R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, shown here playing a Gretsch 6120, recently said he owns about 80 guitars, 10 of which are Rickenbackers. For the Arthur Buck album, he used a ’60s Gibson SJ-200 and his beloved ’81 Rickenbacker 360.
Photo by Tim Bugbee
Describe how your impromptu songwriting became an album project.
Arthur: We went up to Portland and wrote two more songs, one of which was “Wide Awake in November.” “Are You Electrified?” might have been the other one. Then we went into Type Foundry Studio. I programmed a bunch of beats and Peter played all the rhythm guitar stuff, the arrangements. Then I took all that back home to Brooklyn and fleshed it out—worked on my vocals, worked on the lyrics, and other stuff. It was just such a cool process.
Is that how your album-making process normally works?
Arthur: No, this is uncommon, man. I mean, my solo albums take years. I work fast, but I’ll get a whole bunch of songs and some of them are kick-ass, others aren’t so kick-ass. I’ll put everything on the shelf, get depressed for six months, then come back and have all these new ideas and new songs. Then I’ll take the best from the old batch and put it with the best of the new batch. Then I’ll get depressed again and another eight months will pass by. Then I’ll come back to it again. I’ll go through that laundry-wringing process eight times and then five years later, I’ll have a kick-ass solo album.
I think you always need to collaborate. Even if you’re a solo artist, you need to collaborate with yourself through time—because there’s different versions of yourself that you’re collaborating with. But that takes time. Whereas with me and Peter, it’s a full-on collaborative effort, songwriting-wise. I could never write the songs we’re writing on my own. It’s because he’s bringing his whole thing and there’s a chemistry involved with it.
Peter, what was making this record like for you?
Buck: For me, it was super simple, because Joe was doing the drum programming into his Ableton setup. We basically recorded the songs in one day with just the beats, Joe singing along, and me putting down my guitars. I wasn’t certain we were even making a record. I was thinking it may be a demo, but at the end of six or eight hours, we had the record pretty much done—all my guitars were finished, at least. We added one more song, “American Century,” later. By that point, we had nine finished tracks, which Joe adored.
The guitar sounds—both acoustic and electric—are killer. What instruments did you play?
Arthur: I like playing Strats but didn’t have any in the studio—I left those in Los Angeles, so I used this Tele that I love, which is disappointing, because I never wanted to be a Tele guy. But it’s this kick-ass Masterbuilt Tele that’s relic’d, so it looks like it’s been played by Jeff Beck since 1962. I used a Les Paul, too.
Buck: The acoustic guitar I played was a Gibson SJ-200—I think it’s a ’61 or ’62—that I’ve had for 30-something years. The electric guitar was the ’81 Rickenbacker 360 that I’ve used on pretty much every record I’ve ever made.
Joseph, how did you get that warm lead tone on “The Wanderer?”
Arthur: That’s my Tele through Kevin Henretta’s multi-effects box into a Vox. Sometimes I’ll put on fucked-up sounds just for fun. And when I sent [engineer] Tchad Blake the rough mixes, I accidentally printed all my effects on the stems. Tchad loves dealing with problems and wild shit like that, and he definitely made it sound better than I had it. But yeah, I love the way that solo came out. It’s funny because when Peter and I were first writing “The Wanderer”—which is my favorite song on the record, by the way—that was the only song I actually played guitar on. I would just sing, and then I would pick up my Dobro and play like, a Dobro solo over the top of that.
Though you produced the album, Joseph, Tchad Blake mixed it. Tell us more about his sonic imprint on Arthur Buck.
Arthur: Tchad knows how to accentuate the spirit of an album like nobody’s business. He knows how to make it sound cool. One of the things I love about Arthur Buck is that it could be considered indie-rock in a way, but it has this funky, hip-hop feel to it, a dance kind of energy to it, based on those beats. I really like that. I wanted to keep it like that, because I felt this was our lane of originality on some level, too.
At the same time, it sounds like there are real drums.
Arthur: I was gonna keep it all electronic drums, but as I started listening to Tchad’s mixes, I called him and said, “Hey, man. I got a question for you. Do you think the programming is a bit stiff? Or do you think it’s cool?” I wanted him to say, “No, it’s perfect just like it is!” But what he said was, “In a perfect world I would have real drums to play with, too.” I was like, “Dude, you are killing me right now.”
So I booked a studio with a really good drum room—this studio called KIZMIT in Brooklyn—and spent two nights putting real drums on every song. And this was like the 12th hour of mixing. I sent him all the live drums. When he mixed “The Wanderer,” he was like, “Dude, this one drum take makes the whole drum session worth it.” You can hear much more of the real drums on it—the toms—and it sounds more like Tom Waits, when at first it was sort of straight hip-hop.
Where did the hip-hop inspiration come from?
Arthur: It’s the music I’m usually most excited about. I’m all up on Pusha T’s new album [Daytona] right now. And I just wonder, is Arthur Buck as good as that?
Peter, what was it like for you to record without a drummer?
Buck: I’m used to playing with a live drummer, as I’ve done since I was 17. In every band I’ve ever been in, the drummer follows me or I lock in directly with the drummer and we are the rhythm section. Playing with programmed drums was way different. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye and speed it up or slow it down. We rehearsed a month ago with a keyboard player, bass player, and drummer. I was definitely approaching the songs differently than when we made the record because I had different jobs to do. We’ll be using some loops and things like that at different points, which gives me more latitude to move around.
So what’s next?
Arthur: What’s great is that we’ve got six or seven killer new songs, dude. It’s just exciting when it’s kind of—I don’t want to say effortless, because there’s effort involved—but the magical element feels effortless. It’s like, “Man this is just a fun band.”
Accompanied by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Peter Buck—and a gorgeous string quartet—Joseph Arthur pays tribute to Lou Reed by performing “Walk on the Wild Side” on Late Night with David Letterman.
In a live video performance at New York’s Q104.3 classic rock radio station, Peter Buck and Joseph Arthur play several songs from Arthur Buck and discuss the genesis of their new creative collaboration.