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The best kept secret in music


"Ready for a Breakthrough"

The Orange County band Buchanan is one step away from the big time - but it’s a long step.

Jay Buchanan makes music you should already know by heart. Sweet, romantic, slightly edgy stuff, all of it every bit as charismatic as his burgeoning rock-star looks.

His band, called Buchanan, has just put out its first proper album, "All Understood," and it's on store shelves around the country. The timing could be right for a breakthrough - the group's sound echoes that of singer-songwriters like John Mayer and Jason Mraz, who have made it big recently appealing to 20- and 30-something listeners, women in particular.

Buchanan, after years of building a sizable following throughout Orange County, now lingers in that nervous limbo between being a local favorite and a bona fide on-the-rise sensation. The group has already made it farther than most acts that ply their trade in bars and clubs around the county, yet remains a long stride short of truly making it in the music business.

Despite its glimmering promise, the band - including guitarist Ty Stewart, drummer Chris Powell and bassist Todd Sanders - is scraping to get by these days. All four O.C.-based musicians have quit day jobs to devote themselves to getting the album off the ground, and most are living off rapidly dwindling credit or the good graces of significant others.

Buchanan himself has been living for months in the band's touring RV, which he usually parks at different locations in Laguna Beach. Any money he earns, which is minimal, he sends to his ex-wife, who is raising their 5-year-old son.

"We're in a whole lot of debt," says Buchanan, 28. "I get hungry, and I haven't had a shower in three days. But it's not that big of a deal. So long as I have a place to lie down, that's all that matters."

Band members financed the album's recording on their own by taking out a business loan - a risky bid for artistic independence. Had they signed with a record label, the company would have underwritten the costs, but also might have insisted on changing the band's sound.

As it is, Buchanan's sound could prove to be another stumbling block, since it's atypical of Orange County, a region known for sprouting only a handful of pop success stories - No Doubt, Sugar Ray and the Offspring, all of whom had roots in ska or punk rock.

Buchanan says he runs into outsiders' narrow view of O.C.'s diverse music scene all the time: "When we play bars and clubs, we tell people we're from Orange County - and what's the first thing they think of? Ska-punk. No Doubt."


Ironically, Buchanan specifically came to Orange County, rather than a music Mecca like Los Angeles, to pursue his ambition. "I don't like L.A.," he says. "Just going there makes me want to stab myself. It sucks your soul dry. Everybody moves to that place looking for a big break but what sells there switches so quickly. People who live there have short attention spans."

Buchanan spent his formative years in Wrightwood, "growing up in the woods," listening to lots of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and Otis Redding. He would play in coffee shops when he wasn't making an unenthusiastic stab at college - "I had a failure to commit" - eventually finding work as a ski-lift operator at Mountain High.

"We'd always get the O.C. rich kids coming up with their shiny new snowboards, trying to control the whole mountain," he remembers. "For a long time, that was pretty much the extent of my Orange County view."

A long string of fleeting occupations followed - Guitar Center salesman, hearse-driving funeral director. It was his desire to work with Sanders, though - a bassist Buchanan had first seen playing with the band Mother's Kitchen, later known as Ruby Diver - that brought him farther south. ("If only to save on long-distance calls," he says.)

It took awhile, however, before Buchanan the band came together - time enough, actually, for its frontman to enlist local help and record a solo collection, 1999's well-received "Violence." That earned him a reputation as an important new talent, a thoughtful writer with a dramatic voice akin to the late Jeff Buckley's and a musical sensibility that combined folk with a pleasing smooth-rock feel, with room enough for jazzy asides and Led Zeppelin riffs.

But getting heard remained next to impossible. Local clubs were a dead-end, as they often run "pay-to-play" operations that demand homegrown opening acts purchase tickets to their own show, then resell them for profit. Most artists, strapped for cash, barely break even.

And though smaller, more artist-friendly venues like the Gypsy Lounge in Lake Forest and the Hub in Fullerton were taking off, neither had come into its own as focal points for O.C. acts not playing punk or ska.

