In 2012, the Voice doled out honors to David Earl Buddin, tabbing him New York’s Best Composer for very good reason: he’s a beer-swillin’, chain-smokin’, gloriously prolific pioneer of electronic music and ringleader of the honky tonkin’ trio of high rolling drunkards, American Liberty League.
As soon as Buddin relocated to Brooklyn in 1999, he immediately fell into cahoots with a band of likeminded misfits including old college pal Tim Dahl (of jazz-mongering noiseniks Child Abuse and American Liberty League’s synth splatterer) and from there valuable alliances would ultimately form.
BJ Rubin, mastermind of lounge-weirdo act Puttin’ on the Ritz, serves as Buddin’s manager, putting out his intrepid music via his Pukepos and Dick Move labels. And the composer appears regularly on Rubin’s ingeniously wacked TV show, improvising terrorist Weasel Walter released the electronics sprawl Canticles via his ugEXPLODE label and Buddin’s newest venture is experimental trio Nebadon with Talibam! drummer Kevin Shea and vocalist Dominika Michalowska.
But that’s not all that’s going on in Buddin’s world. He’s Music Director at Grace United Methodist Church in Park Slope, he plays piano twice a week for the elderly at a senior center on the Upper East Side and is an unlikely pop culture junkie who reads the NY Post and Page Six religiously. Buddin even relates to Lindsay Lohan, pines for a LiLo collaboration and thinks Jay-Z is “charming.”
We sat down with Buddin for beers at Sharlene’s in Prospect Heights after Sunday church services. Along for the ride was Rubin; an insane array of topics were covered.
Dick Move Presents: Nebadon & David Earl Buddin with Stephanie Leke
Plus Alice Cohen, BJ Rubin, Mike Dobbins and Frankie Cosmos. Friday night, at La Sala at Cantina Royal (58 North 3rd St.). 8pm.
So, how about the show this Friday at La Sala?
Dave Buddin: (to Rubin) Do you have the flyer?
BJ Rubin: I gave Brad one.
Buddin: No, for me! I don’t know what we’re doin.’ (Looks at flyer). Alright. Okay. What are you doing, BJ Rubin?!
Rubin: Screening the new episode of my TV show.
Buddin: What am I doin’?
Rubin: You’re playing the theme song. Actually, no, you don’t play the theme song in this one.
Buddin: And what happened to that?!
Rubin: Nandor [Nevai] is singing…
Buddin: Nandor is singing my music?!
How did you meet BJ?
Buddin: BJ Rubin I met at Dominika’s dinner party when BJ Rubin came in and obnoxiously acted like–after he helped himself out to about four plates of food–he had somewhere important to be. He’s gotta keep up appearances. He hogged out and pigged out and left.
Rubin: That’s not quite how I remember it (laughing).
Buddin: That’s how I remember it and that’s how Dominika remembers it, too. So, I got other people to back me up. Surely, he can at least promote music and do some kind of show business work.
That was a great video for American Liberty League’s “On The Street Where We Live.”
Rubin: Dominika directed; I produced it…
Buddin: …and I just showed up. I don’t know who was doin’ what. Is that our first video?
Buddin: I guess I thought about workin’ on the BJ Rubin show. The video seemed like just a logical extension of what we already done on the BJ Rubin show. And I don’t watch television. The only time I watch television is at the bar. Or at the pizza parlor…
Rubin: …which is the same as…
Buddin: …which is basically the bar.
What about Nebadon?
Buddin: Nebadon is Dominika, Kevin Shea and good ol’ Dave Earl Buddin. Dominika is our speaker, Kevin plays percussion and I modulate that sound with a filter or a ring modulator. I write the music and also it usually involves electronic music–and sometimes not–and it’s played as a backdrop, or I think an underpinning would be a better word for the whole enterprise.
How much will you be involved in the performance?
Buddin: In the performance, I’m just busy running the filters and the modulations for voice and the percussion and the electronic music is played back through a CD. The whole thing is superimposed on that. The electronic music is composed in three layers–a slow moving layer and two fast moving layers. The spoken part is the slowest moving layer and then the middle movement part is the percussion played by Kevin Shea. So it’s three big layers–it’s a layer of electronic music which is sort of moving at a most rapid pace and in itself it’s moving along at three different layers of speed. Then the percussion is moving along at a slightly slower rate and it’s also moving along at two layers that are moving along at separate speeds. And then the slowest moving layer is the spoken word from Dominika, which the finished product is almost an hour where her speech is just scattered around every minute or so. It’s immolated together to form this composite time structure.
