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‘There is an inarticulate element in the US, that must reflect where we’re at right now in America and in the world, and I guess it must reflect where a lot of the listeners are at too.’
NEVER MIND THE BULLOCKS
In the wake of American rocksters like Buffalo Springﬁeld and Buffalo Tom, Grant Lee Buffalo are much more than just another bunch of bovine-labelled guitar-pickers tearing up US tradition. Buffalo Tom Lappin spoke to lead Buffalo GRANT LEE PHILLIPS.
on’t expect Nirvana-like screeches of not-so-teenage angst. Or Dinosaur J r-style freeform feedback workouts. Or even Evan Dando- esque slabs of whiney sappiness. Grant Lee Buffalo is a threesome that sits a mite uncomfortably among the hordes of trans-Atlantic guitar-thumpers currently colonising UK rock consumers. While slack locks and treny six-string abuse dominate the current US invasion. these three Californians and their reasonably sensible haircuts offer something infinitely more literate. and, you suspect. more lasting.
The healthy numbers of the initiated who snapped up the group’s debut album Fuzzy earlier this year will already be familiar with Grant Lee Buffalo’s facility with the sung word. Eleven tracks rich with tall tales. texture, imagery and metaphor testify to songwriter Grant Lee Phillips’s background in film school. There’s at least two songs here (‘Jupiter And Teardrop’. ‘Dixie Drug Store’) that. given a few less chord changes would serve as perfect movie treatments. of the ‘Quentin Tarantino meets John Huston and flirts with Fellini’ sort. The songs are the result of a couple of years working out a direction for the group after the members. Phillips. bassist Paul Kimble and drummer Joey Peters broke away from a dead-end band called. embarrassingly enough.
Shiva Burlesque. A one-off single for Bob Mould’s SOL label led to a deal with Slash Records and the release of the Fuzzy album. culminating in a series of live shows in the UK that have established the group as one of the most invigorating Stateside imports in recent history.
Grant Lee Buffalo sing about America in a way that some have dismissed as rootsy trad. others have lazily labelled ‘folk-grunge’. but in truth is an astute restructuring of familiar rock and country paths, exploiting the accessibility of their chosen form with style and invention. Comparisons range from Neil Young to REM and The Waterboys. and Phillips himself namechecks Michael Stipe. Johnny Marr and The Breeders as performers he admires. but Grant Lee Buffalo’s peculiarities are as important as their influences.
‘l have no embarrassment about being interested in traditions.’ says Phillips. ‘But that doesn’t mean I want to follow those traditions. I’m more interested in breaking them up and creating something else from the remnants, from the relics.’
The results are songs that are expressive in a way rarely found in conventional rock. Phillips’s lyrics deal mostly in subtle and complex emotions. and are allusive and evocative in a way that seems to be swimming against the tide of US grunge inarticulacy.
‘That’s the right word. inarticulacy.’ he says. ‘There is an inarticulate element in the US. that must reflect where we’re at right now in America and in the world, and I guess it must reﬂect where a lot of the listeners are at too. The question is. not “How do you say it?” but “What do you say?" When you turn on the television or pick up a paper and witness all
6 The List l9 November—2 December 1993