So Buchanan and guitarist Stewart took to the streets, launching a series of guerrilla gigs. The duo would load their gear and an extension cord into the back of a truck, then scour the cou - by Ben Wener / Orange County Register

"A Power Greater than Themselves"

This is when Buchanan could become mega, but first they get to turn their lives over to the music industry

This is it.

This is the moment for any band that’s been suffering its way through years of artistic indecencies - beer-soaked clubs, shifty promoters, tone-deaf sound guys, piss-reeking tour vans, blowing-smoke-up-the-ass record-label execs.

This is the moment when the expectations of your fan base - building with tectonic inevitability - are finally satisfied. When you finally have an answer for the strangers who come up to you at shows and incredulously ask why you’re not signed yet. When all the hard work is supposed to pay off, even though half the band is living off MasterCard withdrawals and the other half can’t qualify for credit. When you think that maybe, finally, you’ve "made it" and can breathe for a while.

But this is really just the start of a whole new kind of nervous. Truth is Buchanan haven’t done anything yet. It’s two weeks before the Feb. 24 release of their first proper label album, All Understood, and the band - guitarist Ty Stewart, drummer Chris Powell, bassist Todd Sanders and front man Jay Buchanan (the singer/songwriter, naturally) - have stumbled into the dark cave that is the Gypsy Lounge, one of their many home-away-from-home clubs. And they’re beat, having just driven back from a quickie San Francisco sojourn, where they played four songs to a bunch of radio people who may or may not decide to add them to their playlists.

In an hourlong chat, they shift between cocky confidence and near panic. They know their music’s great and that if enough people hear it, there’s no reason they couldn’t be mega by this time next year. But this is also when they have to turn their lives and art over to people they barely know - people they’ve entrusted with promotion, press, marketing, booking and distribution, work Buchanan used to do themselves. All the band can really do now is concentrate on playing music and hope that All Understood actually shows up in the CD bins on Feb. 24.

"We definitely have the prerelease jitters on this thing because we’ve all worked so fucking hard," says Jay. "But I’ve learned from the past about letting ambition control my expectations. We’ll play it smart and see what happens, but we have to look at things as realistically as possible."

Part of playing it smart is knowing the chances of a new band succeeding on a national level are positively microscopic, particularly in this era of record-industry layoffs and lowest-common-denominator radio stations. Buchanan have already weathered pangs of uncertainty with their label, Ultimatum. All Understood was supposed to have been released a year ago, but Ultimatum was in the middle of changing distributors, so instead of just dropping the record into a black hole and watching it disappear, they opted to wait until they could give it proper support.

The band spent the time touring and tweaking.

"We hit new cities, made new friends," Jay says. "Plus, we were able to go back in the studio and re-track a few things."
The version of All Understood that would have come out was … nice. Fine, with Jay’s deeply personal, relationship-centered lyrics (sung in his sweet, high, slightly eerie lilt that recalls Buckleys both Tim and Jeff) in songs such as "Steal Your Kisses" and "Three Times Coleen" standing out from just about everything else in the aural atmosphere. There were the songs familiar to anyone who’d caught Jay solo or with the band at the Gypsy Lounge or Linda’s Doll Hut or many a Tuesday night at the Hub Café or famously busking in front of doughnut shops after plugging his amp into the electrical outlets normally reserved for the kiddie rides - "Satan Is a Woman" and "How Crazy I Am" and "The Sun Burns My Eyes." Good songs, good album - just not a great one.

And that’s because version 1.0 of the album didn’t have "If You Leave," probably Jay’s most popular song, a harrowing tale of spousal abuse that starts off feeling like a charming love sonnet ("So we’re married now, you can be my wife/And I’ll love you, girl, for the rest of your life") before turning black and vicious ("We can have our fun, for the rest of your life/But don’t you ever think you can leave me behind/I’ll kill you if you leave"). Before, "If You Leave" had more of a folkie-driven acoustic bent to it; the new version is an absolute Zeppelin take, the music as raucous and threatening as the lyrics - a sonic punch that beefs up the whole album. The band also re-recorded three other songs - "Plans," "Reborn" and the angry anti-war rant "American Son" (which was also freshly injected with some searing guitar licks) - turning All Understood from what had been a pretty good folk/pop record into a monstrous rock & roll one, with a few quieter moments fluttering about.

