Although Buxter Hoot’n is now based in San Francisco, I don’t think of sunny California when I listen to their music. It’s much too grounded, too declarative in nature; when they sing “We’re miles and miles outside the line, traveling outside our minds,” I think of open-all-night truck stops and lonesome, cracked highways, the kind that don’t promise views of the ocean in a few hundred miles. I think of the Midwest.
The term Americana is often overused to describe a sound that is perhaps blue collar. Frankly, I have no idea what it means; perhaps it’s supposed to convey something that isn’t bigger than what it’s trying to be. I would like to think that Americana music prefers blood and sweat to bells and whistles. It might not always be hip, but it’s real.
So, I’ll stick with what makes sense to me: Buxter Hoot’n makes music that is real. Their sound is precise and unpretentious; it’s not calling for anything in particular, or better yet, trying to hide its warts. Here, watch the video for “Blue Night,” my favorite song off their new self-titled album (and get a load of Jeremy Shanok back there on drums — dude is smooth and has style).
We’re proud to bring you our second installment of Hometowns, a new feature here at Speakers in Code. In many ways, Hometowns was created especially for bands like Buxter Hoot’n; read on, and we think you’ll see why.
1. How does your hometown or home state influence your music?
We grew up in Mishawaka, Indiana. It’s a medium-sized, blue collar city, but one small enough that you felt like you knew everybody. We grew up near the St. Joseph river and the imagery of living in riverside America is a something that appears in our songwriting. I’ve always felt like the Midwest is America at its best and America at its worst and growing up seeing the stories of the people living there is a central theme in all of our work.
2. If you could take me out for a drink in your hometown, where we would we go?
Back when we grew up, there were and still are a lot of places to get a drink. But the landscape on what type of places available has changed considerably from when I was young. Most of my time there was spent underage, because I left when I was 20, so in order to get a drink I would have to go to some pretty gritty places, where the welders and factory workers would go. But, these places would serve you.
I don’t know if it’s still like that today, I doubt it. A lot of those places don’t even exist anymore. But those experiences are really what has given me such an appreciation for dive bars. They are still my favorite places to hang out. So, if we are getting a drink in my hometown we will definitely be going somewhere with that type of aesthetic.
But, in recent times Mishawaka has fallen in to that trap of wanting to have everything that you see on TV and much of the mom and pop shops and the overall landscape was sold to developers. There used to be miles and miles of flat stretching corn fields. Nowadays, much of that has been taken over by franchises. Chances are, if you were to go to Mishawaka — and not know where to go — you would be sent to Main Street. Miles long of fast food, strip malls, chain restaurants, and bars.
But, if you were with me I’d take you to the hidden gems. One of my favorites is a place called Martha’s Midway Tavern. It’s just a few minutes walk from my childhood home, where my parents still live. It was a speakeasy during prohibition, it was Al Capone’s home away from home, and it is one of the great blues clubs in the country. It’s called the Midway because it was the midway point in the train ride from Detroit to Chicago. So all the great blues men would stop at Martha’s in between the two cities. In recent years it has been known as the home of the legendary Pinetop Perkins, an area native. And, we have had the joy of selling it out the past two years. It’s a tremendous place.
3. Have you ever wished you were from someplace different than your hometown? Explain.
No, there is a lot we learned from the people and the way of life. There is something very real about being raised in a place where factory workers and menial 9 to 5 jobs is a way of life. Where it’s not about being on the cusp of hipness or fashion, it’s about doing what you have to do to get a roof over your head and after work and on the weekends going out and having fun. There’s a simplicity in it. We got immersed in music and had to get out, but most don’t. Also, there’s something about the Midwest, where you are stuck between the two coasts that are setting the trends. It offers you a perspective on the whole thing.
4. What’s your favorite song about your hometown or home state?
“Back Home Again in Indiana,” one of the great all time songs, period. Miles Davis reworked it into a Charlie Parker masterpiece, “Donna Lee.” And, growing up we used to have a commercial that ran constantly all summer long for the water park, Indiana Beach. I’ve never even been there, but I can still sing the song…”there’s more than corn in Indiana at the supersensational…Indiana Beach” — all to the tune of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” And, I’m sure everyone who grew up with me remembers that song as well. It’s that catchy.
5. Tell us about the first time you played your hometown or home state as part of Buxter Hoot’n. How did it go?
It was a little overwhelming, we had more people there than I expected. It almost felt more like a reunion than a show. It was like that Kinks song from The Village Green Preservation Society, “All of My Friends Were There.” We ended up playing until around 3am. It was quite a party.