Tim Holland Explains the 5 Ws of UH&tB
Andrew’s full name is Andrew Hunter Low. My friends have called me the Buffalo for a long time. Andrew suggested the name, and he could probably do a better job of explaining it (to whatever extent that isn’t sufficient enough).
Andrew and I met in the summer of 1995 at a show in Pennsylvania. We’ve been playing music together for nearly 20 years—since the beginning of The Jazz June. I wasn’t in the original line up of the band, but as Andrew would say, I’ve “been a part of the JJ family since day one.” I went on most of the tours even before I was playing with the band. I guess you could say that I officially joined The Jazz June during the recording of The Medicine and played with the band on subsequent tours before leaving the band to pursue other interests in early 2001.
Over the past decade, work and other projects have allowed me to spend several weeks/months each year in London. So although Andrew moved to the UK in 2006, we have remained in frequent contact, and collaborated on a number of creative projects in different mediums. Several years of discussion about once again writing and recording music together almost came to fruition in 2011; however, the project ultimately stalled.
Since then, Andrew played in several bands in London, including the zombie-rock band Wake Up Dead, which is one of my personal favorites. In 2013, Andrew reunited with the guys (Jazz June members Bryan Gassler, Dan O’Neill, and Justin Max). They recorded their first studio album since 2002’s Better Off Without Air (Initial Records). The album, After the Earthquake, was released in 2014 by Top Shelf Records. Top Shelf also released a special edition vinyl pressing of The Medicine, marking the 15th anniversary since the album’s initial release. In March of this year, Rolling Stone placed The Medicine at #33 on its list of “40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time,” so that was a nice way to cap off the re-release of the album, and actually the full catalogue of their earlier recordings.
In April, during a two-week visit I made to London, Andrew and I began discussing a new project that would challenge us to think about songwriting in a different way.
I think it’s probably fair to say that Uncle Hunter & the Buffalo is essentially a conversation that got way out of hand. I’m very grateful that it did, of course. But from a cause/effect standpoint, it followed an atypical path.
Collaborating on this album was an unavoidable consequence of two weeks of discussions about music. Actually, this conversation is still going on daily.
Typically, being in a band and releasing an album is predicated upon the desire and motivation to do so. I had no interest in starting another band (or being in one) when I went to London back in April. I was just looking forward to visiting close friends. I had also planned on—and was very much excited about—spending 5 of the 12 days in Ireland to do research for a book I’m writing. I still have not made it to Ireland to complete that research, I’ve fallen off pace with the book, and now there is this album coming out by Uncle Hunter & the Buffalo.
I actually think it started as a conversation about literature, or prose writing. Creatively, that’s what was on my mind at the time. I had just finished the first chapter of the novel on the flight over, so I shared this with Andrew and Jen. Andrew had just written a handful of songs, so he got out his acoustic guitar and played them for me.
I thought they sounded great as acoustic songs and I tried to encourage him to develop them with that in mind, rather than take the approach of placing them in the hands of a full band, where every song—and every part of the song—would be filled with drums, guitar, and whatever else.
We got to talking about the creative process more generally–the importance of inclusion and exclusion in any art form.
We discussed Hemingway, who had written (and presumably not written) quite a bit on this theme. Joseph Conrad’s haunting standard regarding these elements also came to mind:
“A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.”
It’s not always easy to spot how well you fail or succeed at this in your own work. It’s incredibly easy to get attached to individual components that we think are good and want to include–whether it’s a sentence or a guitar part–even when those parts lessen the quality or integrity of the work as a whole.
It can be a humbling experience, but if the goal is to serve the work as a whole, you really need to find a way to see clearly what is beneficial to the song (or story, etc.) and what is harmful to it. The ego often has the tendency to cling to anything that it perceives is in service to itself.
Ironically–and sometimes tragically—our egos excel at effectively undermining that which they authentically believe they are in service to. I shouldn’t generalize. It’s something I know is a part of me, anyway. So, it takes a considerable amount of vigilance to maintain a deeper insight into what it is I’m ultimately trying to accomplish and not let my attachment to component pieces or ideas I’m clinging to get in the way of what is best—and I guess now I’m talking about life as well as art. I’m reminded of the Oscar Wilde bit about whether life imitates art, or art imitates life.
In any event, there is the thing we are telling ourselves we are trying to do, and then there is the thing we are actually doing. Oftentimes–for me at least–those things are in conflict, so it takes a bit of re-conditioning to break those bad habits. I don’t think that process ever stops…at least it hasn’t for me.
There are aspects of writing, or any kind of endeavor, that no one can help you with. I haven’t found any substitution for hard work and dedication. Beyond this tenacity, or grit factor, I think the most important component to improving my work, and myself, is having good friends and people I trust—and whose opinions I value and respect—to set me straight when I’m getting off track. Fortunately, Andrew and I have that kind of friendship, and it’s essential to our ability to collaborate in a way that is both fun and creatively and intellectually rewarding. That honesty and trust, I mean. I don’t think this project, in particular, would work otherwise.
-Tim Holland (Brooklyn, September 2016)