Great tunes, but even as Buchanan get ready for a year’s worth of playing them for crowds of people who’ve never heard them before, they’re also sort - by Rich Kane / OCWeekly

"Fresh Faces: New Artist Profile - Buchanan"

Vocally falling somewhere between Dave Matthews and Darius Rucker (Hootie to you!) is South Cali singer / songwriter, Jay Buchanan, the namesake of the new national recording act, Buchanan.

More than a mere Frontman when it comes to the delivery of the music, Buchanan also plays a variety of instruments on the band’s forthcoming disc, All Understood, and plays them well. He also created some damn tasty arrangements that will be found ear-appealing to everyone from folkies, to jazzers, to progressive / jam rock fans.

This album is delightfully paradoxical in that it is eclectic, yet consistent, thus keeping it a refreshing listen from start to finish. Kudos to Jay Buchanan for the stylistic irreverence with which he paints this multi-hued palate of sounds and sonic moods.

Before you run out and try to buy this warm and exciting set of tunes, be warned that - you can’t!

All Understood will not be released to stores (via indie label Ultimatum Music), until the last week of February. The only way you can wrap your ears around a copy right now is right here through this month’s “Fresh Face” write-in raffle.

“We’re going bare bones right now, trying our best to build a fan base,” said Buchanan in an interview from the road.

“We’ve opened for Hootie & the Blowfish, played a side stage at a John Mayer / Counting Crows concert, but mostly we are just going from one club to another playing our music and hoping to find some open ears.”

“Soulful,” “dark” and “melancholy” are all adjectives that could accurately be affixed on Buchanan’s music. Likewise are “upbeat,” “dynamic” and “groovin’.”

Like the best of music, Buchanan’s songs vary considerably from track to track on what amounts to an impressive 11-track disc that has been in the can since early Spring. That is when they wrapped up sessions with noted producer Don Gehmen, who has twisted knobs on past records by John Mellencamp, REM, and Tracy Chapman.

The sashaying cha-cha rhythm of “Three Times Coleen” was initially my favorite cut on the album the very first time it spun. This is a clever and catchy confessional piece that affords the listener the chance to eavesdrop on the naughty doings of ill-fated heartthrobs.

The very next listen, it was the biting “American Son” that slapped me senseless. From the frantic drumming that heralds the song’s start, through the jazzy syncopations and the disturbing, yet thought-provoking refrain – "you teach your son how to hold a gun, you think your god is the only one.”

The point here being, that Buchanan is masterful at coloring his songs with verbal and rhythmic emotional triggers that easily swing a listener’s mood and temperament.

Feel introspective? Listen to Buchanan. Feeling angry? Listen to Buchanan. Feeling like the whole world just collectively kicked your dog? Listen to Buchanan.

Unlike most artists who tap into a specific genre or style and lock in (i.e. dance, pop, blues, head-banging), Buchanan’s music works for the listener at all emotional levels - from low to high.

Okay, so maybe they missed the boat in the head-banging department entirely, but hey, I can forgive that, because Jay Buchanan plays the freakin’ xylophone on cuts here. When was the last time you heard one of those on a rock ‘n roll record? Lionel Hampton would smile I’m bettin’.

While the writing of Jay Buchanan may be the foundation of this remarkable young group, and lilting, quirky vocals the ceiling, one man does not truly make a band. Rounding out the quartet and breathing life into the music through invigorating playing are drummer / percussionist Chris Powell, guitarist Ty Stewart and bassist Todd Sanders. Their tight performances on this album are tremendous and hopefully Buchanan will retain this fine trio to accompany him, because as an ensemble they work like a fine precision tool.

“We did an album on our own in 2000 called Violence, that was basically me trying to get some of my songs recorded. I was recording and doing everything myself and I had just pulled these guys together and would say, ‘Can you play this part kinda like this or kinda like that … ‘,” recalled Buchanan on how he and his band members first hooked up.