Is Nebadon your major focus right now?
Buddin: It’s what we’re in the middle of doin’ right now and what happens to be the most urgent thing to get finished, to polish and refine so that I can move on to other things. We rehearse once a week for three hours. We’re considering replacing the metal plates with cymbals. But I don’t know if we will or not.
Buddin: Kevin was talking about how heavy that would be to carry around. He’d strain himself.
And there’s the other show with the vocalist performing your Canticles Paradise is Opened for Electronics and Soprano. UgEXPLODE put out the Electronics part and BJ released the vocal part.
Buddin: Yeah, Stephanie Leke (is the vocalist). She’s already recorded the whole cycle of six (Canticles) and she’s only doing the first and the last of the cycle of Canticles (at La Sala on Friday). The whole cycle is fifty minutes.
Rubin: It’ll be thirty minutes (total) of Dave’s music. I thought fifty minutes would be too much for the one night…
Buddin: …maybe a little too much. Leave’em wantin’ more. I rather not sit and listen to fifty minutes, in all honesty. But I’ve listened to it a thousand times–anything gets old.
So, what were you like growing up in South Carolina? An outcast?
Buddin: Sometimes it woulda been nice to have been an outcast. It was just a big community–church and school and we had a band called the UI’s. We played at the pool party–that was our biggest show. I think we had thirty or forty people at that. We’d also pull together our money and rent the American Legion Hall and play there to mixed results.
Black Flag would play places like that.
Buddin: Yeah. I guess we were a band of the times.
Have you always been involved in the church?
Buddin: That’s why I learned music–at the Methodist church–all my life. I learned how to play music from the Methodist hymnal. That’s a big book and the older one–the one before this one–was even bigger. So, that kept me occupied and I didn’t have anything else to do. And then I had a big yard to take care of so that took up a lot of time–raking leaves and hoeing and maintaining the shrubbery and all that. Shit, I mean that’s hard work and no one can relate to that in New York City, I don’t think.
Did you actually grow up on a swamp?
Buddin: Well, yeah, it’s not really owned a swamp but there’s a swamp there, yes.
What did you do after high school?
Buddin: Went to the University of South Carolina. Go Gamecocks! I had a great time, great time. You wanna have a party for four years? Then sign up at University of South Carolina.
Were you studying music there?
Buddin: Yeah. Counterpoint, harmony, voice reading. They forced me to sing in chorus and had to study an instrument so I studied piano and secondary instrument I took viola for a year. That didn’t go anywhere. I pawned that viola, actually–50 bucks. And I never told my sister, who bought it for me, that I pawned it. I was like “Hey, I don’t know where that is or what happened to it. Some animal must have gotten in here and taken it.”
Did you pursue music outside of college? Were you in bands?
Buddin: No, I don’t think I was. I did composition and theory. I wrote and had to perform (in school) but I don’t think I was in a band. We’d get together and play every now and then–birthday parties and things–but no serious band. Because of Hootie and the Blowfish at the time! They had taken over the whole music scene of Columbia and South Carolina. They played every night of the week. That’s why Hootie and the Blowfish went on to fame and fortune is because they worked hard–harder than any band I know. It was steady–every night of the week they were playing somewhere.
Did you know Hootie?
Buddin: No, I did not know them. But they went on to greater things, I guess, and inexplicably, that was the favorite band of Boston, Massachusetts the year I went up to Massachusetts for graduate school. They were in love with Hootie and the Blowfish. I was like “Why’s this band following me?” Everywhere I go, Hootie and the Blowfish is the talk of the town.
Did you wonder why they were so successful?
Buddin: Yeah, well, the material made me wonder but the work ethic was what the explanation was.
What were you listening to at that time?
Buddin: Always Charles Ives since I was a small child and Stockhausen, as far as recent music. And the of course, Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, (Pierre) Boulez. I now had the University of South Carolina music library so I had all these scores to dig around in. I can find Source Magazine–it was like this experimental music magazine and they’d have Alvin Lucier, LaMonte Young and all that crowd. That was totally new, by the way. I’d never heard any of any of Alvin Lucier’s music until I got to USC.
Did you have friends in school with similar musical interests and taste?
