Buffet: the interview

Close as I can figure, I started documenting the formation and development of the Anacortes punk band, Buffet, around September/October, 2016. (Obama was still President. Remember that? Before we were fucked?) The band generously opened up their practice sessions to me, and my camera, back then, an openness that’s continued to the present day. Perhaps my greatest insight into punk has been what I’ve learned on my journey with Buffet, just how much heart goes into the creation of a punk band. I naively thought punk bands arrive on their scenes, with all their fire and fury, fully themselves. Not true! The songwriting, song development, and practice sessions, along with the many small gigs every punk band plays to sharpen its on-stage persona, is a process every bit as complex, and dedicated, as any Indie band. Buffet is a bit unique in that it’s made up of three journeyman players, each with many releases (and tours) to their credits. Consequently, they can work fast, and quickly read each other, as if they’ve been a band for years longer than they have.

The interview I captured here was done well before the release of the band’s first LP, “All-American,” which came out last April on All You Can Eat Records/Resurrection Records/Knw-Yr-Own. Only two band members were present for this conversation: Dick Turner and Nick Rennis (the interview happened at Nick’s flat in Anacortes). It’s probably open to debate, but I’ve always thought of Buffet as being Dick Turner’s band. John Van Deusen, of course, has many projects in development at any given moment, not the least being his solo recording career (and a few rumors floating around that The Lonely Forest might be secretly rehearsing again for some future… something). And drummer Braydn Krueger, apart from his anchor position in The Lonely Forest back in the day, is a session man in constant demand.

The few band photos I’ve included here came from a photo shoot I did following one of those band-rehearsal evenings. After loading out their gear from their practice (which I also photographed), they drove across town to The Donut House, Anacortes’s 24-hour donut shop (featured in Buffet’s song, “DoHo”). The guys were tired. They kindly agreed to do the shoot, which lasted, maybe, 20 minutes. No other customers were in the shop so I could move the seating around as I liked. Then I shot super fast. I had planned this shoot in my imagination for over two years. Then, it was over. I captured a fleeting Buffet moment, like one of their songs, like this interview (which is mostly highlights). One fleeting moment in one band’s personal history. The few photos I got that evening, I think, will be classics for this band. I’ve heard talk of more demos being recorded for a second LP. But who knows how much time any of us has, or what we’ll do with it?

Permanence is illusive… Music is forever

Buffet at the DoHo, April 2019

Goat Palace:
This is a first, a historical moment for Goat Palace, an official interview with two of the principal members, founding members, of the Anacortes-based punk band, Buffet. When you read about punk, you read about people who grow up punk, grow up with punk. You both grew up with punk. What was that like?

Nick Rennis:
It probably took me longer to figure out what punk was, as a genre, than as a mindset because I came up reading the zine, “Punk Planet.” That’s what informed my view of the world, through this lens of alternative culture. And “Punk Planet,” because of how they defined punk, defined punk for me. It wasn’t a genre thing for me because “Punk Planet” reviewed folk stuff, outsider noise and drone stuff, and of course they reviewed hardcore and punk stuff. They reviewed all kinds of weird stuff.

GP:
“Punk Planet” also covered politics and culture, right?

NR:
Of course. It wasn’t strictly about music. I knew that I identified with that view of the world before I found the genre of music we currently play. “Punk Planet” certainly informed everything that I do in my life now.

Dick Turner:
For me it’s a bit weird. I don’t know that I listened to real punk. Like the sound we have, I didn’t really listen to anything like that until I was maybe 20, or so. I grew up listening to all kinds of stuff. I didn’t have anyone telling me what’s good and what’s bad. I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything because of my very strict religious upbringing. I would find something that sounded really abrasive on the internet, and download it. And wherever that led me, that’s where I was. It was an internal rebellion, I guess.

I didn’t grow up in a sea of punks.

Nick Rennis

GP:
What were your friends listening to?

NR:
My group of friends, we occupied a very small niche in our high school. Music had a lot to do with why I had the friends that I had. We shared music with each, went to shows together, were in bands together or separately. I don’t really know or have a recollection of how we were all brought together. I can only think of it being like having a school assignment notebook with a Cursive sticker on it and seeing somebody else who had a Bright Eyes sticker, and thinking, “Whoa, I gotta talk to that guy. He also found this stuff. I gotta connect!” Ours was definitely a small peer group.

