|Hailing from England's Northwest, Buchanan was formed in 2002 by James Fildes and Mark Wilkinson. Eschewing the easier option of peddling Eagles covers around the clubs they decided that they would write their own material in an "unapologetic country style", drawing on their many influences, from Cash and Haggard to Parsons and The Jayhawks. Their debut album Stars a' Fallin' was released on Goldrush Records and Triste caught up with lead singer Mark Wilkinson to find out more about the band.|
"What Buchanan is all about is melancholic lovesongs and rocking country
music. To properly describe this music, you would have to say that it's the sound of love walking out the door."
a mature alt country style band, complemented the relaxed atmosphere
with their chilled out bittersweet numbers. Opener ‘Gold Chains’ was an
upbeat - The Beach Boys meets Johnny Cash - number that started off a
very promising set. The highlight being ‘Sweet Angeline’, a slow and
thoughtful number, which features neat, uplifting lyrics. "
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The Triste Interview - Buchanan
Triste: Mark, Can I start by asking you about how and when the band was formed?
Mark: In 2002, James and I formed the band to fulfil a desire we both had to form a band that played country music. As we were both brought up playing and listening to all kinds of country, we wanted it to be ‘real’ and reflect our influences. It was important to us that we don't wear our influences on our sleeves. We wanted a band with a hard, uncompromising sound with songs that were strong and players that understood how that could be achieved. We are very close to it. As a band we have become good friends and we all get on very well. We feel very positive about what we are doing and where we can go; positive-but realistic.
Triste: I think I'm correct in saying that yourself and the other members have been mainstays of the UK country-rock scene for some years?
Mark: Well, this is true to an extent, but I am not sure that any of our past experiences are relevant to what we are doing in Buchanan. We are all experienced players and between us we have played all over Europe. However, Buchanan is a real labour of love and for the first time, we are playing country music in an unapologetic way. For years and years, country (or country rock) was totally uncool. But despite that there are thousands of people out there who love it. It has gone though different phases - the mid 80’s with Green on Red, the Long Ryders, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam made it a little bit cool as far as the NME & co. were concerned, and some of those artists are still around. But it was a short-lived phase. Then there was The Rockingbirds – the less said about them the better!! Then we had the Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt/Wilco axis. This still seems to be informing the ‘Americana’ movement at present but, to be honest, a lot of what passes for ‘Americana’ is unadulterated shit. But to answer your question, if I told you who we had played with, it may give some people a skewed view of where we are coming from so I am not going to tell you!
Triste: I read somewhere that you said you were 'brought up to love country music'. Could you elaborate on that?
Mark: James, Steve Conway (steel player) and I were fortunate enough to have dads who were musicians. We were all exposed to great music from a young age. Steve’s dad, Jimmy, is a fantastic country singer, my dad has a great voice for Cash and Haggard and James’ dad Al is an amazing guitar picker. With this start to life, it would be weird to play any other style of music. On a personal note, my musical taste has narrowed so much over the years that I can’t listen to anything that hasn't got a twangy guitar and either a banjo, steel or dobro on it! Dave Wells (drummer) and David Smith (bassist) came to the music as adults and they have such a great feel for it that they know exactly what is required to make it sound hard, punchy and tight. We work very well as a unit. We know what we want to sound like.
Triste: Unless it's a case of 'protecting the innocent', could you tell me how the band's name came about?
Mark: It’s a long and not very interesting story.
Triste: With the band's musical credentials it would have been much easier (and probably more lucrative) for you to perform classic country-rock covers by, say, The Eagles or The Burrito's. What made you decide to write and perform original material?
Mark: Because we could write original material that was of a suitably high standard. We have things to say, musically, that we need our own voice to say. It would be easier and a lot more lucrative to be a covers band, but I would rather stick hot needles in my eyes. Nothing can compare to the buzz you get from playing your own songs and have an audience enjoy them.
Triste: Some of the songs on the album are written solely by you, some by James and some are collaborations. With collaborations, how does it work out?
