Perhaps the only thing about him more open and generous than his art... is Brian Buckley’s heart. Just ask his closest friends, who lovingly tease him about his relentless optimism and empathy.
The charismatic lead singer and rhythm guitarist doesn’t abandon these gifts as a performer, however. Even in his most edgy and visceral vocals, Buckley emotes an on-stage energy and charisma powerful enough to transform the catharsis of live music into a transcendental spiritual experience shared by all.
“Live performance is like going to church,” says Buckley, “because it is the closest I feel to God.”
The warm-up to that close encounter is a moment Buckley takes seriously. Just before a show, as the din of the room softens and the mics go up, you’re likely to hear him engaged in something he calls ‘singing to the gods’.
“It is a sort of ritual... like 'giving thanks' before the set. I like to throw my hands up to the spirituality of the event. [It] is a must - like stretching before you run, or saying 'grace' before you eat... Too many times in the past I have forced the moment. With this ritual, I let it come to me as it sees fit.”
When you consider the world almost didn’t have a Brian Buckley, you begin to understand better what may be driving him to share his voice. Buckley was an early arrival - born so prematurely, in fact, that his family expected the worst. He was rushed to a children’s hospital - even given his Last Rites - but ultimately, surprised everyone with his resilience, spirit and survival.
Though his first moments in this world were indisputably dire, their bleakness - and that of another dark day many years later when he would lose his best friend in the world - would not follow Buckley despairingly in life. He wouldn’t let it. Instead, he would let it out... creatively.
“Before my friend died, he would harp on me all of the time to pursue music,” says Buckley. “But I was such a hardass. I would constantly tell him how wrong he was, how no one would care, how difficult it would be. When he passed away, I had no more excuses. All of those menial things seemed to die with him... Playing music became my solace.”
Buckley began his odyssey in songwriting at age 21, during his schooling at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Though he insists he writes best when he’s down, actually spending time with him in person might make you wonder, ‘When exactly is that?’ Always a supportive friend to others, he is perpetually surrounded by an equally generous and talented network of friends - who, last year, raised enough money among them to replace the songwriter’s recently stolen guitar - his much beloved Taylor 914ce.
“It was single-handedly the most gracious, loving, selfless act I have ever witnessed,” says Buckley. “I was speechless.... I have never been able to thank all of them for that. I suppose I never will.”
The singer says he’s often humbled by the many reasons he has to be grateful. He is quick to credit his parents for their constant support, love and guidance and says he could write novels about his muse, his inspiration - the love of his life, his wife.
And then there’s the band. Being part of this evolving, collective songwriting musical expression seems to answer perfectly Buckley’s biggest frustration with the world - that everyone is talking, and no one is listening. He says the group works well as a band because they listen to each other.
He recalls that element of interpersonal harmony having been present since their beginnings in 2006. “The first time we jammed together as a band... was truly a moment. We all looked at each other and knew. We lost all our troubles and created a future. All with hearts and instruments.”
Brian Buckley, a tortured artist? Think again. He says it himself in the lyrics of ‘Bye Blue Sky’: “I don’t care if all explodes in these two hands / I got more faith in this here heart than you could ever understand.”And when things do get difficult, Buckley knows where to go - first, to the place in his neighborhood where he can see all of Los Angeles in one breathtaking view, and next, to his meditative music-making. “It is my therapy,” he says. “In a wooden box and six strings.”