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Review + Q&A: King Buffalo- Regenerator (2022, Stickman Records)

The third and final chapter of the album threesome that King Buffalo recorded during the pandemic lockdown in 2021 is called Regenerator and once again it shows a different side to the band. Where The Burden Of Restlessness was an aggressive, heavy and metallic record, and Acheron was the psychedelic jam album, Regenerator does exactly what it says on the tin: it lifts up the spirits and revitalizes the band and its listeners with its open and spacey sounds.

Before I could listen to the full album I had the chance to see King Buffalo play at the Valkhof Festival in Nijmegen (Holland) and two things stood out; how frontman Sean McVay used a loop pedal to create massive guitar walls all by himself, and how motorik and hypnotic the new material sounded in a live setting. Songs like Regenerator, Mercury, and Hours all have a certain forward drive that has a definite kraut rock feel, especially when King Buffalo bring on the spacey synthesizers.

There are some softer, more melodic moments as well, and album closer Firmament showcases McVay’s most intimate vocals to date. This too fits the band like a glove, and once again you feel as a listener that this is a band at the very top of their game. It is so incredible to think that these three albums sound so differently and varied, and yet they were recorded in such a short time of each other. Regenerator is a perfect closer a well, a positive outlook on the band and its future, and a testament to what this band is capable off under duress. What will the future bring? I decided to ask Sean McVay himself.

How are you guys doing? And where are you at the moment? You are playing so many shows these days!

We just returned home after an incredible European tour. I’m currently sitting on my couch drinking a big bottle of water while typing out this interview. 

Can you tell me your most memorable moment of the tour so far? 

Probably playing PALP Festival in the Swiss Alps. It’s not everyday you get to play literally on the top of a mountain.

Listening to Regenerator, and also (finally) seeing you live (in Nijmegen!) I got the feeling that some of the dread of The Burden Of Restlessness and Acheron has been lifted, is that correct? What changed?

At the time of writing Regenerator I don’t think much had really changed in all honesty. Things were still pretty much locked down, and the world continues to be a bit of a horrific mess in a lot of different ways even still, but I knew I wanted the 3rd record to wrap up with a more optimistic tone and kind of stand as an inverse to Burden. With how dark and grim that record was, I felt like it was necessary to counterbalance it with something brighter, if only for my own sanity while writing them honestly. I feel like it was maybe me trying to find something to look forward to and strive for while reckoning with a swath of negative things.

You guys are playing live a lot at the moment, how do you keep up? And how do you keep it fresh each time you are playing?

We make little tweaks to the setlist just about every show to help keep things interesting on our end. Also a lot of our songs have spots that lend themselves to little bits of improvisation so I always try to add some sort of different twist to at least one song every night. The kind of thing that might not be super noticeable, but maybe a fan who’s seen us a bunch would notice and find it interesting or refreshing. Shows are the best thing about being a band in my opinion. That block of time onstage riding a sort of energy wave with the crowd is a feeling like no other. So really it doesn’t feel like its that hard to stay engaged and excited. 

Listening to your set and to the new album I felt a certain stronger emphasis on repetition and groove I guess?It’s almost kraut rock at some point! Also some more uplifting stuff going on? What is your take on the most important changes for Regenerator?

I really made an effort to highlight melodies on this record. Whether that was in the vocals, guitar hooks or even with some of Dan’s bass work (see Mercury for an example of the bass really carrying the melody of the entire song). I wanted to go for a little bit more of a stripped down, sort of “band in a room” sound than previous records (especially Burden). Everything is a little bit warmer, a little bit dirtier, and a little bit drier than a lot of our previous work. I cringe at using the word “organic” to describe it, but I honestly can’t think of a better word for what I was aiming for with the production style haha. It was a challenge, and a bit scary for me personally. I’ve always been super fond of lots of reverbs and delays on either my guitars or vocals. Making a conscious effort to strip away some of that was a bit terrifying. The opening verse of Firmament is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever recorded.

With Regenerator you made right on your promise to release three albums in a row, congratulations! Although the plan to release them all in one year did not work, was that all pressing plant delays, or was there more to it?

Well the initial plan was actually to RECORD 3 albums in 2021 and ideally have them all released that year. Things snowballed a little bit with the announcement and it became RELEASE 3 albums haha. Lesson learned to be a little more careful with language haha. With that said, I can’t put all of the delays on the pressing plant. They were certainly backed up and completely swamped with demand. That on top of global supply chain issues really slowed things down. But we also had some studio/equipment issues that slowed down production at a couple points. There were of course a couple COVID scares in there that prevented us from meeting up occasionally. And we had a couple of issues receiving final artwork for a couple of the records past their deadline. So basically there was a lot of small inconvenient delays that added up on top of the already existing pressing plant delays. It was an absolutely chaotic and hectic year trying to get everything done, but we are super happy that we were able to stay busy and focused, and are incredibly proud of the result. We can’t thank everyone enough who participated and helped in some way, and especially appreciate the patience and support from our fans when it became obvious that we weren’t going to have everything released in 2021.

How do you look back on the albums as a trilogy, they have the same protagonist and overarching themes right? Do you feel it turned out exactly the way you envisioned it or did the plans also shift a bit when time passed over it?

There definitely is a single protagonist, with an overarching storyline encompassing all 3 records. Each record focusing on a different part of the story. In a very general way, yes I think it turned out how I envisioned it, but in smaller more specific ways not at all. No matter how well planned something is during pre-production, the final product always comes out different than expected. That’s simply part of the process. I think its important to be open to the possibility of things changing. Falling too much in love with the demos creates a sort of tension and stress during the actual production that just slows things down. It’s important to have a grand vision that your excited about, but you have to be open to changes when it comes time to actually make it. So there a lot of little things on the records that are completely different than what was initially conceived, but that’s simply part of the process.

So what now? With such an ambitious project now finished I can imagine your just want to tour a lot, which you are doing at the moment, but do you already have album plans for after that? Any dreams you want to make true in the studio environment?

The focus for now is definitely touring and playing live, especially with all the time we had to take off from touring. There aren’t any solid albums planned at the moment. There’s definitely some stuff that was left on the cutting room floor that we’re still excited about. Who knows if they’ll ever get dug back up. We’re always a little bit antsy. So I’ll say that we don’t have anything planned release wise for now, but that can always change in an instant haha.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do after reading this interview?

Drink a glass of water. Hydration is important. 

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