“When we made this new album, we’d all had time to really gel as a band. Things have really progressed and purveyed into it’s own thing. Everyone’s got their stylistic thumbprint on this record. It really is a band project.” - by Tom Lounges / MidwestBeat.com

"Gloom and Tune"

There's a mysterious aura surrounding Jay Buchanan. Overflowing with emotional intensity, the Fullerton-based rocker has held crowds rapt at clubs throughout Orange County for the past six months or so.

So what's all the fuss about?

In an era of easily digestible pop confections, the baby-faced, soft-spoken Buchanan prefers to unveil a hypnotic, unsettling mix of contradictions. Perhaps a spellbound fan named Lisa sums it up best in this e-mail posted on the band's Web site: "Your music hauntingly soothes me … or does it soothingly haunt me?"

On the one hand, Buchanan - or at least the subjects of his songs - yearns for the same kind of love and comfort we all crave.

Only there's a darker, more sinister undercurrent flowing through much of the edgy singer-songwriter-guitarist's material. His full- length debut, 1999's Violence, is framed around downright scary songs of rage, confusion, heartbreak and despair. The title track, for instance, laments how violence has replaced "love, tenderness and compassion as the way to a man's heart."

More alarming is "If You Leave," a track on the new American Son ep that finds an obsessive protagonist threatening to use a shotgun on his wife should she ever break away from him.

Surely Buchanan - who's married and has a 2-year-old son - isn't advocating domestic violence, right?

"After I wrote that song, I didn't perform it for a long time because people were getting the wrong idea," said Buchanan, 25, seated alongside his three bandmates at the Gypsy Lounge in Lake Forest. "I talk to people and they think I'm this [female] basher, that I have this mean streak. It is a can of worms, to be sure - and I worry about that sometimes.

"But what I'm trying to say is, 'Don't wait until it's too late.' There are warning signs in each verse of the song that this guy is going over the edge … I see this song as a wake-up call. I abhor violence when it's used whenever you can't think of a solution to your problems."

As a songwriter, Buchanan has found inspiration in such folk and country legends as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. He says he strives to use words - and enunciate them - in a way that resonates deeply with others. If he's slipping into and out of darkness, he apparently is not alone.

"When you realize your experience is something that others go through, you are no longer isolated and withdrawn," said Buchanan, who moved to Orange County in 1997 to start a new band. "When we share those complex, emotionally draining experiences through song, we become hopeful and, thereby, are uplifted.

"I think Sting writes some great lyrics, but his enunciation doesn't draw you in. But with someone like Tom Waits or Nina Simone, it's really more about how they say it than what they say."

The powerful, atmospheric music that propels Buchanan's ideas forward is richly textured with his versatile band - featuring lead guitarist Ty Stewart, 26; bassist Todd Sanders, 29; and drummer Chris Powell, 22 - creating a spooky, evocative mood. They shift sonic gears easily and often, gliding between fiercely played, anthem-like rockers ("The American Son") and slower-paced, funk- and jazz-tinged numbers ("Into the Sky," "Cry Like a Man.")

The foursome is currently working on new songs for an album planned for release later this year. With major labels reportedly interested, the band might soon find itself at a crossroads.

"There is no sacrificing creative control," Buchanan said, "because if we sacrifice anything, we will simply cease to be who we are. So we'll wait and see if the ideal situation with a major [label] presents itself."

Meanwhile, he and his bandmates aren't taking each other for granted.

Said bassist Sanders: "We're all strong personalities with slightly different versions of the same goal, which is to be able to do what we love for a living."

Added Buchanan: "It's rare that four people can be such good friends and have the musical chemistry that we do - We're very lucky. I think with a lot of bands, egos get in the way, people get distracted, and the music ultimately suffers. But we're very focused and tight-knit. "We know that there are four tires on this car, and if one of them blows, you can't drive the car anymore." - by John Roos / Los Angeles Times

"Guerilla Gigs"

Unplugging kiddie rides to play in parking lots helped,
But talent is really what put Jay Buchanan on the success express.

