The ‘Roots’ of Rock:an Interview with Vince Dewald (Buxter Hoot ‘n)

Vince Dewald (center) with his band Buxter Hoot ‘n have received lavish praise from the press for their ‘Americana’ folk-rock sound. Photo courtesy of The Official Buxter Hoot’n website.

The San Francisco ‘roots rockers’ Buxter Hoot’n have a new EP coming out on September 4: “Na Na Na.” The six song track list is as follows:

1. Na Na Na
2. Kids Those Days
3. Fake Heart Attack
4. Haunted House
5. Hung Up
6. Better Way

Since appearing on the Bay area music scene several years ago, they have quickly become the darlings of the music press.  The Bay Guardian calls them  “a glimpse into the future of San Francisco’s slightly psychedelic songwriting scene” while Relix describes them as “one of the great American bands today.”

Led by brothers Vince and Jim Dewald, this Bay area, indie-Americana rock outfit have applied a fresh approach to their Midwest roots.   With elements of psychedelia and progressive rock added to its moody & atmospheric depth, the record’s stark and poetic themes-yet overall innocence-mark a dramatic and creative leap from the band’s previous efforts.

Returning to a Chicago studio, not far from the brothers’ hometown of Mishawaka, Indiana, to again work with Grammy-nominated producer Greg Magers, Buxter Hoot’n has emerged with a higher level of dense, emotionally resonant music in its latest blend of blues, rock and Americana. Na Na Na is another showcase for the band’s superb musicianship and an innovative approach to its original mandate of honoring its Midwestern roots and America’s storytelling traditions with an edgier brand of rock ’n’ roll.

2012 marks the band’s seventh year together with its original lineup intact: dual vocalists Vince Dewald and Melissa Merrill, bassist Jim Dewald, fiddler-guitarist Ben Andrews, and drummer Jeremy Shanok. The band made its NPR live performance debut earlier this year on the nationally syndicated Sedge Thompson’s West Coast Live.

The band’s 2011 self-titled album was a milestone for them. Propelled by the single, “Blue Night,” Buxter Hoot’ n the album, landed in many featured album, artist categories and charts on the Indie Rock scene, with airplay on over 200 radio stations nationwide.

Enjoying a spot of tea in his kitchen, on a cool & slightly breezing afternoon in San Francisco, Vince Dewald had this to say to The Los Angeles Beat:

Tell our readers a bit about your upcoming EP “Na Na Na” and when the exact date for its release will be. On your official website it has its release date as both August 17 and September 4.  

Well, August 17 is the actual release show in San Francisco, and September 4 will be the official release date as far as downloads and people ordering them online and what not.

What is it about the song “Kids Those Days” that made it the choice for the first single to be released from the EP?

It has kind of a freshness to it. Also, we plan on doing multiple videos for the EP and that was one.  We were in the studio, and were collecting a lot of footage of the band:trying to catalog the session and what not. We didn’t exactly know what we were gonna do with it all. In the end, we were on the road playing shows and recording in Chicago.  With all the footage we’d collected we were like: “Well, with ‘Kids Those Days’ the themes are very entwined between them:just being out on the road, doing what we do.” So we ended up using that footage for the video. We thought it was a good video to combine two projects with.

Your 2011 song and video for “Night Blue” was filmed and directed by Henry Alfonso Navarro. It’s a very striking video. Can you tell our readers about the making of it.

It was all very spontaneous. We had a couple of basic ideas, and Henry was very involved in the creative decisions as far as filming it on Market Street in San Francisco. Basically it all worked out, because there was a very striking ‘blue’ night that evening in San Francisco;there’s absolutely no special effects added to that video.  It just worked well as we filmed that downtown.  Then we filmed the rest of that video at Radical Sounds studios, where a good friend of ours is a producer.

Now, your current hometown is San Francisco, but I’m told that your band actually hail from Indiana. Can you tell our readers about where and how the band actually started?

As I’d mentioned before, my brother is also in the band, and we’ve been playing together for a long time and we’re from Indiana:Mishawaka.  So we started playing music and writing songs back in high school, in bands and what not. So we wanted a change of scene and we ended up out here in San Francisco.

Then in 2006 we met Jeremy and Ben, and we started jamming and playing some songs, and soon enough we had a repertoire together of original material, and we’ve been playing together ever since.  Then about a year later we met Melissa.

It’s (San Francisco) a good place to end up! 

Yeah! Everybody in the band is a transplant:Jim and myself are from Indiana, while Ben, Jeremy and Melissa are all from the East coast.  We all kinda gravitated out here at about the same time too, so it was a kinda…

Kismet!

Yeah, just a nice thing.

Where does the band’s name come from? That’s a striking name you won’t forget, lol.

It actually comes from something our grandfather-me and Jim’s-used to say when we’d get in his car.  As kids, we would get in his car, and we’d ask him “Where are we going?” and he’d say “We’re going to Buxter Hoot’n!”  It was just a made up name, but we always equated it with some mystical place where anything is possible. That is the aesthetic of what we try to do with our music:create that kind of environment.

Your band has received, in the scant seven years it’s been together, serious praise from various publications. Relix magazine has described it as “one of the great American bands today”and Dirty Impound is quoted as saying: “They are guardians of what Gram Parsons famously termed ‘Cosmic American’ Music.”  How do you feel about those assessments of your band?

