In Conversation: Tom Rees - Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard 1

In Conversation: Tom Rees – Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard

True buzzards, when in flight, can usually be distinguished from other birds of prey by their broad wings and expansive rounded tails.

Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, when in flight, can be distinguished from other bands by their broad riffs and expansive melodies and grooves.

I called up Tom on an unusually cold January, disturbingly so for what should be a freezing month with snow and ice, but has been disconcertingly mild. “I run very cold, I’m a very cold person. I want to be in India when the roads are melting and its forty degrees, that my ideal. I’m a bit of an ice man. If only there was a way to very slowly warm the planet”.

He may feel the bite of winter, but Tom is an incredibly gregarious and generous person to talk to and this is also borne out in his flamboyance as frontman for the Cardiff band, who are about to release their debut LP, Backhand Deals.

It might be imposter syndrome, but I still can’t get to grips with why people come to a show just to see us. I keep thinking ‘What’s in it for you?’. I think it gets to the last five minutes of gigs and I realise they’re here to see us”.

Whilst a number of bands are making political statements and forcing ideologies down people’s throats, Tom uses the platform of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard to do things a bit differently. But he is incandescent about how his home town is being destroyed before his very eyes by underhand behaviour.

The LP is a broad statement, there are some local issues, but generally it is about broad issues. Over the past three or four years, from my perspective, in every political institution there are nefarious characters and bad actors that are institutions in these institutions. People think it is the bureaucracy of the system, but I have this idea that there are nefarious characters that affect the course of change. We named the album before we’d written the album as a joke. We thought, ‘What is the most rock’n’roll thing to call the album’ in a dirty AC/DC kind of way. We were playing Monopoly and Ethan said that he loves to play it because you can make these kinds of backhand deals, so we thought that sounded like a hilarious name, and then I wrote the album into that space, which in a way it formulated the political opinion and views.


On ‘Crescent Man vs Demolition Dan’ the second single that teased the record, it talks about the way supposed progress removes what is special about a place and what is important and vital to the local area. “With Cardiff I don’t think it is even about gentrification, I think it’s absolute death. If they were putting something in that the local community could enjoy, even a substratum of Cardiff might like, but its student accommodation and high-rise flats no one can afford. It’s catering to only about 5% of the population of Cardiff, at the behest of removing creative institutions and music venues. As a country and city, much like many other cities in the UK, particularly in the north of England, there is literally no money, so councils have been brought to this point that they have to resort to this behaviour just to be able to get money from private firm. Its all a problem with centralised government that people are becoming aware of”.

With ‘New Age Millennial Magic’ humour is used to open up a discourse, to talk about things. “Music has gone very serious at the moment, because of the current political climate, everyone has a very strong opinion, and they have to stand by that opinion until they keel over. People always hail the likes of John Lennon as big political figures in music, when actual fact they weren’t practising what they sang about, like ‘Imagine no possessions’, yeah sure, ok John, you know. It has to be caveated with humour, because at the end of the day, what do I know? I can talk the good talk, but I have very little experience and I don’t necessarily have the solutions, but if you open up a conversation, and if you have a laugh about something it is easier to come to conclusions about common emotions and opinions. If you are trying to tell people what they think quite aggressively, especially in musical form, it can be very jarring”.

Without trying to sound insulting, and with a self-deprecating air to him, Tom doesn’t feel like his generation is actually helping themselves, or the planet.

I was talking to my sister about recycling, and that for our generation recycling was a big deal when we were kids, so for us millennials, we have a short threshold for satisfying, for quenching our thirst for feeling righteous, so even dropping the bag of recycling outside our house, for me, personally , I could say that’s me done for 2022, I could fly to Kuwait, I could do whatever I want, our threshold is really low for that satisfaction but now the Zoomers are abandoning their school desks to fight for the environment; that is what actual activism is. I think we have a really toxic relationship with the idea of activism, it’s a lived thing, you believe you’re an activist but when it actually comes down to it, when people are throwing bricks through shop windows, you think, I think I will just stay at home. The name of the song came from the counterpoint of struggling with that, the world is on fire, but if I need, NEED to get something delivered online tomorrow, I won’t even think about it, I will buy it on Amazon, it is like muscle memory. There is a sense of magic, we can just get whatever we want, life has never been easier, but we millennials always find a way of making our ease of use seem like victimhood in the grand scheme of things, but the way we try to justify that victimhood to everyone else isn’t by direct action, it’s by tweeting something that sounds super cool and right on. But when I sing about it, it isn’t down on an individual level, it isn’t an individual problem, we are being sold it, and our parents told us we could do anything and be anything and just set our minds to it and go and get it but then faced these ideological and socioeconomic problems that pull that in to question, we don’t know how to get it. And actually our parents were just lying to us. At the end of the day, the song is just fun. I wouldn’t want us to be perceived as a band that was taking a real ideological stance and knew everything about it. It is just music”.

Whilst, on the face of it, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard are a rock band, with glam inflections, and fingers frozen in the power chord position, Tom didn’t want the LP to be as straight ahead rock’n’roll as their debut Non-Stop EP.

