Brian Buckley Band

Brian Buckley

Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

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.”

 

 

 

Mike McGraw

Lead Guitar, Background Vocals

Since he can remember, Mike McGraw has always felt in awe of creation and creating. To the rest of us, he seems to have a direct channel.

Routinely finding what he describes as a sense of “wonderment” in what most may perceive as the simplest of activities - like jogging, being around people, or even the involuntary act of breathing - McGraw brings the emotions of his experiences to the studio and the stage.

“[I have] a mysterious drive that I don't quite understand - but one that I don't necessarily want to,” he admits. “It's like magic, and I'm fascinated with that experience.”

Even as a 12-year-old growing up in Upland, California, he seemed led by this intuitive sense of adventure. He and a friend from grade school had just formed a band, called The Haskells, when the young McGraw set about exploring the music store to find his calling. Drumming - his first choice - was out because the band’s leader was a drummer. The role of guitar was also already claimed, and so McGraw had planned that day to purchase a bass guitar... But the magical powers-that-be wouldn’t have it.  

He recalls, “The rad salesman mentioned to me and Mom that, if I learned and played guitar, I could also play bass, thus edging me over to the guitar. And I bought one that day, took lessons, and I was off.”

Though he’s mastered several instruments since then, currently it is McGraw’s lead guitar work that causes us to stand utterly amazed during the Brian Buckley Band’s live performances. Fans of the band like to say their music will “melt your face off”, and McGraw’s contribution to this effect is no small one. In moments we wish could last forever, the veil of the world is lifted, and his experience of wonderment becomes our own. In those moments, there is no need for voice, because Creation speaks through his guitar.

“I've always wished I could go [from] running... right into playing [or making] music,” says McGraw. “[That’s when] my mind’s eye is the most open. The minute I think, I fall right off the wagon. If I can keep myself from thinking while playing, I not only play better but can reach something that's subconscious - almost telepathic.”

A sense of telepathy may also extend to his relationship with his band mates, each of whom readily acknowledges the unique openness and communication inherent in their collaborations, both creatively and personally.

“We all come from different points of view, influences and desires, but [we] come together as a democracy to make the best art we can... We listen to each other on stage which a lot of bands don't do,” says McGraw. “They're my brothers and my inspiration.

McGraw repeatedly expresses gratitude also for the fans, who continually rally on behalf of the band to show their support - including, and especially, his own fiancé. After eight years of being in the most enviable kind of love, the two will wed later this year.

 

 

 

Albert Estiamba, Jr.

Drums, Background Vocals

Albert Estiamba, Jr. followed his heart into drumming as naturally as the human eye follows leading lines in a photograph. In his case, the image that so captivated him was that of Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr - not only the energy and physicality involved in playing the instrument, but the way he looked when he did.

“As a kid, watching Ringo [on television],” Estiamba recalls, “I was fascinated by... the aesthetic appeal of a human being sitting amongst a mass of circular forms interspersed with perpendicular lines - the usual shapes of drums, cymbals, and cymbal stands... Even though the rest of The Beatles were releasing as much emotion, my eyes were glued to the man behind the drums, and the drums themselves.”

Now that he’s been playing for [HOW MANY?] years, Estiamba has become his own man behind the drums - a kind of leading line for the band’s sound. Vital as a heartbeat and every bit as graceful working from backstage, Estiamba guides his band mates through each performance with his flawlessly fluid and artful beat.

Before his years of formal schooling received at Los Angeles Harbor College and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Estiamba sought growth and guidance from the intricacies of Jazz-Fusion drumming greats. He began with artists recommended by his 7th grade teacher, including ‘Tom Cat’ by Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, ‘You’ve Got it Bad Girl’ by Quincy Jones and ‘Headhunters’ by Herbie Hancock.

Inspired by these drummers’ talents for what Estiamba calls a blend of “the power and volume of rock drumming with the grace and fluidity of jazz drumming,” Estiamba’s own style of drumming changed almost overnight.

“They used their drum sets more as living interactive instruments, rather than just time-keeping devices,” says Estiamba. The untrained ear might notice the subtleties in “less of a rock drumming stiffness and more of a free-wheeling extemporaneous feel between the drums and every other instrument in the band.”

This is exactly the kind of relationship Estiamba says he feels fortunate enough to have found in the Brian Buckley Band, especially during the group’s live performances. That’s where, he says, audiences really get to experience raw, new interpretations of the music.

“[We] take the audience through differences in time-signature and through different ‘feels’ -  rocking, mellowed-out, swampy, etc.,” Estiamba says, “whereas the typical rock band will only stick to one kind of sound or ‘feel’.

And he lives for the energy those live shows generate - the euphoric exchange between the creative heat building on stage and the immediate reaction to it by a live audience.

“During a live performance I get into a 'zone' where time is obliterated and all I can feel is my heart, and the hearts of my musical cohorts, in complete lock-step with the universe.”

It’s the same feeling he gets while running, says Estiamba, an activity he’s embraced his whole life. After running his first marathon in 1995 [WHERE?], at a distance of 26.2 miles “just to see what it was like”, he had so much fun that he decided to run three more. The sport continues to be one of his weekly diversions.

Another favorite of Estiamba’s is immersing himself in a wholly different beat - the world of beat writers, specifically Jack Kerouac.

“He was able to put down in words what Jazz musicians were improvising on vinyl and in the nightclubs of the 1940s/early 50’s,” Estiamba says. “Kerouac modeled much of his work off the Be-bop Jazz era and viewed his typewriter as a musical instrument.”

For Estiamba, the beat writers embody, and sometimes blur, the lines between the autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness and confessional styles. He calls the writing, “spiritual, transcendental, poetic, brutally honest and extremely hip”.

It’s the same quintessential expression Estiamba seeks himself, in every performance. But where some have visions of sugar plum fairies, his dreams hold considerably more structure... in the geometrical likeness of a drum set.

Proof of this can be found in his answer to what instrument he’d like to learn next: “Banjo... Not only is the sound a Banjo makes very percussive; it’s the only stringed instrument - as far as I know - that kind of looks like a drum too.”

 

 

 

Krishnan Swaminathan

Bass, Background Vocals
Born and raised in Southern India,
Krishnan spent his early childhood listening to a wide variety of music. His family's love for Motown, rock, funk, and classical music influenced his tastes from early on. He began his musical journey by playing Indian classical percussion, and the switch to electric bass came about soon after. His teens saw him playing and recording on the local and national circuit in India, with a variety of award-winning bands and artistes.
From 2009 to 2011, the bass program at Musicians Institute was where the learning and magic took place. He now lives and works in LA; playing electric and upright bass.  He joined the BBB in 2012 and in his spare time, he enjoys literature, soccer, interactions with his felines, and scotch whiskey.