DT:
I grew up in the early 2000’s, that was my coming-of-age time. There was a lot of very bad music coming out at that point. A lot of pop-punk nonsense that I hated back then. I had some friends who were into that. I’d go to the shows, and they’d be in pop-punk bands and I’d go and make fun of it all. I was the weird one that would listen to stuff that my friends all thought was horrible.

NR:
It’s also like, when you’re growing up, and you recognize you’re among a lot of peers who have absolutely no connection to what you enjoy, even tangential things or things you cling to, there’s a show, and you go!

DT:
What else are you going to do? Hardcore dancing? [Laughs] I stepped away from that. Actually, I did have a friend whose older brother was a very good shredder guitarist who was into 90s hardcore. I learned a lot from him.

Live in the Streets! poster (Palace collection)

How do you define punk for yourselves today, given how the members of Buffet come from such diverse backgrounds?

NR:
I don’t think I’ve ever offered a definition. It’s really hard to boil down. When I think of punk I think of fierce independence. I’m trying to figure out how to say this without it sounding mega cliched. Punk is like a desire to want to question everything.

DT:
I don’t think I really have a definition. In my own experience it was always sort of an accident, being an outsider. I guess I didn’t rebel against what my parents thought I should do. I don’t think rebellion is necessarily punk in and of itself. It’s just not belonging to something and being OK with it. In my mind, that’s what punk is.

GP:
You see a lot of labels attached to punk associated with different social causes. Is there a Buffet social cause? Buffet made its debut with a social-cause single, “Which One,” about the 2016 Presidential Election.

NR:
I think that’s the kind of thing that arises naturally because if groups of people are banding together because they don’t belong, there are reasons for that. And there are going to be reasons that they want to point out to the world that they don’t belong, and why they’re OK with that. By saying… “I live my life this way and I’m fine.” And so, those things kind of easily attach themselves to social causes. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a definition, to me, when I think of punk. I don’t think it has to be attached to politics. It doesn’t have to even want to accomplish anything or be a movement. It can just be… “I have something to say to the world, and I have to say it really loud because nobody’s listening.”

DT:
Yeah, I think for me, I’ve been largely anti-political for a lot of my life. I don’t know, the current state of things has left me without a choice, to some degree. Of being, like, “anti.” It’s not that I don’t believe in politics, necessarily. I think you should do what you can to make a difference. But my attitude has been very much like… “Everyone is corrupt.” That whole thing. I feel like activism isn’t necessarily punk, but it can definitely help. When you are kind of an outsider, on the outside of things, and you try to explain where you’re coming from, activism and politics can help you have an outlet, instead of just being self-destructive, like a lot of people who are “punk” tend to be. They’re fighting themselves instead of the system, or whatever.

As far as a sound goes, you can attach little labels to describe a sound, but it’s all pretty meaningless when it comes down to it.

Dick Turner
Defaced “Farts Festival” poster (Palace collection)

I struggle to imagine Buffet’s name on a show poster, saying “Punks Against Trump,” or whatever. You know what I mean? I can’t easily assign a political cause to Buffet. And yet, your first single was about the 2016 Presidential Election. Maybe… “Punks against… boredom”?

NR:
[Laughs] Punks against boredom! Love it. Yeah, put me on that bill. OK, so growing up, and consuming as much as I could until I could figure out what, in the punk space, I really identified with, there were plenty of CDs like… “Plea for Peace” and the “Rock Against Bush” compilations, or whatever. So, to compare one of those compilations with a really cool, thought-provoking article in “Punk Planet,” something about the Bush presidency, or whatever, I felt like the article was more informative, would give me more of a perspective, and potentially offer things you could do if you were unhappy about… X, Y, or Z. Yeah, OK, “Rock Against Bush,” whether that was a CD or a festival or whatever, there’s an element of that that’s preaching to the choir. Unless you’re fund raising, I guess, there’s a feeling of inaction.

Part of what’s exciting, to me, about the possibilities that punk has, is putting yourself in an unlikely situation and shouting your message to people who don’t normally hear that. I don’t think we have any major political statement in Buffet. But,… even just the idea of playing on the street outside during the Anacortes Arts Festival, that was exciting to me… because it was like… “Oh, we’re going to make a bunch of people angry! We’re going to make them hear a weird thing they don’t think exists in our town.” As a member of a small subculture in our community, that’s more important to me. To get your message out. Or make people think, or jar them from their day-to-day existence.

A DoHo momento

Yelling in a punk band is very cathartic.

