By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Bueno
A lot of artists write records dedicated to where they come from; it’s inevitable that in some way music will end up paying homage to the roots of its practitioners. It can serve as both dedication and personal therapy–which is exactly what vocalist Luke Chiaruttini channels in his five-piece rock ensemble Bueno. Bristling with grungy swagger and some killer sax playing, the guys in Bueno flick a tip of the musical hat to growing up in Staten Island. It’s a salute to the good stuff, the not-so good parts, and the downright “fuck-ups” that make music like this both possible and worth it. Their new record Guilt will be dropping in early November, so keep your ears peeled to the wind. Or the East River. For now, here’s a couple words with Chiaruttini about what makes the music come to life.
Tell me a little bit about your background as a musician. When did you first discover that you wanted to sing in a band?
So when I was a kid I had an older cousin whose house I’d always go over [to] to play video games and listen to new music. He showed me all this awesome stuff–some of my earliest memories are hanging out listening to albums like Smash and Dookie.
I think after hearing Dookie for the first time I knew I wanted to sing in a band. I knew the whole record by heart. In first grade I would sing it to kids in the schoolyard who had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t start singing for people again ‘til recently and I didn’t really know how. I just did it because I knew I had to, regardless of whether or not it sucked.
And as it turns out my cousin Mike D is now the guitarist of Bueno, which is a bit like a childhood dream come true.
What are some of your biggest creative influences, musical or otherwise? I hear Lou Reed creep into your vocals at times. But in an original way–I mean it as a compliment.
Yeah I hear Lou Reed a lot and I always take that as a compliment. Lou is great and definitely a huge influence on Bueno. New York incarnate–despite, or maybe especially because of his suburban Long Island origins.
Jonathan Richman, Mark E Smith, and Stephen Malkmus get brought up from time to time, too, and I love all those guys. But I’d also say Karl Blau, Calvin Johnson, and of course Sinatra are huge influences as well. I think there’s a directness to all of their voices that I really admire.
Also the literal thousands of bands I’ve seen working at Shea Stadium for the past four or so years. You pick up a thing or two.
Beyond music I look a lot to film.
I had just [seen] Streetwise (the documentary about kids living on the streets in 1980s Seattle) for the first time before recording Guilt so those stories were very fresh in my head.
And Werner Herzog’s approach to filmmaking is always something I think about when making records. There’s one quote from his book that I really love:
“Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix… If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch.”
Same goes for music. It’s a live art form–once you start planning every note and every change you’re sapping the immediacy from it and creating distance between yourself and the audience.
What’s the songwriting process like in Bueno? Is it collaborative, isolated, spontaneous, methodical?
It’s evolved over time. We used to just play whatever and improv and I would sing lyrics that I wrote the night before or something. We still like to do that from time to time but we kinda hit a wall and needed to move on to exploring some other musical territory. Being spontaneous like that was dangerous and fun for a while because when we were starting out it felt like it could all fall apart at any minute. Now writing songs is the more dangerous move (laugh). So of course that’s what we’re gonna do.
These days I’m writing songs on guitar and they get mutated into Bueno songs in the studio. As for Guilt, I wrote three of the songs, three were songs that we “saved” from improv jams at shows, and three or four were completely on the spot. I wasn’t even in the room when my favorite song on the record was recorded (I was out buying figs).
And Bueno has still never practiced, not counting our Wu-Tang and Frank Sinatra Halloween shows.
Your last two EPs Skinpop and Little Joe both had very interesting sax work courtesy of Gagliardi and Jason Mink. Can we expect to hear more of that on Guilt, or will the record be culling from different sounds?
We love the sax–you can expect to hear some on Guilt, but it’s definitely not sax-centric. Mikey Gags is a great guitarist and you’ll be able to hear him shred on the record.
Album artwork for Guilt
Speaking of Guilt, how would you describe the album sonically?
Guilt is a bit eclectic but it’ll make sense if you grew up on Staten Island, or maybe NYC, or maybe anywhere. We pulled from a lot of places and made a record that sounds like Staten Island. Both the Staten of our youth and the Staten that exists now. Compared to earlier stuff it’s a little less jam-based, but it’s born out of the same frustrations as Little Joe & Skinpop.
What kind of headspace were you in while writing the lyrics?
Man that’s an interesting question…
Well I was sick for a really long time, physically and mentally for a little over two years. I didn’t really know what was going on, if I was going crazy or dying or what. It’s all sorted out now but most of these songs were written in the anxiety of that, where I’m facing the possible obliteration of everything I’d worked for up to that point. Most of the lyrics on Guilt are a reflection of growing up and fucking up on Staten Island filtered through that lens.
Where did you get the idea for the front cover? It’s perfectly eerie.
I was going through old photos one day and I came across that one from my first communion. So yeah, that’s me in front of Madonna at Holy Rosary Church in South Beach, SI.
That’s the first thing that went into the record and it informed the songs and themes to an extent.
This marks the band’s first full-length album. What have you learned from the process that you want to take with you going forward?
We tracked the record in like four days at Red Room Studio in Staten Island. We finished that way back in February but because of the lyric-writing process it took months and months before everything was actually completed.
We’re going to record another LP this winter with the guys from Baked and this time we’re trying to finish everything up as soon as possible. I want to put out 2 – 3 LPs a year, because we can and they’ll probably all be good.
Plans for 2015?
Touring and playing way too many shows. We put a lot of work into our records but it’s all in service of playing live.