Back in August, I got a chance to sit down with some of the members of Buffalo Clover, Margo Price, Jason White, and Matt Gardner. In thirty minutes, we covered carnivals, scalawags, and cliff diving. Read on to get inside the minds of Nashville’s most eclectic band.
ATF: How would you describe your music for anyone who had never heard it?
Matt: Depends on what day you catch us, really.
Margo: It’s always a difficult question for us to answer. Um, I guess we started out playing folk rock, roots rock, and then we just get bored easily, so we find something new that we like, or something old, and we start doing that for a while. Like, today we just recorded two kind of funk songs.
Matt: We went through a soul phase.
Margo: Yeah, it’s just a little bit of everything. That’s the safest answer.
ATF: As I was reading your biography, I noticed that you’ve had some band members moving in and out throughout the years. Does this actually affect the sound? Do people bring in new ideas, or do they just jump on board with what you’re already doing?
Margo: Definitely they add to our sound. Like Dylan, our drummer, he likes to play pretty heavy, more upbeat stuff. We were going to do a song today, track a fun R&B song, and then another that was gonna have pedal steel and more of a country feel. Well, it still would have had a Motown feel in its own way, I guess. But he suggested that we do this other heavy song, so…
Matt: The core is always pretty much the same. Jason’s been with us a while, and then me, Jeremy, and Margo. We had a drummer problem for a while.
Margo: Yeah. Matt, Jeremy, and I are always here. We’re kind of the writers. But yeah, there’s been a lot of different people coming in and out. Right now we’re playing with a couple of background singers, too, so definitely throwing them into the mix has made us write for background singers. Stuff with a Ray Charles feel.
Matt: We’ve got our own Rayettes.
Margo: The Margettes…
ATF: How long has Buffalo Clover been together then?
Margo: Let’s see. Jeremy and I have been together for seven years as a couple, and playing music together for maybe four or five. Then we met you (Matt) three years ago. And Jason started playing with us again about a year ago. And we had to take time off because we had a baby, so that put me out of commission for a while.
Margo: Thank you. I did play South by Southwest when I was five months pregnant…with twins. But now we’re back. Full force.
ATF: As I was listening through some of your albums, I noticed there was kind of a theme that ties the songs together. Is this something that you plan when you sit down to write, or is a natural progression of your sound?
Matt: Nah, we never wrote anything with like a theme in mind, if that’s what you mean. We all have kind of the same style, so everything is pretty coherent.
Margo: I feel like it’s where we’re at, too, because we’ve moved away from Nashville and then come back, and our album Strong Medicine, we wrote that when we were kind of homeless and living with my parents up in Illinois. So Jeremy and I would go write at this weird little place called The Coffee Dive, and that’s where we wrote Midnight Circus, Fifteen Reasons, all those songs. And we went on a US tour after that, so that added to the nomadic feel.
I don’t know recently what our theme has been. We’ve been trying to make our albums more coherent, so it’s not like ‘Oh, here’s a country song with pedal steel, and then like…’”
Matt: Now we’re gonna rock your faces off.
Margo: Yeah, and then here’s, like, a horn section.
Margo: Yeah, because some people just don’t like eclectic themes.
ATF: That’s actually what called it to mind, which is funny that you were kind of homeless when writing Strong Medicine. I felt such a gypsy vibe. And then on your latest, I felt a kind of sixties vibe. I felt some soul, some psychedelic rock here and there. So it is kind of amazing that it comes from what you’re experiencing at the time, as well.
Matt: Is it Jeremy that’s part gypsy, too?
Margo: Yep. Jeremy’s got gypsy blood. I think he always feels nomadic.
ATF: How would you guys describe success? Do you feel like you’ve reached it?
Margo: I’m never satisfied.
Jason: That’s the key.
Margo: Yeah. Feeling restless all the time. I think that’s maybe what keeps us going.
Jason: I think that’s success. Just feeling restless.
Matt: I think if you feel like you’ve arrived, you should do something else.
Margo: I don’t know, though. I’m looking forward to arriving. I feel like we have a good little underground buzz going around town, but we’re not ever officially accepted into a lot of the circles. We haven’t found the string-pullers.
ATF: I have to come back to Midnight Circus for a minute, because it’s my husband’s favorite song. We can’t get in the car without him asking me to play it. What’s the inspiration for the song? I get a mental image of you seeing a sign, like John Lennon did for Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Did you come up with a song lick and decide to run with it, or was there something else?