Dick

DT:
A lot of that resonates with me. I’ve always felt that if you were going to really take something on… I mean, for me, music has always been more of a therapeutic thing. So, it’s more for myself, a lot of the time. Like blowing off steam. But if I really wanted to make a difference, I feel like writing an article, or anything really, could be more of a legitimate statement, especially in the kind of music we make. People can’t even understand the words I sing most of time.

NR:
The way that people consume music, maybe at one point in the history of music, it was easier to make a statement that people would hear, and force people to think… “Oh wow, this is different, this is interesting.” But today, nobody’s ever going to hear music that sounds like us unless they’re seeking that out, and they’re probably going think a lot like we think. And be like… “Fuck yeah!” But I don’t think we’re going to change any attitudes, or really come up against opposition, unless we’re thrown into an unlikely situation like playing in town, or whatever.

DT:
Or unless we accidentally attract a bunch of white-supremacist fans.

NR:
[Laughs] Sure, unless we find ourselves in a controversy!

Record Release Show poster (Palace collection)

I have heard you talk, as a band, about how hard it is for you to get on a gig with other bands, when the venue is looking to pair you with similar artists. A social cause would make it easier for people to… label you…?

NR:
I think that’s why it’s actually really difficult for us to get shows, because it would be pretty easy for us to get shows with a bunch of other bands that sound like us. A bunch of white dudes our age making loud music. But it’s often the case when we’re seeking out shows, or we’re being asked to play a show, I feel even though we’re a new band and have no right to do this, we’re kind of awfully picky. About, like… “It would be great if no other band sounded like us at our show. It would be great if we didn’t play with a single other dude…” In my view, anyway, it’s way less interesting to be in a giant room of only my peers, making the music that we make.

DT:
I think that’s true.

NR:
Even if it makes for a less successful, or weird awkward show, I’m more interested in that.

GP:
Your mission is kind of like being the bomb in the room. As a band, you’re always going to be pushing people out of their modern comfort zones.

NR:
I think we get to do that because of who we are. We get to take that liberty because we can get a weird show that a punk band like ours wouldn’t normally get because John’s in our band. Or because I’m that guy everybody sees who runs The Business. “He’s a nice guy, so I’m sure he writes nice songs.” [Laughs] So, it’s easier to get shows with people who are booking based on never having heard us, even.

DT:
Or just being one of only 10 bands in Anacortes!

GP:
Do they put you on first just to get it out of the way, or do they make you the headliner and hope everyone sticks around?

NR:
Even then we get picky, because then we’re like… “Oh, we have to play this spot in this show because this is going to make the most impact.” This is when the bomb needs to go off! [Laughs]

For a band that has no right to be, we’re super divas!

Nick

So the fundamental question must be asked: Why does Buffet exist? Nick, you have The Business, which is huge. Dick, you have your solo recording career, multiple professional personas… in a healthy way. John has his solo recording career, which has increased in visibility with his signing with Tooth & Nail Records in Seattle. Braydn’s always busy in music as a session player. So, why exist as a band?

DT:
It started before I moved to Anacortes, really, with me and John Van Deusen. I told him at one point that I always wanted to start a band like this. Just fast, and loud, and I just yell, that’s all it is. And that I basically could never find anyone who wanted to start that kind of band. [Laughs] It wasn’t really working out. But John wanted to do it. He was down. We kind of talked about it for a while. At first, we wanted to name ourselves “Salad,” but the name was taken. We got together and spent like 30 seconds in a garage and just improvised something, and it worked pretty well.

NR:
Which continues to be Buffet’s model! [Laughs]

DT:
Then we thought, let’s release an actual song. So, we put that first song on the shelf. Then we recorded the “Hillary or Trump” song [“Which One,” July 2016] pretty spontaneously, and then we were, like… “This needs to be filled in more. We should ask Nick if he wants to record some noise over it, and ask if he wants to play guitar with us.” So, we did that. For a while, we were just playing with… us: me, John, and Nick. And we were like… “This needs to sound more threatening, what’s missing?” [Laughs]

NR:
We’d be working with drum-machine presets, and just putting the machine as fast as the tempo would allow. And we’d be like… “This sounds kind of punk, I guess. It’d be, like, a salsa beat at whatever BPM… And saying, yeah, we can work with this.” [Laughs] It was ridiculous!

DT:
I think there was an assumption that Braydn was too busy, or wouldn’t be interested in making hardcore punk music, but when we asked him and played with him the first time, he was all about it.

NR:
And, he fucking nails it!

DT:
I don’t think I’ll ever find another drummer who plays as well as he does. Basically, the short story is that I just wanted to yell, and so we made it happen. [Laughs]

Buffet in the night