Edinburgh's Buffet Lunch on The Power of Rocks
We meet Buffet Lunch to blether about their debut album The Power of Rocks, the influence of characters on their writing, and the band’s jovial nature
Portobello Beach is a postcard of optimism. The sun burns bright in a cloudless sky, rollerbladers glide the promenade, and bonfires are being constructed to continue the day’s merriment into the cool of the evening. Looking out at this scene from a secluded beach along the coast, The Skinny meets the genial Perry O’Bray, Buffet Lunch’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist. In tow is his 13-month-old golden retriever, Otter, who bounds around our pebbled setting in search of anything and everything.
“I like writing about people, details and places,” O’Bray says. The band see their debut album The Power of Rocks as a collection of short stories. All the tracks, O’Bray says, have “a bit of a character about them, or a character in it.” It’s perhaps fitting that Portobello is the locale for our meeting. The seaside community radiates with a colourful cast of characters just waiting for their tales to be spun into song.
“I’m quite lucky in the fact that I don’t have much trauma or sadness to write about,” O’Bray admits. Instead, his creative gaze is tuned onto the lives of others, constructing his lyrics largely from societal observations and overheard snippets of conversations.
Although The Power of Rocks carries with it no deliberate environmental message, he cites the language of nature as a great influence on his writing too. Songs like the ambling title track and the jaunty Bladderwrack (named after a varietal of seaweed) flow with numerous references to the natural world. And fittingly, the album was recorded at a studio in a refurbished crofter’s cottage on the shores of Upper Loch Fyne. Being hard at work, the surroundings were not greatly explored, but existing in such close proximity to the loch and mountains was subliminally stimulating.
The four members of the band took a week off from their respective day jobs at the beginning of March 2020 (narrowly missing the COVID curtain coming down) to immerse themselves in the album’s recording. Feeling unhindered by time and responsibilities gave them an organic space for creative expression. It was also an opportunity to foster their friendships further. “It was like a family holiday,” O’Bray says. “Everyone took turns cooking and washing up. Nobody got too pissed. It was just,” he pauses and looks out across the water, with tankers dotting the horizon, “absolutely lovely.”
Testament to their closeness, O’Bray is keen for the rest of the band to have their say on the album too. Circumstance dictates that we move our meeting online. The band’s drummer Luke Moran, lead guitarist John Muir and bassist Neil Robinson join us on a video call.
Having the majority of the album recorded pre-lockdown meant they were able to busy themselves with mixing it when the world hit pause. “To have that idea of getting an end product out there,” Moran says in his mellow tone, “was definitely something to cling to.”
The band’s particular brand of smorgas-pop, full of its jittery melodies, wacky lyrics, and odd sounds in abundance was mixed by Robinson, who rose to O’Bray’s task of hitting “the sweet spot between Devo and Cate Le Bon.” On their sound, Muir adds: “We try and occupy a few spaces at the same time, so we don’t get pigeonholed.”
Collaboration is important to them. As O'Bray says, their ethos is “the more the merrier.” Two tracks feature the delicate vocals of the Newcastle-based musician Jayne Dent (of electronic music project Me Lost Me), which bring a mellower dynamic to their sound. All of them agree it's a refreshing addition, and they're keen to keep their doors open for future collaborators.
The bedrock of the band’s weird and wonderful sound is humour. Moran and Muir recall that the comedy songsters Chas & Dave provided much of the soundtrack to their downtime at the studio. “Once you get past the silliness,” Muir says, “their musicianship is on point!”
However, Moran acknowledges that there's a stigma surrounding humorous music and it's often brushed off as novelty. “You can convey a lot whilst trying to be silly,” he says, “you can sneak some more profound ideas in there.” Breaking his reserved manner, Robinson adds: “If we tried to do something really serious, it would probably come off a little bit silly anyway.” They all chuckle in agreement.
Sonically, Moran adds, the band try to channel the absurdity of O’Bray’s lyrics. In recognition of this, O’Bray says with a big grin: “The sax on Red Apple Happiness,” speaking of the album’s inaugural track, “is fucking ridiculous.” Hearing this at the album’s outset lets the listener know exactly what is to come.
The Power of Rocks is jovial and obscure in equal measure, and its layers require multiple spins to appreciate its crafted nuance. The band’s confidence in showcasing their inherent sense of fun results in a sound that is a much-welcomed remedy for these trying times.
The Power of Rocks is released on 7 May via Upset the Rhythm