Buddin: I was kind of on my own with that (laughing). That’s what I played, too. I played those–Stockhausen and Ives–that’s what I specialized in as a piano player at that time. I still play some of that stuff–I played “Natural Durations” of Stockhausen. I still keep up with performing when it’s called for and I still practice. Mostly, I’ll go through a fugue or a prelude from the well-tempered clavier–a daily inspirational guide, I guess. But a performance of the “Natural Durations” of Stockhausen is forthcoming.
You studied with Charles Wuorinen. How did that come about?
Buddin: Oh, well I knew Time’s Encomium and the Concerto for Tuba. He wrote the book on serial composition so he struck me as a good teacher, and he was. He’s a very, very good teacher and a very smart man and contrary to how he acts as personality, he’s very self-deprecating at times. You’d never know it but the man is not that arrogant. He knows that he doesn’t know everything, which is a sign that maybe he’s not an idiot. Charles Wuorinen is a very smart man and has himself in perspective more than you think at the first blush. We can all learn a lot from him.
How much did you learn from him?
Buddin: Lots, lots. How to revise and revise and edit and revise and re-write, to the point you know that you never really have anything finished. But you get it to stop in place and you say “This will just have to be good enough because you got to move on.” You never really finish a piece; you can always improve on almost anything. And J.S. Bach will be the only composer I know of that much of his work just couldn’t be improved on. Certainly anything that I scrawl down can be written again and again and made better. But J.S. Bach could be the only exception I can think of and maybe some of the Renaissance and pre-Renaissance composers. Maybe 95% of Western music can be all re-written and improved (laughing).
What about the music that Weasel Walter and BJ have put out. That material can be improved on?
Buddin: Oh, absolutely! Yeah, it just got to a stopping place is really what I was saying. You have to go on to the next project so at some point you just have to stop with a three-minute piece and say “That’s good enough at least for now until I’m retired and I can put out another edition of it or revise it.” But, yeah, it could always be made better. I definitely can say that I learned that from Charlie Wuorinen.
You studied with him in New York?
Buddin: Yep. And at Rutgers, unfortunately. I think Paulie D is on the faculty at Rutgers now.
Buddin: Paulie D from the Jersey Shore? Doesn’t he have tenure?
Rubin: He has tenure?
Buddin: I think so. And I know they have Snooki. They brought her in for some big occasion. I think they had the Dalia Lama and Snooki together. And Rutgers smells terrible–it’s one of the worst smelling places. It’s right on the Raritan River and it’s an overflow of sewers and it smells like a garbage dump. It’s a miserable place. I don’t wish Rutgers on anyone.
When did you move to Brooklyn?
Who did you know at that point?
Buddin: I knew Charlie Wuorinen and Tim Dahl.
How did you know Tim?
Buddin: We went to school at the University of Massachusetts. We broke into the music program there…
Did you teach Tim?
Buddin: We had the same teacher. No, I didn’t teach Tim (laughing). I’m still trying to teach Tim…
Rubin: (Laughing) Good luck.
Buddin: Yeah, good luck (laughing). He’s comin’ along. We had a band at UMass…
Rubin: Six-pack Hussein…
Elsa the Bartender: Six-pack Hussein?
Buddin: Six-pack Hussein, yeah! We played a couple o’ times. I was better known for my work in six-pack Hussein than my work as a composer. It was Tim, myself and the drummer Sean Kelley, who’s still around. He’s in Harlem, I think. He’s around and still a very good drummer. We may get back together one day.
Buddin: (Laughing) Reunion…yeah, take it on the road.
What did six-pack hussein sound like?
Buddin: Uh, that’s hard to describe. It was a noisy-type operation. It was like this welder of noise and every now and then what would emerge like a Chuck Berry song or some All-American sort of hoe down like “Living in the U.S.A.” or “Maybelline.”
Was six-pack hussein all-instrumental?
Buddin: No! I sang. I contributed the vocals. Yeah. I played Tim’s DX-27 which he still has. And Sean. I’d like to see Sean. If anyone runs into Sean Kelley, tell him about the reunion.
Did you move in with Tim or he moved into your place in Brooklyn?
Buddin: Tim beat me to New York and I moved in with him after I was disgusted by (living in) New Brunswick. Tim, Simon Slater and I for a long time. Not a very dramatic story. Unlike you and BJ Rubin, I can’t afford to live alone in New York.
Rubin: I don’t live alone.
Buddin: Oh! That’s right. I forgot.
How did you get to know Weasel?
