[Interview] The Buzzards of Fuzz and Desert Rock in Atlanta During Fuzzstock
Main image courtesy of The Buzzards of Fuzz Facebook
I knew there was something different about the vibes at Star Bar that night. I just needed the giant paper mache skull by the glowing light of a cactus to confirm it. Lovingly and feverishly put together by four-piece ATL rock band The Buzzards of Fuzz, Fuzzstock was aiming to be more than just your standard night of billing. Instead, Fuzzstock aimed to capture the sounds and sense of community which permeated the Palm Desert music scene of Southern California (referred to by critics since as “desert rock”) from the early '90s and transport it through time and space to 2018 Atlanta - sans desert. The night in question consisted of four bands, all dedicated to bringing the noise and the fuzz of desert rock to the ATL faithful. Twin Criminal, Flashback Flash, Fantomen the Band, and the headliners themselves The Buzzards of Fuzz were all scheduled to play. Also featured was a beer chugging contest; a hired DJ spinning classic desert and stoner rock records all night, and a packed crowd of desert rock fans all looking for a good time.
While truly replicating the magical period that was the early '90s Palm Desert music scene with bands like Yawning Man and Kyuss was an impossible feat what I saw in Fuzzstock proved to be a passionate attempt to get as close as possible to that scene. I got the opportunity to interview the Buzzards (featuring: Van Bassman, Ben Davidow, Chuck Wiles, and Zack Batson) and ask them about how Fuzzstock came to be, its future, their new EP Hey Hate City!, the bands on the bill, and all things desert rock.
This is officially the first Fuzzstock. Are there plans to make this the first of many? How did you organize the night; what made you want to?
Van Bassman: That’s the plan, assuming we’re not bankrupt at the end (laughs). We wanted to do a vinyl release of our EP, and include bands we thought would work as hard as us. Essentially, we’re trying to start a desert scene here. I know we’re pretty far away, but desert rock is what we do and the bands that are on this bill all share those ideas and that quality. So we’ve been trying for a while to get everyone in the same room, everyone on the same bill, and that’s down to Asha running sound, Billy DJing, and Sasha from Sash the Bash being here to sing with us.
She’s on the new EP, right?
VB: Yeah, she’s on “Like A Drug” and she’ll be performing it with us tonight. It’s going to be fantastic. All the people that were chosen for this are family, and we’re trying to start something big here. There's a lot of room for growth. It’s a labor of love, and it’s been a lot of work, but we love Atlanta and we want more rock n roll in this city.
How did you get ROCK 100.5 involved in Fuzzstock in be a sponsor? I was a little surprised, to be honest.
VB: Well, Jackson Heaton (station member) is a friend of ours. He runs the Scoped podcast and he's hosting this evening. He’s also one of the most accessible and supportive of the local scene DJs. He’s in the trenches with us and he gets what we’re doing, so anytime we can involve him we absolutely do. Rock 100.5 is a classic format, so none of the bands here can be played on that station. He still makes it a point to lend his notoriety to our shows though, and it’s a big deal. He’s a big help to us.
How did you all get together as the Buzzards of Fuzz? Is this everyone’s first band?
VB (laughing): No. Chuck, Ben, and I have played for nearly ten years together, in and out of different bands. We've not had the success that we’ve had with Buzzards in the past though. Before it was the Buzzards of Fuzz it was "Uncle Van and the Buzzards of Fuzz," which was a joke. And before that, it was "Uncle Van’s Super Awesome Family Fun Band." I just think people were getting the wrong idea because this we share a group mentality and we all work together. This is us, it’s not just me. So it was a joke that the band name was supposed to change every six months. It was going to be funny but then we actually got some attention and realized that this was probably not a good call. That's also without mentioning the poor people who had to put stuff on the marquees. It really just made sense to just go by the Buzzards of Fuzz at one point. But we’ve been together as Buzzards for four years.
What was the primary direction you were going for on your new EP, Hey Hate City?
VB: What we had was, we looked at the calendar, and we had this release scheduled. We put a lot of effort into it and then realized that if we didn’t have our EP recorded, pressed and with artwork and everything within the next four days then it wasn’t going to be done in time for the show. So, the four of us didn’t sleep for four days; we busted our asses to write the songs, and then we went in and recorded them on Friday the 13th. If anything had gone wrong (during the recording process) then this event wasn’t going to happen.
You recorded this whole thing by the seat of your pants?
VB: Absolutely. The confidence we gained from working with Adam (producer), allowed us to go anywhere. We recorded this live. You can’t tell from listening to it, but we’re all in the same room playing right next to each other.
Is there any significance to the album title?
VB: You probably already know this but Atlanta was hailed as "the city too busy to hate during the civil rights movement." Nowadays, I hear that term most often when I’m talking to musicians. Like: “Oh, no one was at my show on Monday. Hate City man." Or: “I can’t book in Atlanta even out of town. I’m trying to come to Atlanta but no one will book me with a weeks notice. Hate City man.” The reality is that Atlanta is too busy to hate you. Atlanta has a million things going on right now, especially in the music community. You can get lost in trying to keep up with that. So really, the way we took it as a song was like, “Hey man, no one hates you.” There’s no value in being the starving artist that’s always talking shit about working bands in town; approaching the scene with negativity is not going to get you anywhere. What you have to do is take your art and craft it. Bust your ass, promote yourself, be a professional, and then maybe Atlanta will take notice. You want to put on an experience that people will love. They want to come out and party with you, so why are you punishing them? As the Buzzards of Fuzz, we are looking to give you a good time.
On the album, you guys actually have a cover of a Josh Homme song - “Like A Drug.” Why that song in particular, and is it safe to say that Homme is a huge influence on your sound?
VB: Oh for sure, we’re all fans here. The Desert Sessions is one of my favorite projects. It’s supposed to be a never-ending mix, and the songs therein are all totally different. The thing about desert rock is it’s more about a set of ideas then it is about a certain sound. So, The Desert Sessions - I bought those as they were coming out. I was ordering the vinyl and they were limited to a thousand copies and they’re not even on Spotify. There’s a lot of ear candy on those sessions, and then there’s a lot of stuff you probably need to zone out too to listen to. “Like A Drug” was a song that always caught my ear. It’s this super cool tune about this couple who just have fallen out. And when we went to record it with Sasha, I'd hit her up a few days beforehand. Like I told you, our schedule was insane, and she came out and just totally smashed the shit out of it. We were really proud to have her on it, and are also really proud of how it turned out.
I’m picking up a theme of last-minute rushing as an approach to recording your music. Is that normally how you guys best do things?
Ben Davidow (vocals, guitar): It’s actually the opposite of what we usually do. I think it was a product of taking all that material that we had been touring with and playing constantly over a long period of time and feeling like,“Okay, that’s done, now I need to breathe and create again.” It was definitely a big force at the beginning of (recording) this EP, thinking that we needed something fresh and new. We’ve played together so often that we can do that now, allow ourselves to breathe some life into these songs. So that was really helpful at the beginning, but we’re going to shift back into that well-thought-out process because another album is going to follow.
VB: And that’s not to say that this EP wasn’t well thought out; it just had to be thought up pretty quickly. We put a lot of effort into this.
BD: Yeah. We always sort of say that the devil's in the details, and there are so many freaking details and touches - not only to the recording but to the artwork. It was the right time and the right place. It just all fell together, but not without a hell of a lot of work. Even on the back of the recording, we had planned all this stuff and had to figure out how to set the stage and make sure all the bands got together.
Had you guys played with all of the bands on the bill before tonight's show?
BD: We've only played with one of them.
VB: We’ve watched them (laughs). We’re all music fans and we’re all out on the scene. We go out and we watch our scene and we know who’s who.
When setting up the stage for Fuzzstock, can you describe what sort of theme you were trying to invoke? It’s a pretty interesting set up you guys have out there, what with the cactus lights and the giant skull.
VB: We fly our freak flag high, and we do it because there’s not a ton of desert bands in the southeast. As you might imagine, we don’t have a whole lot of deserts (laughs). So, when we run into people - either at home or on the road - we want you to see a cactus or a desert scene. We want something that makes you go, “Hey, these guys are like me!" Mentioning Kyuss casually, it wasn't something that happened ten years ago. Queens of the Stone Age weren't doing like they are now, though they were doing well. So the reasoning for dressing the stage in that manner is just to let everyone know where they are. We are bringing the desert to Atlanta and hopefully, Atlanta will get out to the desert in turn.
Do you have a particular favorite song on this album?
BD: I don’t know if I particularly have a favorite song. Maybe “I Think I Hit My Head On A Cactus” - it's between that and “Hate City.” Those two were a great showing of everyone coming together as writers and all contributing their own piece. And to me, that was an incredibly interesting part of the process. It’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. There are cool nuances to each song.
Zach Batson (percussion): My favorite track on this batch of songs is “Hate City.” Mostly because I get to sing about scavenging for carrion.
VB: There are lots of Buzzard puns on there (laughs).
ZB: It’s just a nice line. But, it also feels really cool to be part of a song that’s about the heart of the city’s history and playing to something larger than us. It's kind of neat to incorporate something that’s been around before us and is gonna be around long after we’re gone.
Chuck Wiles (vocals, bass): For me, it’s gotta be a draw between “Like A Drug” and “I Think I Hit My Head On A Cactus.” The latter is really abrupt. It's just (mimes drumming) boom boom boom boom, everything’s happening. With the smoothness of “Like A Drug” and the fullness of the sound, it’s just a really complete piece.
VB: “I Think I Hit My Head On A Cactus” would have to be my favorite song as well. It’s a little mantra, but it's also meant to emulate what it feels like to party with Hunter S. Thompson for a week and then stand up too quickly. It’s meant to be that rush. And I think, in regards to Chuck’s bomb-ass playing, I’ve had three people say “Zeppelin?” (laughs). Not what we were going for but fuck yeah! I’ll take Zeppelin every day of the week.
You have opened up for some pretty amazing acts in the past. Do you have a particularly favorite one?
VB: Amos from Arippin hit me up and said, “Hey, you want to open for Yawning Man?” and honestly, at this point hadn't toured for 30 years or so. What they did was meant to exist at that moment, and I don’t think a whole lot of those [shows] were recorded or sold. They were just making art. So, the fact that they were touring at all and the fact that we got to open for them is still mind-blowing. That’s always going to be one of my favorite moments, because it was such a connection to what we do. And at the end of the show, we had our last record (The Buzzard Custard EP) and I handed it to Mario Lalli (frontman of Yawning Man). He looked at it and said: “I can’t wait to get home to listen to this.” Whether he did or not, I don't know, but I absolutely believed him and it felt really good. I can’t thank Amos enough for the opportunity.
What’s your dream line-up for the next Fuzzstock?
VB: My dream line up is listed on the door out there. We made what we wanted to happen, happen tonight. Our scene is a big scene, man, people don’t realize it. But the shit you’re about to see is gonna be amazing. What you’re gonna hear tonight, you’re gonna be like, “Oh, I get it.” (laughs). You’re going to absolutely get it. There’s nobody else I’d rather have in this room and, hopefully, it’s something we can expand next year to more bands because there are a few bands that I would have liked to have included.
BD: Yeah this was one of the first times we got to handpick every single person. Every single piece of this event was carved out using our attention and our love; it's exactly the way we wanted it.