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Young Buffalo hits its songwriting stride on ‘House’

Young Buffalo_color

Like high school yearbook photos, teen-created songs and recordings can elicit fond and funny memories when revisited as an adult.

Young Buffalo’s Jim Barrett, whose songwriting history with fellow YB singer-guitarist Ben Yarbrough precedes the Mississippi band’s career, can also identify the educational aspect of their youthful musical explorations and collaborations.

After originally bonding as teenagers over such acts as Nirvana, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, Barrett says he and Yarbrough expanded their listening horizons to include Sonic Youth, … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead and Neutral Milk Hotel.

“I think when we first started out, we were listening to way more music that was blowing us away, rather than creating much that did,” Barrett says with a laugh. “We wrote dozens of songs, and it was always fun playing and writing, but we didn’t always come up with very good or even mediocre songs for a long time.”

Barrett says the titles to his early efforts with Yarbrough support that assessment: “Jesus in a Sunbarrel,” “Indian Circus,” “Trashcan Epiphany.” And as one might expect, their initial recordings were very primitive — oftentimes, they were made with one USB microphone and the free audio-editing software Audacity.

“Even though we weren’t particularly serious at the time,” Barrett recalls, “we were still writing/recording about four or five songs a week. We were figuring out how to make a song and how that translated to being recorded.

“Those days were like that class in school where at the time you don’t realize it, but when it becomes your job, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, no wonder I loved that class so damn much and did all the homework all the time.’ It wasn’t a chore; it was freedom to mess up and freedom to learn.”

Figuring things out over two EPs

Working as Young Buffalo starting in 2009, Barrett says he and Yarbrough “put our best foot forward” with the band’s first EP, 2011’s Young Von Prettylips, “but we were still trying to figure things out.” YB’s self-titled follow-up EP from 2012 “might have been more focused” in terms of sound, according to Barrett, “but we were also playing with a new band, and things weren’t figured out even then! We were writing to play the songs live, rather than writing for just the song and worrying about playing later.”

Young Buffalo_House album cover

He believes Young Buffalo turned the corner in terms of songwriting with House, the band’s first full-length, which was released March 3 on the Votiv label. (Among the standout tracks is the dreamy and uplifting single “My Place.”)

“We’d write 10 songs and be told to write 10 more,” Barrett says. “This went on for a while. But we kind of went back to really having fun with the writing of the songs, rather than it being a chore. Also, recording House and finally creating a full body of work from the ground up helped us really find our identity.”

Young Buffalo — which these days also includes bassist Andrew Guinn, keyboardist Will Eubanks and drummer Tim Burkhead — recorded the 11-song House at EastWest Studios in Los Angeles and the Bank in Burbank, Calif. Using those two facilities was convenient for both the band and producer Dave Schiffman, whose long list of credits includes engineering and/or mixing albums by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Haim, Johnny Cash and Weezer.

“It was one of the easiest recording environments I think we’ve worked in,” Barrett says. “Dave’s got a perfect balance thing going on: He’s a ballbuster and then he’s a sweetheart. He’d leave us alone to figure out how to make one song a little better, and then we’d come back in the next day and he’d have an awesome idea he’d been working on for a completely different song.

“We had a lot of fun making this record, and I really hope it shows.”

— By Chris M. Junior

Young Buffalo on tour (schedule subject to change):

* March 13: The Abbey — Memphis, Tenn.

* March 22: VOV Fest — Hot Springs, Ark.

* March 28: Hey Joe’s — Cleveland, Miss.

* April 6: Black Cat — Washington, D.C.

* April 7: The Sinclair — Boston

* April 8: The Ballroom at the Outer Space — Hamden, Conn.

* April 9: Ottobar — Baltimore

* April 10: Kings Barcade — Raleigh, N.C.

* April 11: Vinyl — Atlanta

* April 13: The Social — Orlando, Fla.

* April 14: Local 662 — St. Petersburg, Fla.

* April 15: Club Downunder — Tallahassee, Fla.

* April 17: Club Dada — Dallas

* April 18: Korova — San Antonio

* April 19: Stubb’s — Austin, Texas

* April 21: Club Congress — Tucson, Ariz.

* April 22: Crescent Ballroom — Phoenix

* April 23: Troubadour — Los Angeles

* April 24: The Casbah — San Diego

* April 26: The Independent — San Francisco

* April 30: Tractor Tavern — Seattle

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