Buddin: How do I know Weasel? I know Weasel from BJ Rubin’s variety show.
Rubin: I brought Wesel to your house for the Super Bowl party in 2010. That was when you first met Weasel. I introduced them.
Was Weasel familiar with your work at that point?
Buddin: I doubt it.
Rubin: I don’t think Weasel had heard about Dave at that point.
Buddin: Weasel likes that branch of European serialism from after World War II like Boulez. I don’t think he cares that much about Stockhausen but he likes Boulez and Barrios and Henri Pousseur and all that crowd.
Rubin: Whenever I’m with Weasel, he’s only listening to death metal or free jazz.
Buddin: Well, Weasel’s got varied taste.
Rubin: (Laughing) Well, if other people it, he usually doesn’t.
Buddin: Weasel knows a lot of music; he’s got a pretty broad knowledge. He’s got a catalog-like knowledge of Paul McCartney’s Wings era, which is surprising–no one knows that stuff. Weasel knows like “Let Me Roll It” and “Let Him In” and “Band on the Run” and “Jet.” He does a great version of “Jet” by Paul McCartney. You should get him to do it sometime.
So Weasel specializes in Wings and no wave?
Buddin: And no wave, too. Yeah. Actually, I’ve never heard Weasel play anything on keyboards other than Paul McCartney material. He really knows that stuff; he’s just not playing around. He knows Wings.
Rubin: The Star Wars theme–that’s usually what he plays when he sits down at the keyboard.
Buddin: The thing about Weasel–just by himself–he’s a born entertainer. Everyone’s left the room, the room is empty except Weasel and a record player and maybe furniture. And you can walk out and Weasel puts on a Heart record or some bottom of the barrel trash, Top 40 rock from the mid-Eighties. And I’ve walked back in to a room and seen Weasel, down on the floor now, by himself, writhing around like he’s playing the gee-tar, turning himself around. And that’s just by himself. He doesn’t even need an audience to put on a show. A rare man. Definitely a born entertainer.
Were you blown away that Weasel wanted to put out your music…Canticles for Electronic Music?
Rubin: I talked to Weasel about releasing it…
Buddin: I didn’t argue about it.
Rubin: He liked it and said he would like to.
Buddin: Thanks again Weasel. Better released than not, sure.
Rubin: There’s a piece of Dave’s music on the first Child Abuse CD–at the very end of that CD, there’s a track that Dave wrote.
Buddin: I don’t think that’s got a title…
Rubin: …”Not an Exit…”
Buddin: …”Not an Exit,” that sounds right.
Has anyone else besides Child Abuse performed your music? I know BJ has released some of your music on his label.
Rubin: I’ve been talking to Peter Evans about playing one of Dave’s pieces for a little while but it hasn’t happened yet.
Buddin: That’s it. Just Pukepop, ugEXPLODE and the Dick Move label (have released my music).
Are you a big Child Abuse fan?
Buddin: Ah, sure. I don’t follow them. I don’t mind Child Abuse. It’s an endearing band. I think they lost Luke Calzonetti and after that I don’t think I’ve heard Child Abuse since Luke left.
Rubin: Tim sings now.
Rubin: Tim is the singer of Child Abuse.
Buddin: What’s Tim’s vocal style? Is it the same ol’ “Arrrr Arrrr, Arrrr?”
Rubin: Cookie Monster. Yeah.
Buddin: Strike out anything bad I’ve said about Tim, too. He’s a very good bass player, a very good jazz composer and has the best sense of time of anyone I know. Tim’s rhythm is almost like a metronome…maybe only Bootsy Collins can do better.
Even though you live with Tim, you don’t keep up with his musical endeavors?
Buddin: Well, I’m busy on the weekends. Get up early in the morning and show up and play the organ (at church).
Are you a religious guy?
Buddin: Yeah, sure. In the American-Protestant tradition, sure. I’d like to think I’m the best composer the United Methodist Church has today.
Rubin: Who are some other famous Methodist composers?
Buddin: Don’t know any of the Methodist composers! Maybe Charles Wesley but he’s dead and he wasn’t what you would call world-class, like a Bach or Handel or even a Scarlatti. He was just a passable composer. He was good at writing text for hymns but I don’t think Charles Wesley wasn’t what you’d call a great composer. But I would put myself at the top of the list of living Methodist composers….
How long have you been the musical director at Grace United Methodist Church in Park Slope?
