Lee Buford (The Body) Interview

About a month ago, we watched a video by Mitch Wells of Thou, in which he provided behind-the-scenes footage from Thou’s tour with the Body and Heat Dust.  The short, odd film made us even more keen to get in touch with the Body’s Lee Buford and talk about recent projects, specifically the duo’s excellent new album, No One Deserves Happiness (this is, by the way, on top of two absurdly good collaborations with Krieg and Full of Hell).  For more of Buford’s perspective on the record and his band, be sure to check out our profile coverage of the Body in the April issue (#138, Decibel Tour V cover).  In the meantime, wipe up your drool in time for Thrill Jockey’s March 18th release of No One Deserves Happiness and read what Buford has to say about touring, pop music and working with other bands.

We set up this interview specifically for the release of No One Deserves Happiness, but then I found out that you have a collaboration with Full of Hell coming out, and this is right on the heels of your collaboration with Krieg…  You guys need to stay out of the studio long enough for us all to catch up!

Yeah, well, we recorded them at different times.  Everything gets pushed back, and there’s label stuff and everything ends up getting pushed together somehow, and that really sucks.  

How do these collaborations usually come together?

With Thou… I mean, pretty much we’re all friends.  So we get the idea and we all just hang out together and record.  The Haxan Cloak was the only one that we didn’t know beforehand.  We knew his music, but not him personally.

Do you approach music differently depending on who else you’re working with?

Yeah, definitely.  I mean, I’m not a good drummer.  Chip’s a good guitarist, for what he does, but we have ideas of other stuff that we can’t physically play.  So, like, recording with Full of Hell was awesome, because I could be like, “Hey, I’ve got this idea – you play this fast for this long,” and [David Bland] can totally do it because he’s like an animal.  Yeah, we do it like that.  It’s like, if you have an idea, you can actually do it because someone there can actually play the thing you’re thinking of that you can’t do because you’re old and not as good.  

When it’s just you and Chip, does that feel more normal?  Does it feel very different from being together with other musicians?

Yeah, it feels normal.  That’s how we’re most comfortable.  I mean, the collab stuff is fun, but it is an amalgamation of the seven people’s ideas, kind of.  When it’s just me and Chip, our ideas – semantically and aesthetically – are pretty much on the same page.  So I feel like it’s a more… I don’t know if “genuine” is the word, but it’s a more focused vision of what we’re trying to do.  

You mentioned in Mitch’s video that you’re getting tired of touring…  You’d rather stay off the road, be in the studio and write and record?

Yeah, if we could make money doing that, I would definitely prefer that.  I mean, tour’s awesome.  I don’t want to badmouth touring.  I hang out with Chip every day of my life, no matter what, and going on tour is just more hanging out together, but someplace else.  And I’ve never been one of the dudes who parties, it’s not my scene, so tour’s not that far different from my regular life.  But it just seems like other bands… I guess I’m pretty much a hermit at home, so when I’m out on the road, you see what people are listening to and what people like, and it’s real depressing to me.

Which leads me to this:  It’s very difficult to pin down where your musical ideas come from…  At this point, what kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

I have a thing for love songs – Beach Boys, I love Fleetwood Mac.  Those are my big ones, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of the new rap stuff, like Young Thug and Future and stuff.  I feel like they’re at least doing something original, which I feel like a lot of music does not do, which is sad.

You’ve been doing the Body for a while.  Do you feel like your approach to your band’s music is different now than it was when you started?

I think it’s definitely changed over time.  With us going to Machine with Magnets, the studio we record at, it definitely has changed.  It’s kind of like the sky’s the limit, because working with them, we can be like, “I have an idea for this drum beat that goes like this,” and they’re like, “Okay, like this?”  And we’re like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking about.  It’s cool.  Before it was limited to what we could play, because we didn’t really know any better, in 1999 or whatever.

And what was it at that time that made you start recording your ideas as the Body?

I don’t know.  We didn’t record for maybe the first four years of our band.  We didn’t really think of it in that way for a real long time.  And even when we did record, no one liked it.  Ten years later, everyone loves it, but whatever.  

Definitely an acquired taste.

Yeah, I mean, the first record… I remember reading a review in MRR or something, and someone was like, “This sounds like someone just smoked weed and droned out on a guitar,” and then ten years later, that’s what every fucking dumb band sounds like.

But, like you were saying, what makes it enjoyable is that you’re trying to do something fresh and original.

Chip is, like, really lazy, so I don’t think he would do anything if it didn’t have some sort of… if we kept doing the same thing, he would be out.  He would be out the door.  

The record, No One Deserves Happiness, feels almost simultaneously dejected and majestic.  There’s something calm and huge about it, while feeling like the gutter at the same time.

It’s tough – we listen to a lot of pop music…  Chip hates the guitar, even though he plays the guitar, so he’s trying to make his guitar just sound like utter noise.  So, yeah, it’s a little bit of both.  The mixture of it, I guess, is what happens.  And also lyrically, it’s kind of the same thing.

You’ve created a huge amount of recorded music – is there something you’ve done with the Body that you feel personally very connected to and proud of?

Probably this record and the split we did with Sandworm, I think that’s the best stuff we did.  I feel like those two things are the best amalgamation of what we were trying to do.  The most successful, I guess.

Is your music purely based on sonic ideas that you want to try out, or is it coming from something deeper, speaking to who you are and the way you think?

Oh, definitely, one hundred percent.  Most of the stuff we write is pretty dark.  It’s more, like, mental dark than spooky dark, which is something I deal with a lot.  And Chip, too.  All our shirts and stuff are a bunch of sad quotes from old authors.  Which I feel is probably a detriment to us, that we’re so depressing and stuff all the time, but definitely that’s who we are.  I wouldn’t want to do anything that wasn’t genuine in that sense.  I would feel really exploitive if that’s what we were doing and we were just doing it because we thought it was cool or something.  

You mentioned old authors…  Are there particular authors or points of view that play a big role in your music?

Definitely.  Even on this new record, we have our friend reading a quote from Édouard Levé – I think that’s how you say his name, he’s a French guy who wrote this book called Suicide, and then killed himself right after he wrote it.  The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova – there’s references to her throughout our stuff.  We have a shirt with Sylvia Plath, we have an Oscar Wilde shirt… So there’s a bunch.  There’s Robert Creeley reference… There’s a lot.  

And this all creeps into how you’re processing it sonically.

Definitely.  When we first started out, we sampled a lot of stuff – it was more, like, Black Panther samples and stuff like that.  And then it moved to just people-that-are-really-sad samples.  And then it keeps going into… musically… just getting people to read from books, sampling that.

Check out the Body at Bandcamp and pre-order the album (and other merch) at Thrill Jockey.