Avi Buffalo was once just the kid named Avi (short for Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg). He’s now singing and playing guitar, but was then a vaguely aspirational skateboarder living in Long Beach, who figured between hip trauma and a never-quite-conquered fear of dropping into a half-pipe that he might need to come up with something else to do with the rest of his life. (Maybe journalist? If there were gonna be any left?) His parents never got around to getting him the Game Boy he wanted, so he turned to a handily local guitar. Years of 12-hour days attacking that (plus lessons-to-mentoring with seriously iconoclastic local blues guys) revealed a pretty preternatural talent for making a very special kind of bent but lovely pop song. “You know why it’s good? Because it sounds OLD, but it’s NEW!” said Blues Mentor, sparing the world more labored analysis. And that is the connect-the-dots story of how Avi Buffalo became a band—boy meets guitar. It’s a good old story.
Then boy meets rest of his band at Millikan High in Long Beach—Sheridan Riley on drums, Rebecca Coleman on keys and piano and Arin Fazio (the old man at almost 21, whose dad was a session musician during L.A.’s glossier days) on bass. By the time you read this bio, they will pretty much all be out of high school. And that means we can push past the age thing into the music thing—yes, they’re young, and yes, says Avi, they can effectively metabolize even the most ill-advised tourslops, and yes, many an article is gonna haul out a word like “wunderkind.” But what can you do? They’re gonna graduate into a beautiful little album, and not everybody gets to do that. But even this young, it’s been a long time coming.
Avi (the guy) also loves (like his inspiration Nels Cline) noise. What he calls “really tasteless brutal speaker gargling;” is why the Long Beach Police Department no longer permits him to rehearse in his own garage. But he spent the mid-2000s singing quiet yet resolutely sophisticated songs into whatever free programs he could put on his PC. And they were about as lovely and scruffy as the songs analog guys like Pollard and Barlow and Fox would sing into tape decks during their own long late nights.
A solo show at a much-loved vegan restaurant magnetized Avi Buffalo into a full band; full-band Avi Buffalo magnetized L.A’s Eastside musicians (plus they hit all the major press in the city before they had ANY kind of record out at all); and engineer Aaron Embry (Elliott Smith and Emmylou Harris sideman, among others) invited Avi Buffalo to help him test out the new studio he’d built in his house. This was the big leap—except for some after-class time at a local recording school, Avi Buffalo had never existed anywhere but a laptop or a really good house party. One of the first songs recorded just for fun was “What’s In It For?”; it was also one of the first songs Avi put up on MySpace (“Because that’s all it takes,” says Avi, still a tiny bit shocked). And once Sub Pop came inquiring, “What’s In It For?” became the first single from the album (which hadn’t even been thought of as a possible album until all this). This all happened within a few months—it even screwed up their grades at Millikan. (Don’t worry, no catastrophes.) And then, says Avi, everything got kind of freaky!
That’s where they are now: about to follow their first ten songs into the outside world, and about to celebrate a 21st birthday, and about to figure out whose foibles metastasize in what way after ten hours in a little van, and about to settle into something that they could do for the rest of their lives.
New album "At Best Cuckold" released September 8 on Sub Pop