Buddin: March was ten years.
Do you play every Sunday?
Buddin: Every single Sunday with two vacations in the past ten years.
And you play piano for the elderly?
Buddin: Oh, yeah, for the neighborhood community center in Manhattan on 92nd Street at the Stanley Isaacs Community Center and that also mornings. So that’s why you don’t see me out on the town because I have to get up early for this stuff.
What do you play for the old folks?
Buddin: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne, ol’ Tin Pan Alley music.
Do you do any American Liberty League songs for those folks?
Buddin: So far, no, unless you count “I’ve Heard That Song Before” which American Liberty League plays but Jule Styne wrote that song. We play that at the Senior center and that’s also usually the closing number for the American Liberty League. I don’t remember if we closed with that this past week or not.
How did the American Liberty League come together?
Buddin: Super Bowl party! That would have been the Super Bowl party of 2010 or 2009.
Did you know Kevin Shea at that point?
Buddin: Yeah from Talibam!
Do you like Talibam!
Buddin: I love Talibam! I love when they do the rap. Puff Up The Volume! That’s some of their best work–that took a lot of work to put that together. That’s highly choreographed. I like it a lot.
Is Charlene’s your regular hang after church on Sundays?
Buddin: It’s getting to be. I try to save my money and spend it at the more economical J & R Pizza on Kings Highway.
BJ put out the American Liberty League EP on his label.
Buddin: Yeah, Goin’ to Coney Island EP.
You guys don’t play that often.
Buddin: It’s only like two, three times a year. We need to work on that. We need to rehearse more, I think (laughing).
Rubin: There’s another EP in the works and there’s a whole album…
Buddin: There’s plenty of material for that band. There’s loads. Everybody’s busy with other projects because we rarely get together.
Do you enjoy singing?
Buddin: It’s not by choice. I don’t mind singing; it’s not what I set out to do but nobody else’ll do it. I’m stuck with it.
What about the perception that the same guy who is doing American Liberty League is also responsible for composing the Canticles?
Buddin: Again, man, it’s Reagan-era music, early to mid-Eighties. I didn’t know the difference between Elliott Carter…
Buddin: The B-52’s. It’s the American musical heritage….Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Milton Babbitt…uh, who else? Lynard Skynard!
So you don’t see any difference between American Liberty League and your experimental composing?
Buddin: Oh, no. American Liberty League is experimental, too. I don’t know of another band that has the sound that American Liberty League has with synthesizer, snare drum and piano.
So you’d play more American Liberty League gigs if the time was allowed?
Buddin: Oh, sure, yeah. We’d play anytime for anything. That’s part of American Liberty League’s design: we could play in a library, on a Friday morning or the local pool hall Friday night and we can play at the White House the next day. The American Liberty League is for the American people. We’re for everybody. And it’s a compact group–its very portable. We could have the whole band loaded up and carry it all on the subway. It’s the piano that’s the tough part but the synthesizer you can put under one arm, the snare drum under another arm and there’s American Liberty League ready to go–all we gotta do is show up and put on an outfit. I’ve got a red coat, Tim’s got a light blue, sorta powder blue coat that’s hilarious and then there’s a seer sucker coat and that’s a big part of American Liberty League–just the coat, the synthesizer and the snare drum and we’re ready to play–if there is a piano.
Tim and Kevin wore hats at the last gig. You don’t wear a hat.
Buddin: That’s Tim–Tim does that sometimes. I’m gonna put a stop to that. No more hats. Well, ya know, I’m writin’ the songs and I think I’m gonna draw the line on that and on the sun shades I see Tim wearin’ every now and then. I’m gonna stop that.
What’s this about you being a pop culture junkie? What do you read? The Post?
Buddin: All the time, every day.
Who do you keep up with?
Buddin: I fall in with the Irish trash every time. I totally relate to that. Lindsay Lohan I can completely relate to. Throwing drinks at people, getting into bar fights, getting loud and getting in trouble with the law–yeah, that sounds just like people I know. I still don’t know why Kim Kardashian is always on Page 6–she’s always there and it’s even worse in the Daily News. Much more boring person than Lindsay Lohan for the same kind of pseudo-celebrity crowd.
Is working with LiLo your dream collaboration?
Buddin: Are you kiddin me?! I mean, what are we gonna be even collaboratin’ on? Yeah, sure, I’ll throw in with Lindsay Lohan for the right amount of money.