Q&A with Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg of Avi Buffalo; Playing with Rogue Wave at The Loft, March 8

By Jhoni Jackson

Avi Buffalo’s bright, melodic indie-pop is making huge waves that rival those of their native Long Beach, and even their musical peers – most of whom are well beyond Avi Buffalo’s age. Though youth may limit their experience, you’d never know listening to their pre-album teasers. “What’s in It For?” boasts a catchy melody so sticky with psych-pop references its chorus will loop in your head for days.

Just a week into their first proper tour, this four-piece is poised to shake indie rock’s ageist culture out of complacency with their April 27 eponymous release on Sub-Pop. We spoke with frontman Avi as the band made their way to Philadelphia, and he was looking forward to his first Atlanta visit. Catch them at the Loft this Monday with Rogue Wave – when they’re headlining a sold-out show at Variety Playhouse on their next tour, you’ll be proud to say you saw them first.

I know this is a nagging theme, but you guys are all really young.


I think it’s actually a relevant topic though, because bands this young aren’t usually this good or authentic sounding.

Thank you so much for that. That’s really wonderful to hear. We are still very young musically. There’s a lot to be done.

So did everyone who was still in school graduate yet?

Our drummer is in her senior year, and she’s taking packets out on the road with her, so she’s almost done with it. Our oldest member is 21, he’s been graduated for a while. He even went to college for a bit but dropped out because we’re too busy.

This tour isn’t too long though, and you get a break at the end of March, right?

Yeah, looks like we might get a little time to go back home, but we might stay out somewhere. They want us to film a music video at some point in there, so we’re going to try to like figure that out in that time. And then we’ll go back out with Japandroids for another month. It looks like we’re going to Europe for all of May too. Busy stuff. It’s crazy; we have never done a real tour like that, so it’s really interesting to be figuring out what it’s like to be out this long.

It definitely takes some getting used to. I read on your blog about Sheridan throwing up and Rebecca feeling sick too.

I threw up the first day too. Everyone gets sick on tour. I went on the tour a little bit sick already, I had an ear infection, sinus infection. I had been battling that. I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. I still have it a little but I’m feeling good otherwise. But we’ve all been sick pretty much. Usually when you’re on tour you get a little bit of a tour sickness, just from moving and not sleeping all the time. It’s kind of a bummer, but we are trying our best.

That’s all you can do, really. You’ll be in Atlanta Monday – have you visited here before?

No, I haven’t ever before. I’m excited, should be a crazy time. What do you think about Atlanta?

I grew up here, I love Atlanta. You probably have to leave the city pretty quickly though, right?

Yeah, that’s how it goes. Do you have any recommendations for food anywhere?

Well, I read your first show was at a vegan restaurant. Is anyone vegan?

Sheridan’s vegetarian. We’d love to eat vegan.

Soul V off North Highland is good, or you can try the McDonald’s of sushi – Ru San’s. They have a great vegetarian menu.

Both of those sound awesome. I think we’ll probably check out the Soul V place.

Awesome. This part of the tour is with Rogue Wave, how do you feel about being paired up with them?

We were totally excited and down, so here we are … I’m very excited for the Japandroids tour though, I really like their stuff a lot. They’re really cool dudes too. I feel like we are kind of weird mix. Maybe we’re not to other people, but personally I feel like it’s kind of hard because we can sound very poppy or folky and I kind of want to try to do that, but at the same time have a twist in there that makes it seem like something else. Really it’s just about how we play and feel about ourselves and that’s what matters out there.

I read you like a lot of blues and even reggae, Augustus Pablo in particular.

I like everything; I like all kinds of music. We stayed at our lawyer’s house in New Jersey, and he has a humungous record collection. We were burning CDs day and night from his collection. It’s really cool to have all those. I got some Bob Marley ‘70s remixes, but I also got a bunch of … soundscapes stuff, Beach Boys Pet Sounds sessions, Henry Cow … Captain Beefheart’s Mirror Man Sessions, Curtis Mayfield, Gram Parsons, a Grateful Dead box set … a bunch of Miles Davis, Robert Johnson – I have all of Robert Johnson’s recordings now. A roots and blues collection that’s a bunch of old 1925-1950 roots and blues music … a bunch of stuff.

