Buck and Evans Interview. Slow Train Coming.
Formed in the valley’s of South Wales, quartet Buck & Evans have been honing their own brand of ‘rock ‘n’ soul’ since forming for what was expected to be a one off gig in London’s Soho in 2013. The ‘Buck’ is Chris Buck, a guitarist of sublime talent who has been endorsed as a player by none other than Guns N’ Roses’ Slash. The ‘Evans’ is Sally Ann Evans, a pianist and vocalist of extraordinary power and soul. An obvious and somewhat lazy comparison is Janis Joplin, but it’s hard to make apologies for that. A potent rhythm section in the form of bassist Dominic Hill and drummer Bob Richards complete the group. Richards, who has previously performed with Asia and Graham Bonnet, was recently called upon to prop up AC/DC when drummer Phil Rudd had his unfortunate brush with the law. Enough said.
Buck & Evans have released a brace of three track EP’s, the second of which was a live recording made at the legendary Rockfield studios in Monmouthshire, and have just released a new single, Slow Train. Simon Reed caught up with Chris, Sally Ann and Dominic from the band ahead of their single release show at Putney’s historic Half Moon venue.
It’s good to see you and thanks for giving us the time to chat. I saw the band at Ramblin’ Man Fair in the summer and thought you were absolutely brilliant. I wrote at the time that you were the best thing there, so I’m really looking forward to seeing you perform tonight.
Chris: Thank you very much!
Tell us a little bit about how the band came together.
Chris: I had a phone call asking me to support Sandi Thom at Madame JoJo’s in Soho. I was asked on the assumption that I sang I think (which I very much don’t)!
So I phoned Sal, who I’d done a gig with a couple of months prior and we arranged a one off pairing. It was like: ‘Let’s get this out of the way, move on with our lives and never speak to one another again!’ I took the gig on the assumption that it would be a full band, so I set about getting Dom and Bob together, who I’d done a BBC session with a year prior and we did some rehearsals. Then at the last minute they said they wanted an acoustic duo so the entire band went out of the window and it was literally just me and Sal. It must have gone relatively well because we’re still doing it!
Sally Ann: It was terrifying.
Chris: Yes terrifying. It’s so hard playing without any sense of rhythm… (I’m not saying we haven’t got any sense of rhythm)…
Sally Ann: … Yes, speak for yourself!
Chris: … Just without any rhythm it’s nigh on impossible trying to keep any sense of time, especially in front of a relatively big audience. But we had an amazing response and the response after the gig was amazing too. One thing rolled into another – we thought there had to be something in it, and here we are two years later.
So you all knew each other beforehand?
Chris: Dom was I guess the comparative outsider. I met Bob years ago when I was at school at a road safety song competition of all things – it makes it sound like Bob was at school with me, he’s aged very badly! Dom actually plays in another band with Bob so there was a connection there. So Bob put Dom’s name forward and I’m amazed by his playing on a daily basis…
Dominic: … In a bad way…
Chris: (laughing)… Yeah, in a bad way…
So it’s obviously a tight-knit music community back home?
Chris: Yeah, definitely. We all live relatively close together so the whole rehearsal thing, meeting up isn’t as much of a ball ache as it could be. It’s always felt very easy. That’s the greatest thing about this band – it’s never once felt like a chore, it’s never felt like we have to drive miles for rehearsal or any of that kind of nonsense – it’s just very easy.
You’ve already mentioned Bob and Dom playing together in another band. Do you have any other projects or sessions on the go, or is Buck & Evans the 100% focus of your attention?
Chris: In terms of original music, this is pretty much what we do. We dabble in the odd covers bands here and there to keep ourselves busy, but no, Buck & Evans is it.
I’ve seen you referred to many times as a ‘rock ‘n’ soul’ band. Is that how you’ve identified yourselves or was it a term applied to you from elsewhere?
