In 2010, I was 16 years old and Avi Zahner-Isenberg was 18. For many teenagers, those years are full of hormones that, to all of our credit, are hard to control and deal with. For me, I usually turned to music to cope with basically anything I struggled with and I still do today. But it was and still is hard to find music that deals with those specific frustrations and struggles that teenage years bring. That’s why I admired Avi Buffalo‘s self-titled album back then. Rather I liked it or not, I was never a ladies man… In fact, I still am not a ladies man. At that point in time, my social anxiety and social skills were not under control like they are today. Avi touched on these topics with songs like Truth Sets In and What’s It In For?. Those are the songs that got me through these struggles. Today, I make friends everywhere I go and I rarely am as awkward as I used to be. While those times were very difficult for me, I have a lot to be thankful for that album. And the fact that I get to review Avi’s current music is such an honor.
Avi Zahner-Isenberg began making music early in his childhood on whatever he could find. His mom “ingrained me with all sorts of folk and pop music from the 60s and 70s, which I think was a big part of me falling in love with the guitar” while his dad showed him more classic music and a little Avante-Garde music. He taught himself how to play guitar around age 13, and his family noticed his talents immediately and he started to take guitar lessons. “I found my way quickly towards Hendrix, Zeppelin and other harder rock I hadn’t been exposed to, and simultaneously Wes Montgomery, specifically the album Smokin’ At The Half Note, featuring a version of impressions that got me into John Coltrane“. He was further inspired by musical philosophies after listening to Nels Cline (especially his tribute to the Interstellar Space). “Any and all good music inspires me from wherever or whoever is behind it, there’s always something to be gleaned,” Avi remarks. Avi is influenced as a songwriter by both traditional musical forms he’s noticed from over centuries of composition or improvisation, and also completely abstract things. “I had a heavy Jimmy Webb kick a couple of years ago, and also a love for folks like Bacharach, so some 60s and 70s motifs I’ve over-crammed my brain with a bit.” When he started exploring different kinds of musical philosophies as songwriting, Animal Collective was a big one for him. “I produced a record a few years ago with one of my favorite songwriters, this guy Kevin Litrow’s Litronix. He has a very strong spiritual connection with himself and to making music that I always have in my soul since loving his stuff and especially after getting to play with him a lot” Zahner-Isenberg says. He has also experimented with pop music, his new record with Ari Prado called Glow Cast On Eternal Sound, with a composer on a Motif keyboard and Logic. “The record has some majorly experimental moments while also being a nod to really sparkly pop music, and it was a really fun sonic exploration. In short, I believe you are what you eat and what you do, and every life experience and musical experience guide you to what you’re going to create next, so I’m set on soaking up as much as I can,” reflects Avi. Avi says he doesn’t really know what his fan-base is like, but has met a pretty big range of people and it always means a lot to him when anyone resonates with what he makes. He says “(my music is) really personal for me and it’s cool when anyone digs a musical or lyrical aspect of any sort and encouraging to keep pushing myself and learning. Writing songs has always had deep roots in the therapeutic necessity for me, and so has listening to music first and foremost, so I hope that connects full circle for anyone who enjoys my stuff, and I’m grateful when I connect with them through anyone either way”.
“I love modern songwriters like Frank Ocean for their highly intelligent lyrics and creative, visceral songwriting, experimenting with form using sonic textures, samples, experimental techniques and all that good stuff, same for Bjørk, Robert Wyatt, those sorts of people really inspire me as songwriters with their own voice.”
-Avi Zahner-Isenberg (12/2/2019)
To best explain Avi Buffalo’s sound begins with his songwriting, a piece of his music that he probably would claim to be very ideal. While the only proof to this statement is from articles written about probably his album from 2010. It’s also very obvious to me that there’s a lot more to his music than that just songwriting after chatting with him over Facebook messenger. A lot of things that he focuses on in his music are simply beyond my knowledge; such key modulations, and progression and etc… But what I want to focus on are my favorite albums and songs. Avi’s first album in 2010 (Avi Buffalo) is one of my favorites, as I previously touched upon, with memorable songs like Jessica, What’s It In For? (which I strangely found on an AT&T flip phone back around 2010 or 2011), Remember Last Time, and Where’s Your Dirty Mind?. I also love his 2014 album called At Best Cuckold, which adds onto his authentic songwriting and musical guitar riffs. Songs that stood out on this album are So What, Overwhelmed With Pride, Think It’s Gonna Happen Again, and Oxygen Tank. Not surprisingly, his Spotify most popular songs are songs from these two albums. Furthermore, I do appreciate his attempts at experimenting with pop music, but his newest album called Glow Cast on Eternal Sound just didn’t click with me. However, I don’t want to focus on his experimental tracks since they’re not many out on Spotify at the moment. His latest release (Skeleton Painting) continues his great collection of music but also introduces a new way of writing his songs through reflections on a painting. Overall, music is definitely a big part of this guy’s life and that is a genuinely awesome part of him. “It’s really important for all of it to really come authentically from you whatever it is, and never to try to please someone or something you have no connection to,” Avi says about making music.
“For the future, I’m looking to release more tracks soon, and some sort of body of work again, like an album. I have a lot of different songs and recordings laying around, and I’m always experimenting with writing and producing.”
Avi is currently working with Sean Sonderegger, “a PhD-wielder in ethnomusicology and an awesomely creative composer who uses my very abstract lyrics to make these sort of art-songs” Avi says. It’s a collaboration he’s never done before but it’s an experimental technique that’s teaching him a lot about chord progression and different songwriting techniques. He is also possibly releasing some older songs that haven’t been released soon. However, Sean’s collaboration tracks will definitely be out sometime next year.