Record: All-American (2019)
In popular culture, the punk record, as a force, remains something upsetting in its style; its creation a wildfire of bad attitude. The punk imperative, its “call to action,” is intended to be political, intended to be anger. Punk isn’t about the slow burn of Indie music. It’s the hot fire of outrage and indignation. That’s punk’s legacy and its mythology today, in this age of passive Netflix binges on iPads and the banality and fake intimacy of smart phones and social media. But this punk myth is over 40 years old. The first punks are eligible to draw Social Security (if they haven’t already died from their lifestyle choices). It’s a painful thought, I know. Minor Threat ceased to be “active” 36 years ago. Even Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day), frequently noted as today’s poster-boy punk icon, is racing toward 50. You see their references everywhere, you can still buy the t-shirts, and they’re pressing all the “classic” punk LPs on deluxe vinyl and picture discs for every Record Store Day!
Thing is, punk is everywhere. Still an idea as feral as it ever was, it’s adapted to thrive in almost every city, like coyotes and gray squirrels. Punk loves (and hates) the suburban landscape. The real change has just been in fashion, not in passion. Punk has been evolving and responding to social challenges of every generation since the 1970s. The punk record today isn’t always made in the hot DIY moment. It’s almost never an afterthought now. The punk record today is a miracle of devotion and budgeting. There are a thousand steps to get punk bands from house shows into studios to make records. Keeping punk bands together takes modern management techniques, and online file-sharing and scheduling tools.
In the case of Buffet (Dick Turner, Nick Rennis, John Van Deusen, and Braydn Krueger), the Anacortes, Washington, punk band, the journey has been a complicated one, made so not by politics, but by modern lives in a weak economy. Every member of the band is a journeyman player, is married, and in the case of two, have children. They all have jobs, pay rent, have responsibilities. Nothing about the making (and keeping together) of Buffet, the band, or the making of their remarkable debut record, “All-American” (Resurrection Records, Knw-Yr-Own, All You Can Eat Records, 2019) was spontaneous or accidental.
Originally the idea of a side project between Dick Turner and John Van Deusen, Buffet was about scratching an itch two friends had as they developed their own music side projects.
Everyone in Buffet has side projects. John Van Deusen (and Braydn Krueger), were, of course, famously members of The Lonely Forest, one of several Anacortes Indie bands that has achieved mythological status in the Pacific Northwest. The Lonely Forest began what it called “an indefinite hiatus” in 2014; their final record, “Adding Up the Wasted Hours” (Trans), came out in 2013.
John Van Deusen created his own label, Monopath Records, and set himself an ambitious task of writing and releasing a trilogy of Christian-inspired studio records: “(I am) Origami Pt. 1: The Universal Sigh” (Monopath, 2017), “(I am) Origami Pt. 2: Every Power Wide Awake” (Monopath, 2017), and the soon-to-be released “(I am) Origami Pt. 3: A Catacomb Hymn” (Tooth & Nail Records, 2019).
Dick continues to develop singles and solo records, including his most recent full-length record, “R. Turner,” released on Monopath Records in 2017. His 2012 self-released record, “The Significance of Being Nothing,” remains a kind of folk/punk hybrid prefiguring the songwriting style he would adapt for Buffet’s use.
It wasn’t until Dick and John decided to explore punk in 2016 that Buffet came into focus. Nick Rennis (owner, with Evie Opp, of The Business, the legendary Anacortes record shop and distribution hub for over 80 bands and labels, and the solo recording artist working under the band name The Drink Up, Honey) was asked to bring in his driving guitar attitude, and Buffet started to become the bitey punk band it is today. Drummers were changed and Braydn stepped in. With John on bass and Braydn on drums, Buffet’s rhythm section drifted out of a more traditional punk structure into the hybrid beast it is. Dick and Nick come from Rust Belt punk backgrounds while John and Braydn bring their coastal island Indie energy. These forces combine to give Buffet its unique fusion punk vibe.
The result is a band of seasoned journeymen players, friends. Their practice sessions and song development has been a study in economy of motion and energy. The result is a record that races through its 13 songs in about 30 minutes. Their live shows are similar: fast, sharp, and filled with commentary about the stultifying inertia of modern life. To be sure, every song is serious. But the ease of these four friends working together make their output feel relaxed and playful.
“All-American” was recorded on one day, 23 August 2018, at the Unknown Studio in Anacortes (I was there taking pictures). Recording engineer Nich Wilbur was at the controls. It was a day of efficiency and synchronicity. Each song rarely took more than a couple of takes to get the basic structure captured. Layers and fills were added, and the record was mixed by Wilbur. All 13 songs have a punk political message. Many are delivered with a sense of humor wrapped in a storm of guitars and feedback. The band’s punk mandate is met.
This month (on July 4) it’s been three years since Buffet released their first tentative single, “Which One,” on the eve of the 2016 presidential race. It seems like a thousand years since that summer. Things are so different now, it remains a fertile time for punks.
These changes make Buffet feel more punk than ever. I mean, modern punk isn’t about security. Punk should never be about security. Every punk record is a miracle of devotion. “All-American,” which is selling well and on track to sell out its first pressing in vinyl this summer, is more than a fun romp through 13 political memes. It’s a statement about how we can work with what we have, in the moment. It’s about friendship and taking risks.
John Van Deusen has signed to the well-heeled Tooth & Nail label in Seattle, which promises the start of a new chapter of JVD releases and touring. And Dick has moved away from Anacortes with his family to pursue other non-music business opportunities. But I’ve heard a rumor that a few demos might be floating around for a second Buffet record, and maybe plans for more shows in the fall. And it’s all OK because “All-American” was never intended to be a destination. Buffet remains the feral animal it was when it was created.
“All-American” is here. Punk lives.
[Coming soon… Buffet headline a show with S4lt and Bandit Train, at Berserk in Spokane, Washington, Saturday, 31 August.]
[The small drawings of the band used in this article are by the Dick Turner. Used by permission of the artist.]