Of the handwritten credits listed on the back of Alive and Well in Ohio, the latest Buffalo Killers album, the most notable is the one at the top: Produced by Gabbard Brothers.
For singer-bassist Zachary Gabbard, though, it was really no big stretch for him to self-produce the group’s eighth full-length effort with singer-guitarist sibling Andy Gabbard.
“It was kind of a natural progression. I mean, why shouldn’t we be producing it?” Zachary says with a laugh. “The last couple of albums have been ‘Buffalo Killers and’ — whoever else we were working with. I felt like we were already doing it.
“More and more over the years,” he continues, “we’ve taken control of our own destiny. We’re making the decisions, and we’ve made an effort to feel comfortable in making those decisions. Over the last year or so, I’ve really gained the confidence to say, ‘I know what I’m doing. We’ve got this.’ ”
Another important decision for the Gabbards, guitarist Sven Kahns and drummer Joseph Sebaali was to track the album at the studio Zachary put together on the second floor of his family’s barn in Middletown, Ohio.
“Recording always seemed so complex,” Zachary admits, “and I always felt like I couldn’t do it at the house because everyone has a fancy studio.”
In assembling his Howler Hills Farm facility, Zachary says he wanted it to be “as basic as possible — just a half-inch tape machine, an analog board and a couple of compressors.”
“It’s super-David Briggs style,” he adds, citing Neil Young’s longtime no-frills producer. “All I did was build some walls with stuff we already had — old futon mattresses and curtains.”
Howler Hills Farm has no control room, so if Andy was laying down a guitar overdub, “he was doing it right behind my head,” Zachary says. Capturing the drum sound wasn’t a complicated process: For most of the Alive and Well tracks, four inexpensive microphones were placed around Sebaali’s kit.
“Everyone acts like you need to isolate everything,” says Zachary. With the full band recording basic tracks at the same time, “everything is bleeding together; there is no isolation. It’s completely done from a musician’s standpoint. The beautiful blemishes that are there cannot be re-created.”
Recording Alive and Well in Ohio, the band’s first release since the 2014 EP Fireball of Sulk, began in summer 2015 and was spread out over the course of three or four main band sessions. The material came in waves, too. While in Woodstock, New York, recording with former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson, Zachary took advantage of his downtime to write a couple of BK tunes. “It was more of a structured songwriting time for me,” he notes, pointing out that normally he’s piecing songs together “in between picking my kids up from school and writing things down here and there.”
Once recording was complete, the Gabbards took Alive and Well to Candyland in Dayton, Kentucky, where Mike Montgomery (who did the wiring at Zachary’s studio) took care of mixing and mastering.
“When we mixed this,” Zachary says, “it was, ‘Do not caress this.’ We wanted it to be what it was.”
Alive and Well in Ohio arrived in late October via California-based Alive Naturalsound Records (highlights include the strung-out “Death Magic Cookie,” the acoustic-driven ballad “Eastern Tiger” and the churning, bluesy “Need a Changin’ ”). As for when fans can see Buffalo Killers perform their new material onstage, Zachary says there are touring plans in the works, but nothing is set in stone. No matter what happens, most likely it won’t be on the same level as his days with Thee Shams, when he says the garage-rock group “would play all the time” and “take everything that anyone offered.”
“I got OK with saying no,” admits Zachary, adding that it’s been about a year since Buffalo Killers played a gig, the longest stretch in band history. “We’re going to ease into everything [in promoting this album by scheduling] some in-store events and other things we don’t normally do. Sometimes you can get just as much done being at home, writing great songs and recording.”
— By Chris M. Junior
At top: Zachary Gabbard (left) and Andy Gabbard. Photo by Erin Gabbard