Chris: I think somebody tagged it to us and to be honest is suits us perfectly because it’s oddly descriptive, yet equally vague in a lot of ways and gives you the scope to do a lot of things within those two words. We’ve never felt limited by it so it’s something that we’re happy to be stuck with.
Because there are a lot of genres that run through your music…
Sally Ann: Well definitely. I think when we started, the blues genre was thrown at us quite a lot, but we don’t fit neatly into that at all, so I think that ‘Rock ‘n’ Soul’ as Chris said gives us a wider opportunity…
Chris: … Gives us more scope.
You don’t want to be pinned into any specific genre I guess…
Chris: It’s a frightening thing to contend with I think, people pigeonholing you or compartmentalising you into a little box because they think they understand it – and then they think that’s what they can define you as. As you’ve said there are some different elements that come into our music and I think that comes across in what we play.
So going forward, can you see any of the little splinters that go in various directions becoming more pronounced?
Sally Ann: I think it’s difficult because what we’re doing is just writing and going with the flow of what’s coming naturally. By doing that, we’re certainly not writing to spec or anything, we’re writing what is coming out of us – and that is influenced by the music that we’re all influenced by. That’s why I think bands like Fleetwood Mac, Tedeschi Trucks and Alabama Shakes are being thrown at us because we’re touching on some of those now.
Chris: Ultimately, we write songs that we would like to hear if they hadn’t been written by us and if they come out well, they come out well.
At this moment, you’re sitting in the mix with a whole lot of young bands and artists that are pumping out this music – I’ve made a note of some of the people I’ve taken photos of recently: Laurence Jones, Ben Poole, Aaron Keylock, Red Butler, Virgil and the Accelerators – all young and dynamic artists. Do you think there is a resurgence of interest in this kind of music, or has it always been there, but it just happens that now there are a few people that have hooked into it?
Chris: I guess specifically those kind of artists are more traditionally blues than ourselves, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a resurgence, I think there’s always going to be a love of this music because it’s rooted in stuff that’s been around for decades. It’s never going to go away, but it will probably go in waves of popularity. At the moment there are bands like The Temperance Movement and Rival Sons – there are a lot of bands around like that. Rival sons have played with Black Sabbath and The Temperance Movement got up and jammed with the Stones – you’ve got a lot of these guys being pushed to the foreground very quickly. It’s a music that’s never going to go away but I guess its popularity will come in waves.
So far there are two EPs with three tracks and the new single Slow Train in your studio back catalogue. Are there plenty of new songs waiting in the wings and if so, when might we hear them on a full-length album?
Chris: We’re constantly writing and to be honest, we’ve probably easily got enough material for an album. But inevitably when you write a new song and you’re very proud of it, for the initial couple of weeks after it you think that’s the best thing you’ve ever written. I think it would be foolish to jump into a studio and push something out too soon and it’s a trap that a lot of bands fall into – seeing an album as kind of like a seminal moment and pushing it out too quickly for their own good – before they’ve established enough of a fan base that they need to build the popularity to get to a sophomore album. We’re constantly writing, playing and getting better as a band and it would be foolhardy to go in and do something yet…
So you’re playing the long game and that in itself takes a lot of confidence – to feel that you don’t need to put out more material…
Sally Ann: I think first of all that we haven’t got the fan base yet, and secondly as we’re writing songs; the more we play them live, they are changing quite a bit. We’ve just done some acoustic tracks – and one song that is actually quite a heavy sounding song when we play it live as a band works really, really well acoustically. We’re now in two minds whether to go down the acoustic line with that particular track…
Chris: … This is where pre-production for an album comes in as well – you spend a lot of time working out this stuff. This is something (Alan Niven) my manager has installed in me from a very early point in our relationship; you put an album out and even if the popularity of it doesn’t last for longer than for a couple of months, that album is always there. If you’re going to put something out in the public domain forever, you’ve got to make sure it is as good as you can physically make it.
You’ve touched on songwriting. Tell me about how the songwriting process evolves in Buck & Evans. Is there any prescriptive element to it or is it a completely organic process?