Mark: We initially got together to write songs and just see if we could do it. We had been in different bands before but had never written together. We were intrigued as to how we would go about the process of co-writing. As it turned out, it went pretty well. James and I have different approaches to writing and have different strengths. James writes using lots of very deep, poetic, metaphorical language whereas my lyrics tend to be more straightforward, almost prosaic. There have also been instances where James has come up with most of the lyrics and I have added the melody or a chorus or middle-eight. But, undoubtedly, James is the main creative force in the band.
Triste: Following on from that, speaking for yourself, what are the things that inspire as a writer, e.g. personal experience, the experiences of people you know etc?
Mark: This is something that has started to concern me. All my songs seem to be about crap relationships. And, anyone who knows me personally will vouch for the fact that I’ve had my share of them! I am single and happy at the moment which usually means I don’t write songs. I can only write when I am pissed off. I should be getting pissed off about George W, and I am but I can’t find the words to explain my anger and frustration. Plus, there are people out there who do it so much better than I can. I can write about me and the shit I have been through better than anybody else.
Triste: Would you call yourselves prolific as writers?
Mark: James is very prolific and most of the songs he comes up with we use. However, we do have a rigorous quality control policy which means that a song has to really work for it to be included on an album. At the moment we have about 6 songs written for the next album. But, we want to concentrate on selling as many copies of Stars a’ Fallin’ first.
Triste: How did the tie up with Goldrush Records come about?
Mark: I had played on a number of albums that Goldrush released and I got to know the boys up there pretty well. We sent them some rough mixes of the album and they liked it. Simple!
Triste: Which artists do you consider to be the band's main influences?
Mark: That’s difficult to answer as a band. There are artists that we all love – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Son Volt, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Fred Eaglesmith, Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Eric Taylor, Mickey Newbury, The Jayhawks, Buck Owens, Pure Prairie League, early Lucinda Williams. Individually, our influences are many and varied.
Triste: There are now many US 'Americana/alt.country' artists regularly touring over here and building quite sizeable grass-roots followings who are virtually unknown in their own country. I've heard some UK artists complain that promoters tend to favour US artists, irrespective of their musical merits, as they are seen more as 'the real deal'. Is this something you have encountered? And how would you answer those who maintain that the only authentic country music come from America?
Mark: This is a difficult one. It’s hard to answer this without it sounding like sour grapes. But here goes; the main difference between UK and US bands is that US bands are generally better players and writers. A lot of the UK acts have tried their hands at different styles of music before settling on ‘Americana’ because it’s perceived as being easy to play. It is true. It is easy to play badly as is every other style of music. But it’s hard to play with conviction, and, most importantly FEELING!!! So, on the whole, US bands are more of the real deal but not always. We are the real deal because we mean it and we believe it. Plus, we can’t play any other way!!
Triste: Turning the thing around a bit, would you like to play in America?
Triste: I believe that you played a big country festival in Norway in the summer. How did that come about and what was it like?
Mark: James went to Austin and met a promoter from Norway. Johnny, the Norwegian guy, came over to the UK with a singer/songwriter called Kevin Brown. He visited James and heard the album. He asked us to play the festival because he loved the music. We are going back next July. It’s a great place and people really love our sort of music. We were the only UK band there.
Triste: Obviously your main priority at present is promoting the new album. Beyond that, what are the band's plans and where would you like to be in, say, 2 years time?
Mark: Mmmm…good question. In an ideal world I would like to be able to do this for a living. But failing that, we want to be playing shows across the UK and Europe. We would like to do supports for artists we love and would like to do shows on our own. There is a real shortage of venues that promote live music, especially by original artists. If you aren't a covers band or a tribute band it is difficult to get gigs. We have made a conscious decision to be picky about the gigs we do. We want to prove that UK bands CAN write and play country rock as good as the Americans. And we can.
Interviewed by Bill Beaver
Live Gigs & News - Buchanan
Dates available on band web site.
The Buchanan debut album, Stars a' Fallin’ is released on
Goldrush Records. If it's not available in your local record shop then
you can purchase a copy from the record company directly by ringing