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Interview Magazine,2/94  Inrockuptibles, 9/94  OOR, Hollland, 8/94
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Schwann Spectrum

OOR, Holland, August 1994

by Bertvan der Kamp

A new, huge musical talent has come forward and his name is Jeff Buckley. Questionmarks (appear) on various faces. The music-scene once knew a gifted singer-songwriter who died way too soon. Yes, Jeff is Tim's son, but he doesn't like to be compared with him. He is very right to do so, because even without the special family-tie, Grace is one of the best CD's from this year.

After having spoken with both John Lennon's and Bob Dylan's son, I'm talking to the son of a third favorite "popstar" of mine. What to do in such a situation? First you try deliberately not to talk about the "old man", but eventually you'll wind up doing so. Jeff's situation is somewhat different from the other sons of famous fathers, because his parents split up when he was barely 6 months old. When he was 8, he spent the Easter holidays with his father who, 2 months later, died of the consequence of a fatal combination of alcohol and drugs. Jeff has always been much closer to his stepfather, who also had a great influence on the development of his musical taste. However, the genes play a role as well and although Jeff sounds different, there definitely is some resemblance in the composition of his songs and in the intense, passionate performance.

Grace surely isn't easy-listening. Just as on the previously released mini-CD Live at Sin-é he doesn't keep the songs within the 3 minute "limit", But that surely isn't disturbing. Jeff has produced the album together with Andy Wallace and he plays with his own, new accompanying band, consisting of Michael Tighe (guitar), Mick Grondahl (bass) and Matt Johnson (not the guy from The The, drums).

JB: We played together for the first time 5 weeks prior to recording the album. We did a few gigs as a trio, before Michael joined us. Thereafter we went into the studio and recorded the 10 songs relatively fast.

BK: Buckley works with various, digressing styles, from almost whispered, sweet ballads to firm rock songs, in which he seems to be challenging Robert Plant, a childhood hero (of Jeff's).

JB: I have been a fan of Led Zeppelin ever since I was five years of age. My stepfather had all their albums. My mother and stepfather shaped me musically, as a child. They loved The Beatles, and so did I, but the sound of Led Zeppelin sounde much more "anarchist" to my ears. The range of that music was impressive and it "opened me up". After that I grew to love other music as well, but those earliest influences remain to be very determining.

BK: His "glowing" way of singing not only reminds of his father, but occasionally of someone like Morrissey, with his emotional and almost "shameless" performance. At the mention of that name, Jeff reacts immediately:

JB: His work with The Smiths hasn't been equalled up 'til now. That goes for the composition of the songs, the lyrics and the performance. What Johnny Marr and he did was fabulous, nobody can beat that. If I'd ever start a rockband, I'd want to approximate that level.

BK: To my question about whether he was looking for a musical partner like Johnny Marr, he responded:

JB: I prefer working solo. Although my songs are created in many different ways, I am the constant factor. Morrissey needs a partner because he can't play the guitar himself, but I can sing and play guitar.

BK: Grace contains 10 songs, from which 3 are remarkable "covers", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine", and "Corpus Christi Carol", written by the classical com[poser Benjamin Britten. Although 2 of these songs suggest some religious association, Jeff denies there is a "reli-hang-up".

JB: Whoever listens carefully to "Hallelujah" will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth. The hallelujah is not a homage to a worshipped person, idol or god, but the hallelujah of the orgasm. It's an ode to life and love. The "Carol" is a fairytale about a falcon who takes the beloved of the singer to an orchard. The singer goes looking for her and arrives at a chamber where his beloved lies next to a bleeding knight and a tomb with Christ's body in it. My friend Roy introduced me to the song when I was still in high-school and now I'm singing it for him.

BK: How important are the lyrics anyway?

JB: You can listen to my songs solely for the sound or you can go deeper into them. Both are okay. To me it's important what I'm saying. If a lyric doesn't mean a thing to me, I can't sing it. Music, lyrics, voice and rhythm are equally as important.

BK: There are remarkably many love songs on the album.

JB: I'm a rather romantic type.

BK: Especially with the longlasting "Lover, You Should've Come Over" he reaches great heights as a troubadour of love. It is also a song about ageing, I fancy to derive. Jeff agrees with me on this:

JB: It's not about aging as a chronological fact, but more in the sense of gaining experience. You can sometimes gain experience in a very short time and age fast in that way as well. Sometimes I feel very old. I already felt like that at high-school. I sometimes felt like an outsider, too old for my age. Leaving things behind and accepting you're somewhere else, thats what growing up means, according to me. The advantages are enormous because you can let go of things that are of no use to you. Someone's age forms a shield towards his youth. In that way someone can get older and yet still stay young. Picasso always tried to keep in touch with his inner child. If you don't do that, you'll eventually lose hold on yourself and slowly pine away. Or you can get completely deranged and kill yourself. It's very important to understand this. (deep sigh)

BK: This seems like the right time to talk about his biological father. As soon as I mention his name, I'm being interrupted:

JB: He was one of those who didn't make it.

BK: Right... "He was one hell of a guy," I continue. "I've met him twice and spoke to him briefly." Jeff listens silently to my story and when I tell him that, in my opinion, he has succeeded his father('s work), if only for the great intensity of his performance, he reacts reservedly:

JB: Those are your words, not mine.

BK: "The lyrics on 'Dream Brother' intrigue me," I continue imperturbably. "It could be a song about him (Tim)."

JB: It's a song about a friend of mine, who led a rather excessive life, due to which he has lost the "callosity on his soul" (couldn't find a proper translation here). He is in trouble. This song is for him. I know what self-destruction can lead to and I try to warn him. But even I am one big hypocrite because when I called him up and told him about the song I'd written, that same night I took an overdose of "hash" and woke up the next day feeling terrible. It is very hard not to give in to one's negative feelings. Life's a total chaos.

BK: Buckley doesn't shun (from) exposing serious themes, which makes his music less accessible to the masses. Some further explanation wouldn't harm. I just have to mention a song-title such as "Eternal Life" and it's hard to stop him (talking).

JB: What I want to say with a song like "Eternal Life" is: If you're one of those people who thinks he has to spend energy in putting down and discriminating others or passing on racist ideas to children or playing games with everyone, just to cover up your own lack of self-respect, then you're lost forever. There are so many other goals in life. There is so much to learn about life itself. Why waste your time with all that bullshit? Try to see people as people and don't fixate on the color of their skin, status or sexual preference. I get very upset about that because I see it as one of the biggest threats nowadays. There is a giant desintegration going on, but that offers unknown possibilities of growth as well. From the ashes of chaos, you can "arise" bigger and stronger.

JB: All that talk about the independent music-scene and the so-called Generation X is a symptom of the confusion. Everything is being labelled, but nobody knows what it means. There is fear of the unknown and that's the reason for labelling everything. Even I don't know what Generation X means, but to me it could mean: get out or get de-x-ed.

BK: If you hear Jeff talking like that, you'd conclude it's tough to be young in these chaotic nineties. What does he hope to change about it with his songs? How does he see his role as an artist?

JB: I can't do anything more than writing songs and whether people want to hear them is up to them and not to me. I realize that, as a listener, you have to invest something to get out out of my songs what's in them and I don't know how many people are prepared to do that. I don't think I can save the world. I look at the world and conclude it doesn't want to be saved. People want to be bossed around. At my concerts you can do whatever you want. You don't have to listen, you can drink a beer if you've had enough (of the music). I don't have the intention to be crucified.

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