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MTV's, 10/1/95 Arte 2/95  Slapper's, Spring 1995
Inside Edge New Jersey Beat SOMA
Schwann Spectrum

Schwann Spectrum

Jeff Buckley - Amazing Grace

From NY cult figure to an impressive debut on Columbia - the voice of Jeff Buckley speaks to Wes Phillips.

I caught up with Jeff Buckley in the midst of a grueling nation-wide tour supporting the release of the album. By the time we spoke in a telephone interview, the end of the ordeal was in sight - mid-December performances in New York and Hoboken would complete the schedule. Buckley sounded drained when we began, but grew animated responding to questions. He's articulate and soft-spoken, obviously energized by ideas and the act of communication.

Wes Phillips: I wanted to start by asking you how what you're doing now contrasts with what you were doing in New York - you first attracted attention playing solo in coffee-bars...

Jeff Buckley: I've always played in bands. I just spent a little time, really, playing solo. The reason I did the solo shows, really, was to find the right band. I didn't intend to be signed as a solo artist at all. I have a vision, an encompassing vision, as far as the records go. It doesn't matter how good the solo arist is, if the band is not together or if it's a dictatorship. That's why it's hard for me to listen to Prince.

WP: How has getting out of New York and touring affected your music?

JB: Just by playing it every night. You can take a text - say, all the material off of _Grace_ - it gets washed through all these different souls, not only the four people in the band, and in my soul -which is completely changing all the time - but also, cities and people. Troubles, joys, other people that you meet - [the songs] become, not a platform, but an empty body that you fill with your happenings of your day, the week, of the moment; that's why songs are so great.

WP: I'm fascinated by the concept of grace and apparently you are, too. After all, you've written a song with that title and also named your debut _Grace_. What does grace mean to you?

JB: Grace is the thing in people that matters most. It's all their beauty and all their ability to deal with problems - with all the slings and arrows and all that - it carries you over. It transcends.

WP: Of course, it carries a specific meaning in religion.

JB: Yeah, well, that's not my world. I use words like "grace" in a human context... People, humans, that's the only existence that I understand. So I use grace in a more open meaning. I'm not addressing religion at all - except that of music.

WP: On "Grace", you recorded Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which is a hymn to music.

JB: It's a hymn to being alive. It's a hymn to love lost. To love. Even the pain of existence, which ties you to being human, should receive an amen - or a hallelujah.

WP: It seems that your songs address loss, yearning, parting...

JB: Yeah. On *this* record, yeah. I intend to have a bit more joy of union next time.

WP: In your voice, you've got an extraordinary instrument that is almost overpowering in the way that you seem capable of accessing your emotions on the most direct level. Is controlling all that power a problem, when it comes to conveying the meaning of a lyric?

JB: No. It's hard to control my sorrow, my libido, my arrogance - emotions are *supposed* to take you over. Like joy. Really, they're something that control me, I don't control them. I just ask of them what they need, and I do their will - and probably, they do mine. We all do, actually. We're all very much on the surface, when you hear us play. _Grace_ is just us getting together; we're so new, very new.

WP: At this point, you've been touring for how long?

JB: Seven months. Well, me totally? About a year, but a little of that was solo. Then the guys came on and we did about five months before we took a break. Now, we're back on tour for about five and a half months.

WP: After all that, you guys should be tight.

JB: *Yeah!* Well, things can be tight, but it really isn't that *tight*. The dialog is open; every moment that we play has purpose. The solidity between us is that everything is just out there, otherwise the songs can't really gather magic. It's such a shame when you get a good song and it just goes out there and nothing happens - it means nothing, people are just going through the motions. I really hate that. Also, it's my food, _[quieter]_ I *need* it.

Wes Phillips: I read somewhere your response to a comparison of your vocal technique with your father's, in which you said that he wasn't singing with his voice, just as you aren't singing with yours - that the tradition of singing in the upper registers goes back generations in your family.

Jeff Buckley: I need to qualify that. Really the tradition stems from my mother; she's just not famous, but *she's* the one who stuck around. She raised me. She loved me. He didn't. All the men in my life, they left. They split. They chickened out.

WP: So music was your true parent?

JB: My mother was, but [music] was her parent as well. She really lived by it, even just being a housewife. And my step-dad as well - a car mechanic - they just had it all the time, everywhere, they just had it all around. There wasn't anything that didn't have a soundtrack to it.

WP: In the promotional video for "Grace" (Columbia 31196), you spoke of having "a physical imperative to find out where to come from in my spirit, when I made music," and I was struck by your description of it as a *physical* imperative. What did you mean?

JB: The same thing that magnetically drags you to a certain woman, that certain restlessness in the bones that can be almost a sickness, if you didn't answer it. It's just your nature...I had a long bout of hedging my life into different projects, so that I could play music - and I was, ultimately, not satisfied. So I said, I've already chosen my home (which is New York and I'll never move; I love it there) and I don't want anything else in my life to be different. I want to have - or at least I struggle to have - a place where I'm recognized. A place in my soul or at least in my heart from where I express myself, where all of me is recognized and all of me is useful. Even the excesses, even the banal stuff - it's all accepted. Because limits...never wrote an album. The word *No* never did anything. When you're in other people's projects, there's always that *No!*. There's always that feeling of being curtailed. It gets to a point where you don't even want to speak; you don't even want to speak your heart. And *that's* where the music really fails.

WP: You draw on many disparate musical forms on "Grace": qawwali; raga; interpretative jazz - Nina Simone, obviously; Led Zeppelin. Who were the biggest influences on you, when you were developing your musical identity?

JB: All those things that you mentioned, really. Anybody who just had such an immovable delivery and a soul to their sound, which is just so authentic to me. And not only authentic - I think that Nina is just quite subversive in her whole thing. A very subversive woman. Because in this culture, just feeling is a subversive act - and expressing it is rebellious. In her treatment of her songs, she just *ripped* them apart and then tenderly put them back together. And her voice - the sound of it and the timbre - was just so uncompromising. Sort of like Johnny Rotten.

WP: When you first hear Nina, it's almost difficult to determine if that voice is a man's, in the upper register, or a woman's, in the lowest. You almost have to connect first to a human being before even assigning it a gender.

JB: Right, that's it exactly. Like the bassoon at the beginning of "The Rite of Spring".

Also, tragic figures have always struck a chord with me. Like Piaf - she as much as says that she invites tragedy into her life - that's her blood. It's as if, when she was young, she went to a palm-reader who just told her, "You will always have a sad life." So she just relegated herself to that. She sacrificed any other kind of living in order that this certain kind of music came out of her. That appeals to me as well, in the same way that Morrissey does.

We could talk about influences until we were both completely bored and out of paper, but they really don't matter. The thing that shapes you is not the identity of your mother or your father, or anything that you've listened to. The thing that shapes you is what you garner from *every one* of those people. _Grace_, really, is a tar-pit; it has a bunch of bones in it and from it will rise a new, special life that has nothing to do with the past, just the present. Well, maybe with the future, I hope. I want us to have a vibe that's all our own and a music that we can call our own, in this world that's too preoccupied with labels, genres - all that stuff. People are judged as succeeding or failing within those genres, but really, succeeding on a soul level is forgotten.

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