Before we made the record we decided we wanted to bring a pop sensibility to the production and song writing, because its ingrained on our soul that we are influenced by seventies music, nothing I write is going to be anything else as it is so hard wired, but I am so scared of us just sitting in that place and only sounding like a Greta Van Fleet kind of band as that would be an absolute tragedy. So I thought it was interesting to add in some other sensibility, like pop, making it clean as possible, short as possible, structurally lean, production elements having vocals high in the mix, the videos being high def, because I think a lot of bands fall into the trap of being big fans of The Beatles and saying well we’ll do just what The Beatles did, but I don’t think they realise that at the time, The Beatles were a pop band, using the most advanced technology they had at the time, they weren’t saying they wanted to sound like Beethoven. So that is what we’re trying to do and striving to do and will carry on beyond this record.”

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As a result, the record is a mixture of the influences Tom has so engrained and the pop hooks he wanted. As the protagonist Rob the Record Shop owner in High Fidelity attests, the trick with mixtapes is to kick off with a killer, take it up a notch but you don’t want to blow your load, so you need to take it down a notch, cool it off. This is how Backhand Deals begins. ‘New Age Millennial Magic’ slaps you in the face, but ‘Good Day’ is a bit of a summer stroll, bouncy keys, musically it is a bit Randy Newman but with harmonies drenching everything, and then ‘Crescent Man vs Demolition Dan’ knees you in the groin or smashes you with the wrecking ball that is destroying the great and old bits of Tom’s Cardiff. The light and shade make sure the record is interesting and varied without the over reliance on the rock, the roll meanders its way around as the LP spins, intertwining with classic singer songwriting of the likes of Todd Rundgren and Elton John. ‘Yourself’ is a timely reminder about loving and looking after you, with a nice swathe of sax like a lacquer of funky gloss, ‘Faking A Living’ takes a cheeky swipe at people who don’t do anything to earn their keep, with a bit of Mud penchant for the swinging side of glam. The most straightforward rock (with devil horn finger salute raised above the head) in the shape of ‘On the Kill Again’ is given a twist by some brilliantly, almost Tenacious D style lyrics, like “As I cover myself in jelly/screaming ’death to the infidels’” but reads like a satire on Boris and Chums from the blonde potatoes point of view.

‘You’ is similarly looking at the current cluster-fuck of a government but actually pointing the finger at the idiots who voted for them and that they are self-important, self-interested, selfish and blinkered. ‘Feel the Change’ is probably the only point where the influence moves from the sleeve to the page and straight up borrowing, with the main riff having a strong, sweet whiff of Alabama. ‘Demolition Song’ utilises the harmonies within the four of them, with a slight nod to Queen, and closer ‘Passionate Life’ which describes how he wants to be a better person, a better friend and that trying is enough for now. It is a low key ending to a huge, sprawling LP that is made for a party. It has a toe dipped in the pool of nostalgia when people took their records to a party and, shock horror, played the whole thing. Progress isn’t always better and this order has the peaks and troughs in mood and tempo that perfectly depicts a night of drinking, dancing, sitting, chatting and sloping off home in the wee small hours, with a tinge of regret in the air. For those expecting or wanting the early Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard repeated may be disappointed but this is ultimately a BBB record, their sound is their sound, whether it is power chords, funky keys or borderline balladeering.

BBB Credit Pooneh Ghana

Tom isn’t only the frontman and songwriter for Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, but he produces them and also a number of great bands such as Panic Shack, Do Nothing and The Bug Club (he just produced their incredible ten-minute opus ‘Intelectuals’). He has his own style and sound which is stamped all over the songs which he claims is accident rather than design “I only have, like, a few mics so everything sounds in the same realm. I can’t do big pop productions cos I need more money, so I go and pull-on Communion’s trouser leg and say ‘there’s this pop artist who wants to come in (to the studio), will you buy this piece of gear (laughs)”.

He always had one eye, or should that be ear, on the way records were made “My Dad always said ‘You can be a musician, but you have got to make it work, make some money out of it, you can’t be busking on Trafalgar Square’. When I was looking at university I was thinking ‘How can I make money out of being a musician’, I had to get really good at being a musician and being a wedding singer or doing the technical elements of it, I was always into IT and you have to be the type of person who wants to delve into the science of it and the technical specifications of it, and a fan of the nuance in sound as well, hearing tiny, tiny differences in sound, and being like ‘that sounds so different’, so when I went to university I did Music Technology at the University of South Wales, and the facilities were great, with like, four studios in the building that you could rent out day and night, so I was in there all the time. I think one of them had the desk ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ was recorded on. Those sorts of things help you get your chops. I feel it is as important to work out who you are and your voice as a songwriter as it is the production, so it was important for me to discover my voice as a producer, and what I like in terms of sound as much as how it is technically done”.

As the world continues to burn, (a sense of deja vu is palpable) and war is about to enter our lives again, it really is time to just escape. Stick the Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard record on, spark up a joint, open a beer and rock out.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.