artists that inspire you, and the effort to find yourself as an artist?
RB: Freeing oneself from the constraints of any definition, will enhance you as an artist. I have always just played what felt right and created the emotion or mood I wanted. My songs have often emerged from a feeling and groove, and usually bear some resemblance to several genres at a time. Sometimes I draw from genres I don’t even listen to at all, like country! I have no inclination to listen to country but the feeling of old country songs can have an incredible amount of soul.
The artists that have most inspired me have themselves crossed genres and created something new and familiar at the same time. For instance, Nina Simone’s jazz-classical crossover in Love Me or Leave Me was probably the first such cross-over, and arguably the grooviest. The idea of melding genres offers unlimited variations and my lack of formal schooling has often resulted in me creating my own interpretations. I have always defied categorization anyway, and really people have no idea where I am even from – I could be from anywhere.
I draw from my influences in a musical sense but also in terms of their spirit and what they stood for. I love the suffering strength of Nina Simone, the spiritual conviction of Bob Marley, the jester in John Lennon, and the angelic quality of Jeff Buckley. I am not particularly like any of them, but I believe this world needs to feel their presence in some way. As long as I’m capable of channelling these icons or archetypes in way that clarifies my vision, I’m open. As long as the music I create can carry the stories I want to tell, and I can fully step into the theatre of performing my songs, then I must trust that I am on the right path and in balance.
DB: You’re a graduate of ecopsychology and clinical counseling. Yet “Give Up the Fright” doesn’t seem to be polemical or academic. Is this something you consciously avoided when you sat down to write it, and other songs?
RB: As soon as things get too philosophical and academic, people go right to their heads. I don’t just want to engage people in their heads, I want to connect with them on a more emotional level. In the way you could see a foreign film and feel what the actors are going through though you have no clue what’s going on. Once I can tap into universal shared experiences, then the lyrics will have roots from which they can draw life.
In my songwriting I tend to create stories based on the common twists and turns I see in our lives. I blend a bit of autobiography with fiction in order to convey a feeling or idea, and I use plenty of lyrical imagery and metaphor. “Give Up the Fright” is about the unconditional acceptance of both light and dark aspects of one’s lover, but singing about this ideal of Love has a much greater impact on people when they can relate to the emotional tone the lyrics create. I compose like this because it feels good and makes the song richer.
DB: The record was made in your apartment, with a batch of songs that you had worked on while in school in Colorado. And you’ve recorded in stairwells for natural reverb on occasion, too. How important is the informality of these situations to how the songs come out?
RB: It’s wonderful being able to record and mix at home! I can enter into the world of sound at any time day or night. I can experiment and try different approaches – like going into the stairwell with a couple mics at 3am – and not be locked into something done at the studio. It makes for a very personal journey that really suits this album. In a way these songs are like an invitation into my apartment for dinner and music, which does happen quite a bit actually. I’m a big fan of hanging out and jamming, and the most intimate performances of my songs have often been in such informal gatherings. I like how these songs were produced in a way that captures that feeling of being home.
DB: Soul music and folk music are often thought of as being entirely separate, and yet I hear traces of both in your music. Where do you think this false dichotomy of the two traditions comes from?
RB: Perhaps it’s a cultural and historical thing. Folk could be considered as having it’s roots in Europe and Soul has African American roots. But to me they can be very similar because they are often the music that speaks to people’s actual experiences and people are essentially the same. But we forget this and we also tend to forget how intertwined our histories are. Music is just a part of that and it evolves, too. Folk, bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, soul, and rock & roll all influenced each other throughout the 20th Century.
People feel more secure, however, when we have categories to help make sense of the world so we create false dichotomies all the time, it’s what we tend to do. Playing with the streams of different traditions and finding the common ground between them moves our cultures closer together. We should maintain the traditional roots, definitely, but this years fruits are always on the branches we’ve grown.
DB: In terms of the local music scene, and the recession that makes for a more competitive landscape, is there still a sense of community among local musicians vying for an audience?
RB: There is a good community of artists in Vancouver, and I don’t feel we’re competing for audiences because of the recession. We’re competing because so many folks are putting on good shows and Vancouver isn’t that big of a city. There’s a small degree of separation between people involved in the cultural scene here, but our artists and our community, in general, could still benefit by working more closely together, sharing resources and supporting each others efforts.
I always want to see more cross-pollination, and I try to do my part collaborating on shows, and bringing together different artists from different groups of people. Vancouver is developing a good ethic around this, and I think it’s getting better and better, and can make us resilient to recession.
DB: You’re a practitioner of yoga as well as being a musician. How does this contrast your involvement in the notoriously un-Zen nature of the music business?
RB: Yoga is about union and balance, and is a discipline that involves the mind, the body, art and sound, and is about creating harmony. It is especially important for musicians who have to ground themselves after the highs of performing and and have to keep their wits about them to make it in the business. I admire artists who are making it out there and have sustained long careers by practicing very yoga-like ideals – namely that of steadfast focus and dedication, maintaining their health, keeping their ego in check, and probably being slightly detached from the ridiculous aspects of the industry.
Since the music industry can be so un-Zen, it’s all the more reason for musicians to be more Zen. And, now more than ever, we can shape the business culture as the old paradigms of the music industry crumble. I am very inspired by artists such as Michael Franti, for instance, who fully embraces his role as yogi musician and encourages a more conscious and compassionate world. For me, it’s all about artists choosing positivity and using their art to elevate awareness and happiness, and thereby direct the trajectory of our history.
DB: Thanks again for talking to me, Rick!
RB: Thanks Rob for the great questions!
Buckman Coe is performing upcoming dates in the Vancouver area:
5/27 – Café Montmarte – Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
6/18 – Rhizome – Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
7/30 – Komasket Festival, Vernon, British Columbia, CA
8/20 – Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
In the meantime, to hear more music, check out Buckman Coe on MySpace. Ans be sure to visit Buckmancoe.com, too.
[disclosure: I’ve been put on the guest list for the show on the 27th – really looking forward to it!]