Jay Buchanan is on the edge: His gritty songs, although wrapped in melodic pop sensibilities, are relentlessly dark; his career approach has careened between craftiness and absurdity; and now he’s looming over the pop landscape ready to seize success.

Trust me when I tell you this: You don’t want to be the only kid on your block to have missed the SLO Town debut of the Jay Buchanan Band, because six months from now when Buchanan’s music is on every radio station and his face on every music’zine cover, you’ll suffer from depression so severe you’ll think you entered one of Buchanan’s songs.

“We’ve got major-label interest coming from all sides right now,” said Buchanan during a recent phone interview. “We’re closely affiliated to one label, but until we sign, until they own us, I’d rather not say who.”

Not yet having a major-label contract hasn’t stopped Buchanan from recording some amazing material. He’s made one full-length CD and one EP; another one’s on the way. And how he generated the buzz he’s now enjoying is a story of business acumen and marketing savvy.

“What was going on at the time was I had just gotten some musicians together to record the Violence album. I didn’t even have a band at that point. These [musicians] were all players from other bands who I hired [for the recording session]. So as soon as I pulled a guitarist full time - Ty Stewart - we got together and started to think, wow, if we’re going to release this album we have to come up with something no else has.”

“We decided to take a completely different approach: to play wherever we could find people, and to do it every night, as many as four, five, six times a night, sometimes more. We hit as many locations as we could, taking our amps and guitars and setting up wherever we could find an electric outlet: theater lines, doughnut shops, anywhere we could find more than 20 people. We’d play and then get out there and sell some CD’s.”

“It’s funny looking back now because it seems so long ago, but actually it was only about a year ago. We only did that for about two months, but after the first month it spread like crazy and soon we found ourselves with all kinds of gigs.”

Those shows soon became the toast of Orange County, with word spreading about where that night’s series of guerilla gigs would occur. The band would unplug 50-cent kiddie rides in shopping centers and rock the parking lot.

“We used to play until we’d get shoed away by security guards and cops,” said Buchanan. “But it was fun to cut our teeth on those early gigs, with everyone asking where ‘the spot’ was that night.”

But merely having a clever promotional idea isn’t enough to account for Buchanan’s nearly overnight success. The bottom line is he’s a great songwriter.

Here’s some of the lyrics to “God Bless the American Son”: I’ve got two cigarettes. / One for when I wake up, / And one before I go to bed. / The nicotine / Runs straight through my head. / You know it’s just like, / Just like the whore moves in the soldier’s bed. // Read him the Bible, / Or feed him with guns. / But, God Bless the American son. / You teach your boy how to hold a gun. / You think your God is the only one.

There’s some blues rock sounds in his music, and some modern rock sounds, but at heart most of Buchanan’s material is blue-eyed soul. Where did his sound come from? “I grew up listening to a really wide array of music, but there are things that stick with you: different vocalists, R&B singers, especially Stevie Wonder, who never sings only a note - he’ll sing three scales to give you one phrase, kind of an overplayed gospel feeling.”

“In terms of [vocal] acrobatics it was Otis Redding. He gave a song its feeling not through what he sang but through what he didn’t sing … just the feeling and enunciation! With blues - and we’re not a blues band by any stretch of the imagination - but some of the songs share that same sense of sorrow and that sense of redemption through expressing the sorrow.”

Buchanan’s quick success is a bit illusory, because in point of fact he’s been training for this moment his whole life.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve been a songwriter. In my house growing up, the president of the U.S. didn’t get respect, but Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan were figureheads. Individuality was stressed. That was the scene.”

“My parents are very supportive of everything I want to do, but great artists got the respect in our household, so I started writing poetry in junior high and got serious about guitar when I was about 15.”

“You know, people have always laughed at me, but I always knew this was what I wanted to do. I’d say, ‘I want to be a songwriter and musician,’ and they’d say, ‘That’s like winning the lottery.’ But I’ve been training for this, working at it, preparing for it all my life”

What often throws pe - by Glen Starkey / San Luis Obispo New Times


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


Feeling a bit camera shy


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’