Sally Ann: I think it comes from a couple of different sources at the moment. Very often Chris will come up with a riff or chord progression and bring it to rehearsal and we come up with the arrangements from there. I’ll tend to go away and write the words and the melody. At the same time I come with a very similar approach so I’ve got the basis of a chorus or chord progression and exactly the same thing happens in reverse.
So you spark off each other…
Chris: Yes, as much as Sally or I can bring an idea, it’s a kind of cumulative act on all of our parts to bounce off one another. It definitely works. I’m very lucky to be in a band with a lot of good musicians.
Sally Ann: Slow Train is a good example of that. I came in with that song, but for me the best part of it is the bass line. I just think that just shows the quality of everyone involved.
Tonight at the Half Moon in Putney is the launch party for Slow Train. Why are you doing it here and not back home in Wales?
Chris: (laughing) Because London is the epicentre of all things cool and good!
Sally Ann: I think the timing of it came just after we did an acoustic set at the Olympic Studios with (legendary record producer) Chris Kimsey, who invited us to do that gig. Chris and a few other people there that night were really pushing the idea of playing at The Half Moon so that planted the seed.
It is a great place…
Chris: That played a big part of it – it’s got an incredible heritage; if you look at the people who have played here in the last 10 years alone, never mind the last 50. I like playing in venues with heritage. I think it suits our kind of ethos – what we’re about and what we’re trying to achieve.
Is it frustrating that your friends and local fan base in South Wales have all had to come miles down the M4 for this gig, or do you just see it as a necessary evil that the single launch takes place in London?
Chris: I think its testament to their dedication to be honest. We didn’t push it particularly – it’s something that they organised and we’re forever indebted to them that they would make the effort – I don’t think I’d make the effort to go 150 miles out of my way to see me to be honest!
I’m sure they’re going to have a good time…
Chris: You would hope!
Sally Ann: They probably had a party on the bus…
Chris: Sobering up already…
I know Slash has been vocal in his support of you. Tell me how that came about.
Chris: He’s been incredibly generous with his time. To cut a long story short, our manager Alan managed Guns N’ Roses from ’86 to ’91 and is still friendly with most of them – apart from Axl funnily enough (aside: God knows why)!
I think gently over the years (and prior to Buck & Evans) he was drip-feeding bits of my playing to Slash. Then randomly out of the blue one day I got a phone call from Slash just asking me what I was doing on x date and asking if I wanted to come up to the NIA in Birmingham, swing by and bring my guitar. I rocked up and played a blues jam in front of 10000 people! And after that we’ve been the best of friends. He’s such a genuinely lovely guy – unaffected by everything he’s been through. He’s come out of the other side of it as a very moral person.
Talking of collaborations with other guitarists, tonight you will have Bernie Marsden join you on stage for a few songs. I imagine that is going to be a lot of fun. Whose songs are you going to play, yours or his?
Chris: Bernie Marsden coming down is a tremendous honour and totally indicative of what a sweet, humble guy he is. I get such a kick out of jamming with other musicians – there’s something incredibly special about standing toe to toe with one of your idols and having a musical conversation!
We’ll see how it goes, but we’ll probably end up jamming some blues and maybe a couple of ‘Snake tunes. I don’t think Bob would forgive me if we didn’t have chance to relive some of Live… In The Heart of the City!
Finally, can we expect a headline tour from you in 2016 as I’ve no doubt there are many, many people that are eagerly looking forward to seeing it.
Sally Ann: It’s something we’re talking about now for maybe next year…
Chris: … Yes. Early months of next year. Watch this space basically.
Thank you very much for your time and I hope you have a great gig!
Chris and Sally Ann: Thank you.
Slow Train is on release now and available from the usual streaming and download services, all of which can be accessed via the band’s website at: www.buckandevans.com
Buck & Evans live review and photography right here: https://rockshot.co.uk/17488/buck-evans-live-half-moon-putney/
Interview and Portrait Photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his own photographic website right here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk