Quick hits : Ezra Buchla

By October 17, 2010
Quick hits : Ezra Buchla

Full name: Ezra Buchla

Place of origin: I was born in a scary-looking Victorian house in Berkeley in 1981. It was kind of a hippie birth, with a midwife, friends gathered around, psychedelic documentation, and our pet wolf licking me clean.

Personnel: Mostly myself. Sometimes when people book me for solo shows I bring in a collaborator or two. These people have included Daniel Brummel, Emily Lacy, Laura Steenberge, Yasi Perera, Albert Ortega, Corey Fogel, and others.

Upcoming shows: October 18, of course, I’m playing Folktale Fest at Pehrspace for which I’m totally stoked.

Do you have anything special planned for the show?
Sure. I’m really excited about it. I’m going to play some older songs that I’ve never done live, some songs I’ve only done with a band, some songs I wrote in the last two weeks. I’m also considering playing a guitar, which would be a first. That said, I’m a long way from deciding what exactly is gonna happen…

Ezra Buchla (photo: Marianne Williams)

Hey, Ezra, can you tell people a little bit about your musical history and background?
Chronologically: I started playing violin when I was five. I played a lot of American, Jewish and Eastern European folk music as a young kid. Synthesizers were all around but I didn’t get too interested in them until I started programming computers for music, when I was about 15. My first band was with Daniel Brummel, it was called Monstro.  It was bizarre, occasionally terrible, occasionally awesome.

I played classical music pretty seriously in high school. I went to Oberlin on a viola scholarship and dropped out after two years. My first band to go on tour was called Cuts, it was a free-synth-punk ensemble with Stefan Tcherepnin, Rob Reich and Brian Chase (who now plays drums in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among other things). We went on tour for about ten days, from Cleveland to Kansas City; we opened for Arab on Radar; we were suitably ridiculous.

I had a band called Mister Kilogram with Lizz Goltz and Peter Blasser, who builds amazing instruments (check them out); we recorded 1 tape, of which there is exactly 1 copy. When I dropped out of college I was very depressed. I stayed in my bedroom for about a year, cleaning ovens in a restaurant at night, drank a lot, and wrote and recorded a bunch of weird pop songs, some of which you can hear on the Internet (try teenagecarmine.bandcamp.com and catfact.net). I got another scholarship, to CalArts, from which I dropped out after another two years, ungrateful little shit that I am. Brummel and I started performing as Monstro again, this time playing folk-style music with Laura Steenberge and Corey Fogel.

I sang and played synth/laptop in the Mae Shi, and recorded four albums with them—or two, or six, depending on how you count them. I played with Amps for Christ on one record and one tour, and jammed with them many, many times.

I had a band called Gowns with Erika Anderson and, at times, Corey Fogel, Aaron Davis, Jacob Heule and Daniel Brummel.  We made 3 records and broke up pretty definitively—due to madness—in January 2010.

I recorded and toured with Carla Bozulich and then with her band Evangelista. I’ve contributed viola, synthesizer and vocals to various recordings by other people, like Whitman and Cloudland Canyon. Right now I’m playing live songs by myself, which never occurred to me to do before this year, and playing in a psychedelic duo called ECCE with Emily Lacy—we played for 150 hours at LACMA last year. I’m playing sporadically with Monstro (and sometimes just with Daniel), and occasionally with Missincinnati, as well as participating in various one-off ensembles and projects—a recent really fun one was with F-Stop Serenade. My solo “noise” project is actually called Compression Of the Chest Cavity Miracle, but I don’t push that too hard.

I haven’t been interested in “releasing” music for a while—maybe never, really truly—only in putting it on the Internet, and in “mix tapes.” But lately I’ve thought about making a record of my songs—it could be kinda nice.

That about brings us up to date.

Photo: Shannon Corr

Both you and members of your family are involved with the creation of electronic instruments and music. Want to tell us about that?
My dad is well-known as a music technologist. People don’t know that my mom is a musician, so I’ll talk about her for a minute. Her name is Ami Radunskaya and she was heavily involved as a cellist in the Bay Area new music scene in the 70′s. She made some great recordings of music by Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, Roscoe Mitchell, lots more. Shortly after I was born she left my dad and went to college, taking me along. She did computer music work at Stanford with people like Max Mathews, and is now a math professor at Pomona College. She’s an amazing lady and in many ways was a bigger influence than my father in terms of what skills I ended up developing—I’m a decent string player and a pretty good programmer, but I’m a terrible electrical engineer. I do enjoy thinking about how to make tools for musicians, which is a kind of weird thing to want to do.

You were a founding member of the Mae Shi. What was the most positive experience you got out of those years?
There were so many positive experiences it’s hard to single one out. It’s cliché but true: a band is a family. I imagine it’s also like joining the army or something—you build relationships that could never exist under other circumstances. I learned a lot from that aspect of it, as well as the process of being a totally DIY “pop” band. It was exhilarating to just decide to do something, and then have that decision unfold into a lot of dreams coming true—getting involved with 5RC, playing with The Ex, taking all your clothes off in a room full of people who don’t speak your language…

You’ve also played with a lot of other artists—does your classical training help you out in those scenarios? If so, how?
It helps to have as much knowledge as you can get about as many musical systems as possible. I’m a good sight-reader—that’s from a classical education—and I can improvise harmonically—that’s from a folk music education. I’m also not afraid to take things to extreme places, aesthetically—I guess that’s from what you might call avant-garde, or punk exposure.  All of these things have been valuable to me in the kinds of collaborations I’m drawn to— I can’t really say one more so than the others.

Your music seems to be pretty layered—what’s your live set-up (personnel, gadgets, etc)?
I almost always use a viola, and usually use a laptop running custom software. A couple pedals handle tone stuff like gain, octave, fuzz, and the computer does time-manipulation duties.  If those needs are simple enough I’ll leave it at home and use echo pedals. But often I need the computer because I want to work with bigger slices of time, and arrange them more arbitrarily.

For my solo sets I’ve pretty much never done the same thing twice. I’m always rewriting the software and tweaking its relationship with the playing. That’s how I remain interested in the whole thing.

I’ve also been really dogmatic about not using pre-recorded sound, ever. Any sound you hear in any project of mine is being made on stage, which I realize isn’t always obvious. Sometimes the manipulation is extreme enough that you could call it “acoustic-controlled synthesis” or something, so the distinction is kind of academic; this is really just another strategy to maintain my own interest in what I’m doing.

Any particular artists that you have listened to that inform your music?
Takehisu Kosugi, Henry Flynt, Laurie Spiegel, Terry Riley, Eliane Radigue, Nico, Whitman, Kevin Greenspon, Work/Death, Child Pornography, Damion Romero, John Thill, Core of the Coalman, Morton Feldman, Nine Inch Nails, Alastair Galbraith, Olivier Messiaen, Amebix, Botch, Man Is the Bastard, Lungfish, Revenge, Hukwe Zawose, Nyoman Wenten, Pandit V.G. Jog, Pablo Casals, and Fernando Suarez Paz.

I don’t think my music sounds like any of those people—I only wish I could play violin like Jog, organ like Riley, synths like Radigue, words like Dan Higgs, scream like Pete Helmkamp—but there are flashes of recognizable influence from each. I’ve made a lot of different sounds.

Finally, does Southern California, particularly the DIY community in L.A., factor in your music?
I don’t go to as many shows as I used to, but in 1997, The Smell (then in North Hollywood) was a refuge in many ways, as it is for kids today. I went to lots of shows at the youth center by my high school, and on college campuses. Not to mention the general awareness, from infancy, that music was something you were expected to make yourself and share with friends. DIY and California have influenced me by being the only things I’ve ever known. I don’t know how that comes out in the music, but it’s there.

Some of my upcoming performances are: October 14 and 23 I was supposed to play at Echo Curio (with ECCE and Monstro respectively). I’m not sure what’s going to happen with those now [due to Echo Curio's recent involuntary closure]. Maybe nothing? November 9 it’s Pehrspace again at a birthday party for Carl Sagan. November 29 at the Wulf with Aures and Tashi Wada. October 30 ECCE plays at a Halloween party, and again on the 31st for a ghost hunting society in a haunted motel. December 12 I’m doing a live score for a youth film class at the Echo Park Film Center. Thursdays in January I’m in residence at Machine Project, and will be doing various lectures and performances.

Don’t miss Ezra Buchla at Folktale Fest this Monday…

Folktale Records & Sean Carnage present…

No Paws (No Lions) 11:30-12:00
Whitman 11:00-11:30
Nicole Kidman 10:30-11:00
Clark 8 (7″ release) 10:00-10:30
Stellaluna 9:30-10:00
Ezra Buchla (ex-Gowns) 9:00-9:30

Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages

Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown

RSVP for Folktale Fest

Add SEANCARNAGE.COM & get the best new music

Image: Christopher Payne