Southern California journeymen known for their lush narratives & blistering live sets, BUCHANAN exhibits a style that melds the soul of Jeff Buckley, the craftsmanship of Joni Mitchell, and the raw power of Led Zeppelin.


Buchanan isn’t holding anything back. That’s apparent from the strikingly emphatic songs and performances of All Understood, their debut album, an audacious affair populated by characters who are teetering on the edge of revelation or self-destruction, or both. It’s also obvious from even a brief rundown of 28-year-old lead-singer / songwriter Jay Buchanan, and his colorful life story, which includes being raised in the Southern California mountain town of Wrightwood by art-venerating blue-collar parents who admired Dylan far more than Reagan; racking up straight F’s in high school while reading Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Henry Miller on his own time; hitchhiking to Alaska at 20 with a backpack, a harmonica and a journal, in the thrall of the Beat poets and Jack London, and more recently becoming a hit-and-run troubadour, serenading movie queues and plugging in outside the local 7-Eleven to entertain anyone who happened to pull up for a pack of smokes, then beating it when the cops showed up.

In 1999, Buchanan scraped together his meager resources to create his self-released solo album, Violence. He was able to persuade two musicians he admired, bassist Todd Sanders (from popular Long Beach-based Ruby Diver) and drummer Chris Powell (who’d performed with Jay in a series of Inland Empire blues bands) to play on the album.

In 2000, Buchanan came across guitarist Ty Stewart, a skilled player who shared Jay’s thirst for action. Before long the two were grabbing acoustic guitars and amps and performing their guerrilla sets all over Orange County, selling copies of Violence to bystanders between tunes. Adding Sanders and Powell into the mix, the nascent band began to gig and quickly generated a rabid following throughout Southern California.

Despite their growing popularity, Buchanan remained below the radar of the major-label A&R department, but they were unfazed. “At that point,” says Sanders, “We realized that the only thing we could be sure of was ourselves. We figured we’d put out our own record and gain fans on our own.”

Buchanan started cutting tracks for a projected album, but before they could get to such key songs as “Satan Is a Woman,” “Reborn,” “Three Times Coleen,” and “The Sun Burns My Eyes,” opportunity knocked, as Ultimatum’s Jason Ziemianski spotted the band and brought them to the label. Before the ink was dry on the contract, Buchanan was in the studio with veteran producer Don Gehman (R.E.M., John Cougar Mellencamp, Tracy Chapman), who immediately embraced the material. On the resulting All Understood, Gehman builds the tracks on the foundation of Sanders’ muscular but melodic bass lines and Powell’s emphatic drumming. Amid these distinctively spring-loaded grooves, Buchanan and Stewart squeeze out sparks on their twin Gibson 335’s, the tonalities hinting at everything from “Solisbury Hill” and “The Sweetest Taboo” to “Midnight Rider” and “Strawberry Letter #23,” just as Jay’s vocal timbre at times recalls Bryan Ferry, David Byrne, Jeff Buckley and even Tracy Chapman.

Jay’s vocal heroes include Bobby McFerrin for his virtuosity; Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Otis Redding for their emotiveness. “You put Otis on and you can’t be in a bad mood,” he says, “even if you’re heartbroken, which there’s usually no cure for.” Buchanan has fully assimilated these disparate influences on the way to forging a resonant vocal style that pumps fearlessness and acute sensitivity in equal measure through his flexible, sonorous tenor.

The band’s shimmering, crisply patterned arrangements stand in stark contrast to Buchanan’s dark narratives, with their sharply drawn, frequently disturbing images of people who are losing control or already out of control, revealing the extent to which driven people will go.

On the album’s third track, “Reborn,” Stewart’s spiraling guitar figure sets the tone for a strikingly distinctive track that floats through the verses and slams in the choruses. The track has the urgency of soul music, the forcefulness of rock & roll and the substance of literature. “We all go through periods where we are unhappy with ourselves because we're unsatisfied with where we're at,” Jay explains, “but we fail to recognize that change is possible. ‘Reborn’ is about that … about stopping where you're going and turning it all around.”

Buchanan possesses the rare ability to make the characters in his songs come alive. In “Satan Is a Woman,” he uses a series of spare but sharply drawn details to imbue the song’s memorable central figure with a flesh-and-blood immediacy. She’s at the heart of a harrowing tale inspired by the writings of Charles Bukowski, full of anxiety and paranoia, with echoes of Neil Young’s spooky classic, Tonight’s the Night, and the Robert Stone novel Dog Soldiers.

“ That song is about people gravitating toward things that they know are bad for them, and the stigma that’s attached to what they’re doing feeds their momentum,” Buchanan explains. “That’


True Love ep (2006)
All Understood lp (2004)
Violence (2000)