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Review + Q&A: King Buffalo- The Burden Of Restlessness (2021, Stickman Records)

A musician always strives to transcend base notions like genre, style, or even being a band. Becoming your own entity is the highest goal. King Buffalo are well on their way of achieving this goal. With The Burden Of Restlessness they have captured a period in time and a process of inner turmoil in such a way that it completely transcends being a stoner band, playing heavy songs, or being “metal” or whatever.

Sure, these songs are heavy, heavier than King Buffalo have sounded so far, and sure their music still finds itself somewhere between psychedelic rock and progressive metal, but other than that they have firmly founded themselves as their own beast.

Striking for this release especially are the lyrics. For someone who has dealt with depression and inner darkness like me they really hit hard, being more explicit than ever with phrases like “every night I dream a million different ways for me to die” (Hebetation), or the way they describe the walls closing in in Silverfish (I think I’m unraveling…). It’s this amazing vulnerability that the band shows that immensely increases their urgency and importance. The music supports the lyrics and the message, and feels like a vessel in which the lyrics are never an afterthought or just backdrop.

It’s quite unbelievable that The Burden Of Restlessness is only just the first record of three (!) that King Buffalo has planned this year. It would have done fine as a full standalone album, but clearly the band is not yet done talking. As a matter of fact: I wasn’t done talking to them either, because I spoke with singer/guitairst Sean McVay about the past year, about the new album, and what is still to come…

First of all I’d like to ask you how you all are right now, how have the past few months been for the band? 
We’re all doing well. We’ve managed to stay healthy and extremely busy, which has been great. 

I have listened to The Burden Of Restlessness non-stop since I got the stream. The first thing that struck me was that the music sounds a lot heavier and more aggressive, more towards progmetal than psychedelic blues. Would you agree and do you have an explanation for it? 
I think the past few years have been difficult for everyone (to say the least). I know for me, personally I was dealing with a lot of things and was in a dark place, and the pandemic really just magnified that. I found that in the course of writing and jamming, we were naturally delving into some more focused and heavy sounding territory. For me it was simply what felt right in that moment. I liked the idea of trying to create music that had some of the same feelings of tension and discomfort that I felt was universal at that time, so we really embraced it. 

I was also wondering about the lyrics: did you write before or after the music? How did the songwriting process take place any way, what was the setting? 

All the instrumental arrangements came before the lyrics, but there was usually a line or a phrase of lyrics in the background while sorting all that out. About 95% of all the music came from jamming. We’d simply hit record and play until things either fizzled out or fell apart. I’d take the recordings home and start cutting things and moving sections around. I would send stuff to the band for feedback, and would start putting together the lyrical themes and concepts for the record. Once we had those set, I’d record some improvised vocal mumblings over the instrumental, refining the melodies, and would send those, along with some lyrics and general themes to Scott who would then write a bunch of brainstormed lyrics and send them back to me. I’d then take what he wrote and rework it. We’d go back and forth like that until it was all written.

The lyrics made me worry a little bit to be honest. Having suffered from depression myself I can see a lot of that back in a lot of these songs. Can I say you have never been this explicit before? I saw a glimpse of it in the Repeater EP, but Longing To Be The Mountain was a bit more hopeful(or hidden) wasn’t it? What can/do you want to tell me about them? 
Well like I mentioned above, I was in a really dark place at the time. A few years ago I had some really intense family things come to light that I really struggled to deal with. Externally, the state of affairs in the US was getting increasingly horrifying, bizarre and dystopian… and on top of all that, a worldwide pandemic hit. The cacophony of everything felt so palpable and inescapable. Trying to write about anything else just felt disingenuous, and trying to nibble around the edges and speak ambiguously felt dishonest. I tend to be a pretty private person when it comes to this sort of thing, so making this open and candid of a record was extremely scary for me. In the end though I am incredibly proud of this record, and hopefully it speaks to at least one other person who maybe was struggling with similar things. 

Despite, or maybe due to this Covid period you have taken up the plan of recording three albums this year! Can you tell me a little bit about how this plan came to being? Is there an individual concept for each of these three albums? Is it all worked out yet? 

We certainly didn’t set out with this whole crazy idea in mind. We started jamming, and before we knew it we had about 4-5 hours of new material that we were excited about. We started whittling things down, and eventually settled on the idea of 3 different and distinct records, with the same protagonist throughout each one. Each record has a very different feel and sound to them, and there is a story arc through all of them, but they really don’t need to be listened to in sequence to be able to follow along in my opinion. Record number 2 is in the later post production phase now, and pre production on record 3 will start here quite soon. Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that at the moment. We will be making announcements as we can. We did just receive word recently that our pressing plant is experiencing delays due to aftereffects of the pandemic, and high order volumes, so we’re crossing our fingers that things get back on track and our whole plan doesn’t get too messed up. 

What was the main driving factor behind making this album? And in what way did it differ from your previous work? 

For me the main driving force behind this record was trying to capture the uneasiness of everything I was feeling at the time. I wanted to try and make our most intimate, honest and aggressive record yet, and I wanted it to sound thicker, and more present than any of our previous works. 

Did you guys listen to specific music over the last year? And do you keep up with new music at all? 
We do keep up with new music, but I can’t speak to what the other guys have been listening to. As for myself, I really haven’t been listening to all that much music lately. I tend to try and limit my listening during writing periods because I feel like I end up accidentally regurgitating too many things if I’m not careful. However, one band that I stumbled across recently that absolutely blew my mind was Guerrilla Toss. They are insane. 

What are your plans for after this year? And what is your ultimate dream as a band? 

Hopefully things keep trending positively and we can get back to touring. We’re scheduled to hit the road again in September and we are super stoked for it. Honestly I don’t know if the “ultimate dream” is much different than what we’ve usually done. I just want to keep making records that push and excite us as musicians, and I want to be able to tour and perform live. Hopefully its something we’ll get to do for a long time.

Well, I really hope I will see you on the road soon. I will definitely show up somewhere in Europe when you get there in the future. Thanks a lot for your time, I wish you all the best
Thank you! We’re definitely itching to get back over to Europe as soon as we can. In the meantime stay safe and heathy, and hopefully we’ll see you soon!

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