Margo: Yeah… Oddly enough – and I wouldn’t admit this, but I already told someone else, so it’s already out there… You know the HBO series, Carnivale? We got hooked on that when we were living in a Winnebago. And we were watching it every night. We would charge our laptop on the generator in the Winnebago, and then we would crawl inside and watch it at the end of the night, you know? We were living in the Redwoods at the time, and we watched the two seasons straight through.
(Interviewer rambles about circuses, Masters theses, carnivals, and Clue.)
Margo: Yeah, we just sat down and wrote out all the imagery that we could think of that would be 1920’s, dustbowl, carnival. There’s just something so romantic about that time period, because there was a lot of mystery left in the world.
ATF: Obviously you have your own sound, and you’ve been working on it for several years, but who would you consider some of your biggest influences?
Margo: My favorite musician, hands down, is Bob Dylan. I don’t necessarily think I sound like him or do anything like him, but I just like the vague metaphors that he gives. I don’t like everything spelled out. As far as performers, I love Janis Joplin. I don’t think I can pull off sounding like her. And recently, Jeremy and I really got into everything the Rolling Stones ever did. I always liked them, but I was a big Kinks fan before that. And of course, I grew up on the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and all the stuff my parents were listening to.
Matt: I don’t know. I grew up with the Beatles a lot. I just like whatever moves me at the time. Could be – like, I got into folk blues a lot. Everything from Doc Watkins…and I was into Chet Atkins for a while. And that’s just from a guitar standpoint…just stuff like that. But for songwriting, I’m definitely influenced more by the classic rock stuff. Stuff I heard as a kid. I think everyone ends up playing what they heard as a kid.
Margo: Slips into your subconscious. 20 Tons of Blues sounds so Tom Petty-esque.
Matt: I wouldn’t really name him as a big influence, but all of his friends are. And he’s good, too.
Jason: All that. I love stuff. Soul. The Four Tops.
ATF: What do you do during your down time? Do you get vacations?
Margo: Used to. I like to do stuff outdoors, and I love to travel, but having a kid makes that hard. Right now, I’m just being a mom and trying to juggle both – being a crazy musician and settling down a little bit more.
Matt: We’re all kind of outdoorsy, I think. We like hiking, and…pretty boring stuff, like books.
ATF: What was the last book you read?
Matt: I’m reading Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Just because that’s one I never read before.
Margo: When we were in England, you were reading a book in French.
Matt: Oh, yeah. That was a Simone de Beauvoir book. But I like motorcycling. I like drinking. Normal stuff, you know.
Margo: I just went out to Percy Priest and did some cliff diving. Mom’s day out. It was good. That’s one of my favorite things to do – thrill seeking. But now I’ve got the maternal instinct, like, “What if I break my legs?” I used to be pretty reckless. Things have kind of changed.
ATF: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you either individually or as a group while you were performing or touring?
Margo: Oh, England was just like one big bender. What was your favorite moment of the tour?
Jason: I don’t know. Just the whole thing was one big trip for me.
Margo: Jason just spread his wings and flew in England.
Jason: I love how everybody was excited, you know? That we were from Nashville. Instantly we were in. After every show, they were all excited, and wouldn’t let us leave the stage. That was awesome.
Margo: It’s a good feeling. One of my favorite stories, it wasn’t like a thrilling moment or anything, but it’s funny. You know it rains there a lot, and so Jason and our friend Jared, who came along, they were gonna take a walk. They only had one umbrella, and I was like, “You guys are gonna share the umbrella?” I started making fun of them big time, but they left, and they walked down to the Co-op or something. You can take over here.
Jason: Yeah, we got ambushed by all these English kids.
Margo: They started calling Jason “Jesus.” And they were like, “Give me a cigarette, Jesus!”
Jason: They were asking if we had to take a drug test to get into America. Like, these kids, you know?
Matt: They were asking why you were sharing an umbrella and stuff.
Jason: Yeah, we got a little scared and ran away.
(Interviewer mumbles about saucy kids in Ireland and how she would have had her mouth mashed if she’d talked that way as a kid.)
Buffalo Clover is currently performing throughout the southeast, on their Sweetheart of the South tour. To catch them in a city near you, check out the schedule on their website.