Words by David C. Obenour
For those of us fortunate enough to be caught by a safety net, COVID meant staying at home. Regular routines were broken apart. Filling our newfound free time with old hobbies. Learning what it’s like to be in your kitchen at 3:13pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Wondering why we ever did the things that we used to do. Life during a pandemic was weird.
For Dana Buoy (real last name, Janssen), the album that he and his wife used to put on for their plants – Mort Garson’s Plantasia – had become part of their lives. This once unthought of and now near daily soundtrack filled their weird pandemic life. And Dana liked it.
As society reformed and so did relationships old and new, this inspiration toward the weird, toward the analog, toward his initial passion of the drums, toward music that was made for plants, all culminated in an album that brought in both who he was and who he wanted to become.
Off Shelf: Can you talk about choosing the name Experiments in Plant Based Music: Vol. I? What do you see it meaning and how does it relate to the music?
Dana Buoy: Before COVID started, we would leave Plantasia – Mort Garson’s experimental electronic album from 1976, written specifically for plants – on for our plants when we left the house. Now that I was stuck at home, hearing the album playing from the main part of the house, over and over, I had been wanting to return to composing with my principal instrument [drums] and decided to experiment playing along with and writing drum parts to the songs.
After a few months of working through the parts, I was pretty excited with the performances I had been developing. I had these original drum parts that had been emotionally informed by Mort, a personal hero and I had a song form that I could play with. The chord changes and melodies don’t really sound like the original album, these forms ultimately changed over the course of the album’s writing, but the original inspiration is still there. The lyrics are mostly plant based as well. And this is in part inspired by Plantasia but mostly inspired by my wife’s dedication to our houseplants.
OS: The press release talks about your current collaborators as your deepest musical relationships outside of Akron/Family. How do you feel about that in the playing?
DB: Playing and touring with Akron/Family for so long, we had a lot of history, and towards the end of our run, that history could make some parts of the collaboration process pretty difficult.
I’ve been very lucky to join a community of talented musicians here in Portland that I have grown very close to. I’ve played drums on a lot of these friend’s records, we jam a lot, we play a lot of basketball together, we’ve already been coming together to have fun. The experimental nature of this project really allowed for us to bring in a lot of that fun here. An “all ideas are welcome” kind of spirit. I’m really grateful for how much these wonderful humans brought to the project. We all have a lot of respect and admiration for each other’s talents and I think only having feelings of joy for these folks brought a lot of levity to the music and the process.
Matt Sheehy, who provides what I believe to be the album’s most iconic vocal moment, Justin Miller, one of my childhood best friends, Brent Knopf, incredibly talented who coincidentally introduced me to my wife over a decade ago, Kelly Pratty whose talent is unparalleled, inspired everyone with the horns, Dave Depper brings a level of shred we haven’t heard in years, and another one of my childhood best buds Seth Olinsky even got in on the party. And I think there’s a real feeling of “celebrating these friendships” present in this record that makes it even more special for me.
OS: If you don’t mind me asking, this is also the last recording you’ve had published with Seaton since his passing. Can you talk about the meaningfulness of being able to listen back to that?
DB: During the pandemic, Miles had been staying with us each time he passed between Seattle and L.A. After being in a band that was consistently touring for over a decade, we had a lot of emotional damage to repair and having the time and space to work through this with these visits will remain something I am eternally grateful for. Over the months, we started jamming together and feeling each other out, and finally on his last visit I felt open enough to invite him to contribute something to this project. Over the course of the weekend, we collaborated together, and it felt like we were connecting again in ways that I hadn’t realized how much I missed until that moment. Before he left we were buzzing, talking about different projects we were all of a sudden thinking of, making plans for more contributions to this project. It was the happiest I felt about our relationship in many years. Just a few days later he was gone. Honestly, it’s still very hard, but when I hear these moments I’m grateful that we got the chance to connect in this way one last time. He was my brother and I miss him.
OS: The bass carries the groove prominently through many of the songs. Can you talk about Justin’s role in shaping the music?
DB: Yes! Thank you for bringing this up. Justin’s playing on this album is fantastic. He’s such a dynamic player and he has such a great feel. That’s the whole philosophy I try to abide by; feel over fill. And Justin manages to ride the line of really interesting bass parts without taking it too far. Super tasteful. We had to do this remotely because he’s in Southern California now but when he started sending me his parts they immediately fit so well and brought so much life to the songs. It gave me a new perspective on the album as a whole piece. At that point all of the songs were now starting to feel like a shared space.
OS: Either in touring or recording, do you see these collaborators materializing into more of a band dynamic moving forward? Would that mean more shared artistic direction?
DB: I would love to have this be the case. It’s been such a fun experience working with everyone on this record I feel we would be remiss not to at the very least try doing some recording again. Touring these days is pretty tough for a relatively unknown artist like myself. But on tape I’ve already been brewing up some ideas I’d like to share with the players. And I think I’m trying to approach this with a collaborative mindset so we’ll see what we can come up with. Stay tuned…
OS: What have you found yourself missing about time out on the road? Have you returned to touring fully yet?
DB: I think I’ve been missing the connection made with an audience in real time. Face to face with the humans. Feeling the energy of a room when the music really gets cookin. That excitement has been missing in my life over the past however many years it’s been. I’d love to get back on the road for some spells. We’ll see how it goes.
OS: With the horns and pop melodies there’s also a sort of outside-of-time quality to the music. Where do you see yourself fitting alongside?
DB: It’s hard for me to say where I fit in musically, but I’ll speak to some of my intentions and we’ll see where we land. When Akron went on hiatus, I had the urge to make a lot of nice lovely pop music with my computer programs. With this project I wanted to start getting weird again and I really wanted to create a space for more analog instrumentations. For myself, that meant composing rhythms on my acoustic drums, folding more organic sounds into the mix like woodwinds and mallet instruments, and collaborating with other humans.
I am inspired by a lot of musicians that live a little bit outside of the “sound” of their time – Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Wilco, Do Make Say Think, Grateful Dead – do I fit alongside these all timers? Not sure, but what a dream for that to be the case in time.
OS: There’s also sort of a glitz – or some might call it “guilty pleasure” – that comes with the saccharine melodies that you embrace. Do you see anything to that? How do you interpret it?
DB: In general I’m a person that likes to have fun, I love to feel the sunshine in my face, I try not to take myself too seriously. I want to make music that people listen to when they want to feel good, I want to reflect a good vibe. Maybe this is reflected in some of these melodies. They seem to be the most consistent and natural lines coming out of me these days so I guess I’ll continue to ride this wave.
OS: Even with that sound, guitar is still very front and center though, with a number of just really well-crafted solos scattered throughout. What do you like about these more noodley moments?
DB: The variety of voices to speak collectively was really important to me. And to be honest, I am always getting in trouble for drum solo’ing during practices… I owe it to my brothers to let them really shine. Another benefit is when you come to see the show live, a lot of these moments can give the band a platform to take things into a more exploratory space. Really dig in and get comfy in some of these grooves and then climb the mountain in others. A real dynamic show.
OS: How do you see your sound and approach to music continuing to evolve from here?
DB: I just want to keep getting weirder.