It’s always good to hear that people understand where we’re coming from, and that they like what we do.  I think that we definitely come from a ‘rooted’ Americana kind of thing as far as the Graham Parsons quote.  The music started very songwriter-oriented as far as stripping things down, and it evolved into our own little sound.  It still has that ‘rooted’ quality, but I think it’s evolving into a genre that we hope is more uniquely our own.

What is your assessment/feelings of this statement from the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Buxter Hoot ‘n are the future of San Francisco’s songwriting scene.” 

I think that quote is an informed quote, as far as what was happening in the underground scene in San Francisco at the time.  A lot of writers for the Bay Guardian are in bands even.  You’re inspired by the artists around you, with everybody seeing a friend’s show and feeding off ideas from each other.  So maybe the writer who heard our album heard a mixing/merging of a lot of things that are going on, and she felt that what we do kind of reflects that.

That’s always kind of the goal, in a way: have an audience of and people who inspire you and try to be a voice to that.  We’ve always tried to be a voice to San Francisco’s sound and its aesthetic: its social aesthetic and its musical aesthetic.  It’s something we understand.

Your band’s sound has been described as various things:folk-rock, Americana, cosmic American, even bay-area psychedelic. How would you describe your band’s sound/genre?

It’s been tough to categorize in a lot of respects. I think the name kind of lends itself to an Americana aesthetic.  When people hear the name “Buxter Hoot’n” they think of Americana or even acoustic music, so that’s definitely a part of what we do.

However, we also strive for a more ‘rock’ edge in the music, as opposed to going the Blues-rock or Country route.  From our ‘Americana’ we’ve always tried to gear it toward a rock band. In that respect it’s not just a straight-ahead rock.  We have a lot of elements such as violin, vocal harmony, male and female vocals, kind of intricate songs and arrangements, and the musicians are all incredible.  As a songwriter, I have a lot of liberty to be creative because I know that whatever I come up with the band will be able to work with it and hopefully make it better.

You’ve got a wide palette to paint from, don’t you, Vince?

Exactly!   With all that being said, I’ve never liked to categorize ourselves. We’ve always tried to make it a pin-pointed kind of vision.  We don’t just scatter all over the place, dropping in things unnecessarily.  It’s always from the standpoint of writing a great song.

For someone who had never heard of your band, never heard any of its music, never read any of the press release assessments of it, what would be the first/primary thing that you would want them to know about it?

Well, one is that the songwriting is…we…everybody in the band is a writer, to an extent.  Our songs are all about the structure themselves:about the songs and the story time.  I want people to know right away it’s authentic and we write songs that we believe in.  A lot of folks say it’s real and raw:kind of gritty.

That being said, it’s still musical, soulful music. We’re lucky enough to be working with people who are talented enough to really be able to add beautiful ‘colors’ to it. The male and female harmonizing is a really important element to what we do.

Your band are currently an ‘Indie’ band. Do you foresee it signing with a major label in the near future, or would you prefer to remain an ‘Indie’ band?

We’ve talked back and forth with certain people, and if the opportunity came along we’d be more than happy to sign with a label.  It’s not like we are going out of our way to remain “indie.”  At the moment, we wouldn’t just jump at any opportunity.  It would have to be a label that could really help us out; something decently big.  Yes, we’re very open to that possibility, for sure.

Where would you like to see this band in ten years time?

That’s a tough one.  Ultimately, our goal is to have a sustainable life on the road, where we can be making enough money to be making a decent living.  We’ve been touring a lot over the last five years, and we’re actually kind of taking time now to branch out and re-collect;get a little more creative.  We’re working on video projects, and Jim and I are gonna be scoring a film here coming up, as well as other little music projects we’re working on.  It’s a really creative time for us right now, as a collective.  We’re branching out after what we’ve done with Buxter Hoot’n, giving us opportunities to be developing as artists.  In ten years from now I’m not sure where we’re gonna be; hopefully in a sustainable situation where the music allows for our lifestyle to be artistic…and to continue.

Photo courtesy of The Official Buxter Hoot ‘n Website

Shirley Pena

About Shirley Pena

A native of Southern California, Shirley Pena began her career as a music journalist over a decade ago, writing for her websites "Stars In My Eyes:the Girlhowdy Website" and "La Raza Rock!" and progressed to creating various fan sites on Yahoo, including the first for New Zealand singer/songwriter Tim Finn. From there, she became a free agent, arranging online interviews for Yahoo fan clubs with various music artists (Andy White, John Crawford, Debora Iyall, John Easdale, etc.). She also lent her support in creating and moderating a number of Yahoo fan clubs for various music artists from the 1990s-today. As a music journalist, Shirley Pena has contributed to a number of magazines (both hard copy and online), among them:Goldmine, American Songwriter, the Fresno Examiner, The Blacklisted Journalist and UK-based Keyboard Player (where she was a principal journalist). A self-confessed "fanatic" of 1960s "British Invasion" bands, Classic Rock and nostalgic "Old Hollywood ", she also keeps her finger on the pulse of current trends in music, with a keen eye for up and coming artists of special merit. Shirley Pena loves Los Angeles, and is thrilled to join the writing staff of The Los Angeles Beat!
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