An old email conversation/interview with Łukasz Buda

While recently searching through a hard drive, I found this email interview with Luke Buda commissioned by a forgotten publication. It must have been from about 2011/2012 – I can't remember what the purpose of it was but I thought it was kind of interesting/amusing and worth posting.

Why do you make Music?

Because I'm too uncharismatic to be a politician.

So you’re no John Key, huh? It’s quite telling that you don’t say ‘Because I’m too foolish/insensitive/unaware/vague/disconnected to be a politician’!

Jesus, you cut to the quick don’t you?

Do you see your songs, or the way you position yourself as an artist, as ‘political’?

Not heaps, no. I try to be politically engaged, I stay aware of important issues, I try to live as responsibly as I can, but I can’t really think of anyway that has come through in my music. It’s difficult to transfer political views to one’s art I think and as much I try I’ve not yet succeeded.

How do your own politics play out in your songwriting?

I’d say writing songs is one of the less political things I do. It is merely a pleasurable tool. Ooh, that sounded a bit naughty.

(this answer is probably redundant given the previous question)

How do you reconcile the fact that you are a musician when faced with the myriad of other possible life choices (such as politics/primary school teaching/saving the world/veterinary science/curing cancer/midwifery/)?

It’s difficult to sometimes. It can feel like a hugely selfish vocation: you spend a significant portion of your time trying to convince people to write about you, and having photos taken of you. You’re constantly mining your personal experience simply as fodder for your “art,” viewing significant moments in your own life as if you were an observer, then trivialising them in a rhyming verse structure. The only real comfort is knowing that music is one of the only genuine universal human pleasures, and as such, you are hopefully adding to the aggregate total of human happiness rather than being some war-mongering bastard.

Moving on, what is an Apple Pie Bed anyway?

It is an archaic trick from before the days of television, when public school boys would sneak into their matron's quarters and smear preserved fruit under the valance, which would ferment over weeks and cause terrifically vivid nightmares for the poor, buxom woman.

Before the days of television’. Ha! It’s funny that you refer to ‘public school boys’ and ‘matron’s quarters’ – there is something incredibly British about your career thus far, from your lyrical choices to your side projects (‘Disciples of Macca’ comes instantly to mind – your Paul McCartney tribute band where the members all wear Paul masks and cover everything from Mull of Kintyre to Band on the Run)… is this from your British parents, your time spent living in the UK, your Christchurch upbringing, or is all of these things? Or none of them? James… why are you so, um, English?

You have fairly accurately summed up the source of my Britishness. My dad’s from Lower Hutt though. I think it’s definitely a Britishness funnelled through the self-regarding faux-aristocracy of Christchurch. Which I think is ridiculous obviously!

Name some of your most significant influences.

The Beatles, The Kinks, Chris Knox, The Front Lawn, Christchurch.

What is your favourite song of yours, and why?

Perhaps "The Pool," cos it has a nice combination of simplicity and complexity, silly lyrics, and is probably my most Zeitgeist-y song cos it referred to actual events going on in Auckland at a time when I was younger and still went out partying.

Do you no longer party? Are you no longer young? Define young.

Not as much. I’m still too young to define young I think.

How do you find living and making music in Auckland compared to other cities you’ve lived in? What’s it like being back there now, especially considering many of the people you have worked with in the past are currently residing overseas?

It seems a hell of a lot easier to make music here than in London, though it’s been absolutely gutted of potential cheap space by the real estate boom, which is a minor bone of contention! But it is a beautiful city, especially in summer, and happily lots of those people you mention come back. Most of them are back at the moment actually, we play cricket every Sunday in Kingsland.

Describe one of your most ludicrous/memorable tour/gig experiences, please.

Watching Revenge of the Sith.

How do you find working with photographers (such as photographer Amelia Handscomb, who has taken your most recent suite of portraits), and directors (like Luke Savage, who directed the hilarious video for ‘Apple Pie Bed’), when you’re dealing with your own material and determining how to present it visually? Do conflicts arise? Do you understand their processes?

Conflicts don’t tend to arise too much because I’m terrified of confrontation and I tend to pick people whom I think share a certain amount of creative territory and as such I can pretty much let them get on with what they’re good at without fiddling about and pissing them off.

What about collaborating with other musicians? Is it easier or harder than working with people in other creative fields?

I think to some degree it’s harder, because you have to recognise your own weaknesses in order to make decisions on who will perform certain roles, and sometimes that can be humbling. When it works really well though it can be transcendent.

Describe one of your most satisfying collaborative musical experiences…

A few months ago Mike Fabulous posted me some of his wonderful old fashioned funk instrumentals and I composed lyrics and melodies over them, which was decidedly satisfying. It was a songwriting experience with none of the doubt and daunting infinite possibilities that often come when writing songs from scratch. The atmosphere was already there, I guess it was kind of like composing music to a film.

Do you use, or have you ever used, Music Theory when writing a song?

I forgot to attend the compulsory grade two music theory exam in 1994, causing a great controversy among my third form peers.  Since then I've shunned music theory and taken a more intuitive approach – the memories are just too painful.

Are you a fairly forgetful sort, James? Tell me more about this ‘intuitive approach’ – describe your process as best you are able (whilst still retaining an element of mystery)…

Yeah, I’m a very forgetful sort. You know that all too well! The “intuitive approach” is based on the simple principle of play what sounds best, and discard the alternatives. It doesn’t take a knowledge of theory to recognise greatness in a song, and just cos you know what an aeolian cadence is doesn’t necessarily mean you can make someone cry. What is an aeolian cadence anyway? Is that actually something?

How do you come up with those great lyrics!?

I think the most important thing is just to start, ignoring any sense of doubt, fear of failure etc. The lyrics are just innate vocabulary, they come out if I let them!

But surely there’s more to it than that. Have you always been a bit of a wordsmith? Did you used to write dark, deep poetry in your teenage bedroom in Avonhead? ‘Fess up…

I won the school essay prize in Form Two. As a general rule I stopped writing recreationally once the school curriculum demanded it. So, no deep dark teenage poetry, sorry. Probably some rubbish prose though.

Was there a moment when you realised that maybe you were onto something with this whole making music thing?

When you gave me the time of day.

Cheeky Sod. Do you feel like you’ve ‘made it’ – or do you think you ever will? What would it take?

Yeah I think I have made it to some degree. Not to say I’m not dissatisfied, hungry for more challenges etc. but it’s good to allow yourself a little sense of pride every now and then, keep you from plunging into irrational and tedious self-loathing...

Any 'tips' for young songwriters?

Be prepared to capture any ideas you have at any time, and write as many songs as you can while it still seems effortless, cos one day the whole process will grind to a crawl.

Good call. My guess is that you’re still on the ‘effortless’ side of things, rather than the ‘grind to a crawl’ end, yeah? Do you really think there’s a point when songwriters ‘burn out’ – surely it varies depending on the artist and the way they’ve worked (amount of drugs and alcohol they’ve consumed, hardcore touring they’ve done, etc)? Is it such a limited – opportunity vocation we’ve chosen?

I don’t think there’s necessary a burn out point, perhaps more a change where you lose a certain spontaneity and energy, and if you don’t modify your methods at that point, become more disciplined, make things weird and difficult for yourself, you will cease to make interesting work.

What star sign are you?


That figures. Cancer. Yep. Finally, and most importantly, why did you credit me with 5% songwriting on ‘Apple Pie Bed’? What did I do? Tell the nation (or, at least, the members of APRA), if you would be so inclined…

You of all people should know Luke.