That’s the biggest list I’ve ever heard rattled off in one response.

And that’s just what I burned today.

If that’s how broad your taste is, then so be it!

I mean, it’s way broader than that. That’s just a short list of what’s good – just a few things. The new Beach House record is really fantastic. They’re really amazing people and it’s wonderful music.

I think anyone who’s heard Beach House falls in love. Their show here for April has been sold out for weeks.

Oh yeah, absolutely. They’re kicking ass.

You guys are only on your third show of tour at this point. What can we expect for the show Monday?

We’re just going to try to do our best work and try to really escape into the music. Be the most in the zone we can be and try to tie the set together, and make every song and note count. And hopefully it will make it beautiful. Just try to be as beautiful and pretty as we can. Or something. It’s weird. We’ll see. We just have to listen to each other and lay back, and remember to listen and learn and stuff. I hope by the time we’re playing Atlanta well be feeling comfy.

I’m sure you’ll find your groove really soon. This is sort of silly, but your first and last name are so elaborate, I have to ask – what’s your middle name?

Benyamin. Like Benjamin but with a y instead of a j. The reason my last name is really long is because it’s hyphenated; my parents wanted to keep their last names when they married, so they gave my sister and I two huge last names. My friend made up in eighth grade, my friend Isaac said, “Oh, what if you were called Avi Buffalo as like a joke? What if I was Isaac Light and you were Avi Buffalo?” I thought Avi Buffalo sounded good, and when I was going into high school I wanted to have a cooler last name or something so I said my last name was Buffalo and that was an easy music alias to go by.

Ha ha. How excited are you guys for the April release of your debut?

Yeah! I’m stoked. It was a long time in the making. I started recording with Aaron Embry in late 2008 and then we recorded a bunch of stuff, kind of for fun, and then it became an album. We took a big break because he had a baby then we came back and finished it right before 2010. Most of the songs have been around for up to three years. One song was recorded on just a computer microphone by me and my friend … I’m stoked for it. It’s a very bright sounding record and there’s a lot of overdubs. I think it’s a bit overproduced and I want to scrape some of that down next time. I’ll have my own recording setup going and I’ll be able to simplify, clear the clutter and make something more dark and intense. I’m really excited for the future of recording music and writing music and doing new things.

The jam session videos you guys have been posting on Facebook are pretty spacey.

Yeah, and I just want to get more spacey. I have been really into the looping and stuff like that. I like doing live looping and I’d like to incorporate more of the soundscape things in the next record. Mix more of the songs with different sounds and new sounds and mix different mediums, like mix cassette tapes with Pro Tools, and have everything new and fresh.

So you think you’ll have a bigger hand in the production of the next album?

I am excited to be able to do overdubs in my bedroom again, and mix it in a way I can comfortably do it. The more I learn about Pro Tools and recorders and things I’m going to use for it, I’m definitely going to get a lot more involved with what happens. When you’re in a studio or anywhere but your own demo room or your own place where you do your own thing, it’s just different. It’s a little less comfortable when you’re by yourself – anything goes. The spontaneity with Aaron Embry is different than the one I get with myself. Just kind of being in your own little world. I hope to do that more.

When Pitchfork reviewed “What’s in It For?” the writer said it turned “self-absorption into an anthem for kids too spiritually and financially busted to invest in anything, least of all another person.” Does that ring true for you in terms of the song’s meaning?

There’s definitely an aspect of not wanting to invest in other people… that I relate to personally. But the music is what controls us and me and that’s the beast. There’s no way to understand it. You just have to listen, and if you like it you do, and if you don’t, you don’t. That’s just how it goes.

Avi Buffalo play The Loft with Rogue Wave Monday, March 8. Tickets are on sale at Ticket Alternative.


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