Allow me to explain. When assigned to interview Avi Buffalo, the buzzy Long Beach-based band fronted by 19-year-old guitarist/vocalist Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg (nickname: Avi), I was asked to send my questions via e-mail. Uh-oh. Would his responses read like a Twitter feed?
But, since the band’s self-titled debut on Sub Pop earlier this year has been getting critical raves, I decided to give it a go.
Naturally, I had to start with something silly, which, in this case, was: “Has your mom (or grandma) seen your song titles (“Five Little Sluts,” “Summer Cum,” “Where’s Your Dirty Mind?”)?” Zahner-Isenberg’s response: “Sure they have. They’re very supportive.”
Of course they’re supportive, dude. You and your bandmates are barely out of high school (Millikan High, to be exact) and have garnered glowing press from around the world for your lush and precocious guitar-pop, which owes heavily to your born-to-play guitar skills. (The kid shreds.)
But here was an opportunity—maybe a stupid one, but still—to say something funny. Like, “My grandma liked the album but asked why I misspelled ‘come’” or “My parents were commune-dwelling hippies who taught me about sex with felt-board figures when I was 2, so it was no big surprise.”
I also had to ask about the band’s lyrics, which mostly avoid triteness but do cling to a youthful obsession with sex and mortality. (The song titles demonstrate the inherent horniness, and, at one point, Zahner-Isenberg sings, “All this time to die / I don’t want to die.”) So, in his opinion, what’s the connection between the two? Is sex a way to feel extra-alive?
“I think creativity is a good way to feel extra-alive,” he counters. “Personal death is what happens when I’m doing nothing. Some of the songs on the album are reflective of times when I was feeling I had a lot of catching up to do.”
A lot of catching up? You’re 19! Then again, having been 19 in a now-prehistoric era, I remember desperately wanting to be somebody and do something. Zahner-Isenberg can check that off his list.
Another lyric seems equally revealing: “I’ve never written a love song.” Yet the album is full of songs about love—or some approximation of love. Even the youthful exuberance, the handclaps and sweet harmonies and shimmering guitars, feel like love.
“Love is everything!” Zahner-Isenberg says. “I love playing music, I love loving people, I love being loved. There’s lots of love that goes into making music, and love keeps us alive. Hooray for love! Haha.”
OK, so maybe he doesn’t need to lighten up. In fact, Zahner-Isenberg may be one of the most earnest and excitable young men in music. On his Twitter feed, he says things like, “stokedissimo” and ends practically every thought with an exclamation point. Does anything piss him off ?
“We’re very excited to be playing music, but we’re also touring on the road and it’s hard!” Despite his band’s critical success and a recent opening slot for Modest Mouse, which he describes as “really special,” Zahner-Isenberg still tweets to fans asking for floors to crash on.
“We’re not making any money if that’s what you’re assuming,” he explains. “Sleeping on floors is way better sometimes; it’s a lot better to be out meeting people. [We’re] learning a lot about life, and figuring out what we want to do next with our lives and our music.”
Part of that maturing process has been listening to more music. Zahner-Isenberg was raised on a steady diet of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, CSNY, Simon and Garfunkel and Jimi Hendrix. In the more contemporary realm, he’s into Wilco (an especially obvious influence) and lately has been digging on Ariel Pink’s House Arrest and the Dirty Projectors.
Another part of growing up is just being stokedissimo about what’s next.
“We’ve got a headline tour in America we’re getting ready for in October and yes! New recorded material will be happening soon in some way. I love recording, it’s my favorite thing to do other than playing live, which is a totally different kind of animal anyway.”
A different kind of animal like Avi Buffalo—young, gentle and endearingly unprepared for anything but love, love, love.
Avi Buffalo opens for My morning Jacket at SDSU’s Open Air Theatre on Wednesday, Aug. 11.