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Buffet Lunch Recount Their Madcap Creative Streak

The Scottish art punk band Buffet Lunch create a world of magic with their distinct melodic twists and delightful storytelling on their thumping new double single, Cheeks / Mild Weather, out now through Upset The Rhythm.

Photo by Owen Godbert

The Scottish art punk band, whose primary members are Perry O'Bray (Vocals/Keys/Guitar), Neil Robinson (Bass), John Muir (Lead Guitar) and Luke Moran (Drums), are spread over an array of cities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. Although physically apart, they have been up to much mischief, recently recorded the double single Cheeks / Mild Weather in collaboration with Jayne Dent of Me Lost Me. The two new tracks are sorta like postcards, telling stories of their experience during the glooming pandemic, with each one contrasting the other in context. "Cheeks" focuses on isolation indoors, with jagged saxophone outbursts and spiky percussion elements; encouraging listeners to feel trapped in a twist of frantic noises. "Mild Weather" follows with a more wobbly, but calmer approach, and a sweet melodic chorus that encapsulates the pleasure of spending time outdoors.

The new double single follows their mysteriously compelling debut album, The Power of Rocks, released back in May through Upset The Rhythm. Following up the pair of EPs in 2019 (The Snail and Snap) on the London punk label, Permanent Slum, the debut LP focuses on themes of nature amongst entertaining jangly stories that leave listeners in a state of warmth and leisure. The quirky narratives are supported by a display of fun percussion elements and woodwind that mix into a calamity of joy and charm. Recorded mainly while on holiday in a small cottage on the banks of Upper Loch Fyne in Argyll right before the pandemic, the band were able to mesh their ideas into the wonder that is The Power of Rocks, before adding extra details with Robinson acting as the in-house engineer with help from Mikey Young (Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring) while in isolation. This led to the birth of an album that jumbles Buffet Lunch's eccentric and spiraling avant-punk style that's suited by trippy and striking visuals, fully demonstrating the band's oddball virtuosity and craftsmanship.

To take us deeper into the band's puzzling complexity, we chatted with O'Bray to unravel how the band spawned from a solo project and how they conceptualize songs with their witty and amusing catalogue of instruments.

Paperface Zine: There's quite a wonder to Buffet Lunch, so how did this project begin?

Perry O'Bray: I moved up to Edinburgh in early 2017 after spending the previous five years in London and I didn't really know anyone. I'd been playing in a band called Dead Arm and had a bunch of songs that I'd recorded under the name Smooth Dad so I thought the best way to find people to play with would be at gigs, but that didn't really work out cause I didn't know how to sidle up to people and say "Hey wanna be in a band?" So I got on Gumtree, the place where all great things start, and posted an ad — "Slack guitarist wants band members," with a picture of myself and a message that read: "Give me a shout if you like the Raincoats, The Fall, The Rebel and Talking Heads." Luke and Neil got back to me, having apparently sifted through lots of cover band ads and I went on two great blind dates with them at the Argyle pub round the corner. After a few months we had made friends with Australia's beautiful boy Jack Lee and sadly he was moving back to Sydney, although that meant that we could nick his guitarist and bass player (John Muir and David MacDonald) and become a five piece. The great thing is that I knew nobody up here and within six months had this amazing bunch of people I could call friends and make music with. Dave's since moved to Toronto, but he's still a fully fledged blunch member and we're trying to coax him back with increasingly wild offers — "We'll get Tom Jones to duet with you on the next single and you can have a three-minute sax solo in the middle" haha. So far he's holding firm, apparently it's nice out there.

Who are some of the band's musical inspirations? Does each member have the same music taste, or does everyone bring little bits of various genres to the group?

I think we all like to hear things we've not heard before and have a big playlist between us that we keep adding stuff to, generally speaking we like similar stuff but I would define each of our leanings as:

  • Me — Weird, upbeat or clunky stuff

  • John — Melancholy Scottish or Australian guitar pop

  • Neil — "the classics"

  • Luke — Regional music hall material

Also, I think John's guitar brings something different to the music as mine is very much a sloppy mess, while he has a lot of skill and knowledge which works really well with my percussive clanging. Also Neil produces everything we make and he seems to know everything good that's ever been released and that must be why he makes everything sound so great! (in my opinion!)

What did the writing process of your debut album The Power of Rocks look like? Did the theme of nature come naturally or was it something you purposefully wanted to perceive through the songs?

