This year, singer-songwriter Richard Buckner decided to skip SXSW, widely regarded as spring break for the music industry.
Richard Buckner and Six Parts Seven With J. Tillman. Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 441-5611, www.thecrocodile.com. $10 adv./$12 DOS. All ages. 8 p.m. Tues., April 10.
"Mardi Gras situations, cops on horseback, and drunk people—I tend to avoid that," he laughs. "I prefer to go out on a Wednesday night and be the only drunk out."
On the flip side, Allen Karpinski, multi-instrumentalist for Six Parts Seven and Buckner's current touring partner, couldn't wait to head to Austin, Texas, for the event: "I still go to SXSW every year because it's like a rock and roll vacation for me."
While the two differ in perception of the industry's booze-and-schmooze fest, they clearly share a passion and creativity for music.
At first listen, Six Parts Seven might not necessarily seem like the first choice to back Richard Buckner: an instrumental post-rock band from northeast Ohio backing a loner singer-songwriter whose songs have roots in Americana, country, and folk. But all the musicians involved here maintain a certain sense of minimalism and intimacy in their music.
By all accounts, the decision to join musical forces was a wise one. On this tour, Six Parts Seven have been performing their own set of softly drifting numbers in the opening slot before joining Buckner onstage to rework his songbook. Buckner's latest, Meadow, which came out last year on Merge, seems perfectly suited to this endeavor, as it's one of his most fully realized "band" albums to date, mostly devoid of the solo acoustic-guitar strumming so prevalent in his past work.
"None of this is planned," Buckner says, laughing, about the serendipitous events leading to their pairing for the tour. "It's whatever I can do and however I can do it."
Sometimes in life, the pieces just all come together, whether by design or fortuity. Buckner had made the decision to tour with a backing band for the first time since his misbegotten stint with a major label in the mid-'90s. Simultaneously, Six Parts Seven were looking for someone to hit the road with, and were more than willing to fill the role of backing band if need be. Is it fate? More likely, it's a coincidence, but sometimes chance is more fruitful than providence, as Buckner and the band will gladly attest.
"I wish we would have had more time," says Karpinski, on the phone from a tour stop in Florida. "We had one rehearsal. Richard drove from New York to Cleveland. We rented out a hall and spent an afternoon playing through the songs, and three days later, we were in New York playing our first show."
Buckner, from his apartment in Bed-Stuy, remembers being less concerned about the lack of practice. "I told them before we started, 'Don't worry about the songs. Do whatever you want, 'cause it doesn't matter.'"
Buckner's latest features several guests, including Guided by Voices' Doug Gillard, as well as the return of producer J.D. Foster. Electric guitars and drums provide a rocking bed for his weathered voice. "I'm kind of in the surf-bonanza world of guitar playing," he explains about his decision to recruit musicians for the record, "and I wanted somebody with finesse to play this stuff."
Finesse is something Six Parts Seven have an abundance of.
"What we're doing is a testament to the validity of private worlds and secret wishes, things that people don't necessarily wanna share with other people," explains Karpinski about the Six Parts sound. It can be a challenge for an instrumental rock band to connect with an audience, so the band keeps its sets short, a concept that carried over to the recording of its most recent 30-minute opus for Suicide Squeeze, Casually Smashed to Pieces. "With instrumental music," admits Karpinski, "it's a lot more demanding on the listener. It's not right in your face."
According to Karpinski, the collaborative outing has been a pleasure for all parties involved: "[Richard] draws an older crowd than we're used to, which is cool. They're really appreciative of the music we're making and are excited to see Richard with a full band."
The feeling seems to be mutual. Buckner has asked Six Parts Seven to continue on with him for an upcoming East Coast tour and possibly some festival dates during the summer, something the band seems eager to do.
Over the next few months, Buckner will continue to work on the soundtrack for a film that he first came in contact with about five years ago, James Bolton's Dream Boy, as well as possibly putting together another album for Merge. Six Parts Seven, according to Karpinski, will probably take a break. Guitarist Tim Gerak is preparing to move to Seattle to open his own studio, where the band hopes to eventually record a new album. For now, everyone's just enjoying the process. "We're out there to just play the songs in a way that's not like the record," says Buckner. "It makes that four hours of sleep each night in the Red Roof Inn worth it."
Several times throughout the interview, Buckner alludes to his desire to maintain his privacy, even while on tour. This doesn't feel all that surprising, given the intimate nature of the tales he weaves with his songwriting. "[Six Parts Seven] travel in their van, so I still travel alone. I love driving alone. They're all super-nice guys, too," he adds, before quipping with a husky chuckle. "It's a good way for me... because I still get my privacy. And I'm not in the van, so I don't have to move any bass equipment."