In the two years since Southern California first basked in the dreamy guitarwork and lo-fi stylings of Avi Buffalo's self-titled debut album, front man Avi Zahner-Isenberg has grown both older and wiser.
Now 21, Zahner has had some space to reflect on his once-rigorous touring schedule—which found the band of teenagers playing coveted slots at mega-festivals such as All Tomorrow's Parties and Primavera Sound—and the experiences have left him thinking critically about his next steps.
“We were exposed to so much craziness at such a young age. There's no way around it,” Zahner-Isenberg says. “It was really good in so many respects, but it's something you have to battle with. Your brain isn't even fully developed when you're 18, and all of a sudden, you're thrown into opening up for epic people whom you've looked up to your entire life. What does that do to your head?”
For Zahner, the global exposure that came with being Sub Pop Records' latest buzz band only grounded him more. And since returning home to Long Beach more than a year and a half ago, he has been running a home studio (Hood Ranch Dressing), playing music with old friends and writing songs for the next Avi Buffalo album, which will start tracking in a few months. He even released a few experimental solo albums, partially recorded on his laptop while living in the band's tour van, parked in the driveway of his parents' house.
Messing around with his home recording equipment also helped him prepare for the band's upcoming professional-studio time. “I'm really excited because this time we have more experience with recording,” he explains. “Being able to get into home recording has been really helpful. I'm able to have a perspective on what songs are supposed to sound like when we go into the studio. It's not just the raw chord progressions and lyrics anymore.”
Since the songs are already written for the new album—some of which are (à la San Pedro's Minutemen, he says) 20 to 50 seconds long—Zahner's concern now is balance. What is the right mix between hi-fi and lo-fi? How do you prepare your songs for recording, but still leave room for spontaneity? Can you avoid sacrificing depth and vibe for cleanliness?
Working with fellow local musicians during the past few years of downtime, both through Hood Ranch Dressing Studios and performances with the Wild Bunch, as well as other friends' bands, has brought Zahner closer to answering these questions. But reconnecting with his circle of talented friends may have been beneficial in another, more important way.
“At the end of the day, you have to go back to those people whom you've played with for years who in some ways haven't gone through that so you can humble yourself and realize why you're playing music,” he says. “As long as I'm connected to those people, then I'm emotionally sound.”
This column appeared in print as “Avi Buffalo.”
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.