About half of the songs we'd written as a group prior to the week we recorded them, when we were there we wrote a few and after we did a couple with Jayne, so the writing was spread out over a year I think. I usually write down phrases I've heard or see somewhere to use as a springboard for a song so have a little book with these in, it wasn't intentional to have the theme of nature through the album, but I do like the language that's used to talk about nature and I think I find it easier to write about nature than myself. I guess in the same way a few of the songs have characters that aren't me. I'm still learning how to write, I definitely don't think of myself as a writer, but I'm pleased that the album has turned out to work quite well as a unit of songs. The songs "Ten Times" and "Ashley's New Haircut" were written by Jayne — she improvises her vocals and they fit so well with the rest of the album, we were all so chuffed when she sent them back over. Also as a group we all added lots of detail and interesting little sounds to the production which I think has added to the nature theme in a way.

Has the meaning behind the stories within each song changed at all since you first wrote them?

Yeah I think so, we got a few comments after it was released about how the album talks about and focuses on details in nature and detail in general, and within the context of the pandemic, I think there was a lot of talk about how lockdowns encouraged that and it seemed to fit well.

What was it like recording together in the mountains compared to recording separately in isolation? How did the songs evolve going from one location to another?

The main difference was time. We all work full-time jobs so usually we have an evening a week to practice or write together and a lot of the writing was being done by me at home then I'd bring something in to practice each week — a lot of the time though we'd have a gig coming up so we didn't have a lot of time to mess about and experiment. When we were at the cottage though we probably spent at least eight hours a day in the studio and the rest of time chatting about what we were doing so we were able to be a lot more interesting with our songs and how they sounded. It was great to have a week away together and it definitely improved our playing as a band. A few weeks later though we went into lockdown, so the album was finished remotely, which I reckon also had a big impact on how the album sounds. I went a bit mad with my Casio keyboard and started recording loads of long instrumentals and sending them round and generally being really annoying asking people if they wanted to sing on this or play bass on on that, etc. But out of that came the Jayne songs and the new ones "Cheeks" and "Mild Weather," so it worked out in the end.

I saw some videos on your Instagram page of your time away recording the album, and it looked like a lot of fun! What was the most memorable moment from that trip?

Cooking and eating together every night was great because we never have time to do that, and also driving over "Rest & Be Thankful" — a high mountain pass. Also attempting to play jazz on the piano while drinking lots of coffee.

After listening to the album, I could hear so many interesting sounds whether it was percussion or some weird woodwind instrument. What has been the wildest instrument or experimental sound that you recorded for the album?

There's a loop on "Ashley's New Haircut" that I made from smacking the strings of an old piano that I found in an abandoned plot by the canal in Edinburgh, and a fidget spinner played by John. There's a singing bowl and mandolin played with a violin bow on the title track. Little wooden frog güiro on a couple of tunes and plenty of weird guitar stuff that John does that I don't know how he does it.

You just released the new double single Cheeks / Mild Weather that touches on themes of the recent pandemic. Could you elaborate further on the meanings behind these tracks?

Yeah again it was unintentional I think, I can't remember though. I had a piece of writing that was imagining someone expanding and filling their house, literally filling every bit of space, which was obviously influenced by not being allowed anywhere else and I sent Jayne a load of lyrics and an instrumental for "Mild Weather" (which was called "Portobello" at the time — it's where I live) and she cut and pasted different lines together from different bits. When I was putting together the release they just seemed to work so well together with "Cheeks" being about inside and "Mild Weather" being about outside. I've been drawing figures stuck in buildings and rooms for years though so I reckon it was more about my art than lockdown. With "Mild Weather," there was a time last year when everyone on the news seemed to be banging on about needing "their holiday," which seemed a bit weird to me during a global pandemic, but there is this British desire for "one week in the sun," which sets everything right and everything is fine as long as I have my "one week in the sun" and I'll out up with anything as long as I have my "one week in the sun." Jayne managed to make some sense of my lines and made something quite beautiful rather than sarcastic.

Jayne Dent obviously isn't a stranger to working with you guys since she provided some vocals on the debut album, but what was it like collaborating with her on these two new tracks?

Absolutely great, she's an amazing artist and lovely. The funny thing is we've only met her once when she played a gig that we put on in 2019, but during the lockdown it seemed that it was okay to reach out to people on your Instagram and ask if they wanted to make music together. Which I am very thankful for as I think Jayne made the album what it is. We sent some things back-and-forth with the new double single, but it's been a musical pen pal relationship so far and we're doing a couple of shows with Jayne soon so I'm really looking forward to playing some of the songs together!

How do you want listeners to feel after hearing your music?

I hope that people are confused by the lyrics and spend some time thinking about them. I hope that people laugh at some of the music we're playing. I hope people want to listen to it again. I hope people feel uplifted.

Cheeks / Mild Weather is out now through Upset The Rhythm.

Stream the new double single below.

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