Jason Buckley Emerges from ‘Quarantine Sounds’ with Dark, Experimental Record

Jason Buckley and his family

Jason Buckley Emerges from ‘Quarantine Sounds’ with Dark, Experimental Record

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Jason Buckley and I go way back — to the post-9/11 Washington, D.C., arts scene, where we thrived as hopeful, young creatives in underground spaces.

While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I first saw the now-Alameda, Calif.-based musician and activist playing bass, I’ll never forget the night he asked me to audition for his indie film Washington Interns Gone Bad after watching me perform in Adams Morgan. The experience of playing Becky, the sweet, but flaky, Congressional intern for a corrupt Democratic, goes down as one of the greatest of my life. But my biggest point of gratitude is in Jason’s patience!

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I’ve been watching his social feeds over the years, and it’s pretty clear he’s become one of the coolest dads on the planet. But it was in March 2020, when the pandemic dawned and music venues shuttered, that the true measure of his creativity and selflessness truly revealed itself. As Covid spread, he acted quickly, launching the Facebook livestreaming page, “Sounds of The Quarantine,” inviting anyone and everyone who wanted to play to do just that. Within hours, hundreds joined. At its peak, the group hosted nearly 4,000 members.

“I really had no idea that group would have the impact it did,” Jason tells Rockmommy. “It was amazing to see people just performing all the time like that, and I think a lot of people really got a lot out of it.”

Today, we’re both raising kids on two different coasts, but we still share the same progressive values, affinity for inclusion, and angst for the post-Covid world. In fact, the latter is the crux of his latest album under the moniker Suburban Death March.

On January 13, the full-length album Jabroni hits Bandcamp. It’s a dark, brooding record, layered with moody, synthesized effects and minor chord progressions, percussive baselines and baritone lyrical stylings that harken back to the Peter Murphy school of Goth.

The effects leveraged on songs like “This is Fine” and “Supernova,” which features his a spoken-word intro by his teenager Bugsy, are eclectic and experimental: Jason leveraged a “cheap synth” Korg Volca midi keyboard, several effects pedals (Eddie Rifkind’s Karen Basic Speaker Manager, EmergyFX Gristle Throbber, Keytars Holy War), and offbeat production techniques that included running iPad drums through muffs and delays, and splitting the bass signal to “keep more thump while overlaying it with insanity, and using some great tube emulation plugins to provide warmth and grit,” he says.

We recently caught up with Jason to talk about the record, parenting cool kids, and creating art:

Rockmommy: All right. So I want to dive right in. How would you describe yourself, artistic wise?

Jason Buckley: First, I have to say I’m just completely obsessive about music. Sports guys are crazy about their teams and keep stats and all that stuff, and that’s me with music. My projects over the years have been all over the map from like prog rock to doom metal to jazz to weird ambient psychedelia, shoegaze… I mean, you name it. Whatever I’m listening to is what I want to do at the moment.

Rockmommy: Who are your musical influences growing up?

Jason Buckley: It’s expanded greatly since but I was a big punk and metal head when I was a kid, and I’d have to say, my biggest influence has to be Steve Harris from Iron Maiden because that guy was doing things on bass that nobody in metal could even touch and also, while writing these songs that were simultaneously like badass and geeky.

Jason Buckley and his kid, Bugsy, jam outdoors.

Rockmommy: What kind of bass do you play?

Jason Buckley: My main axe these days has been a five string Stingray which I’ve been really enjoying. I’ve also got a J bass, I’ve got a P/J and I have an electric upright bass as well.

Rockmommy: So let’s talk a little bit about the early days of the pandemic. In March 2020, you started ‘Sounds of the Quarantine,’ a Facebook group that grew to 3,000+ members. Can you tell us about that?

Jason Buckley: I really had no idea that group would have the impact it did! I just invited my musician friends who invited their musician friends and yadda yadda and it took off! I really enjoyed it for those first few months before I focused more on writing and recording. It was amazing to see people just performing all the time like that, and I think a lot of people really got a lot out of it. 

Rockmommy: Are you playing live now or do you mostly still do stuff virtually and as well as home recording?

Jason Buckley: I’m looking to do more live stuff this year. I played a gig about a year ago with the same guy who I was going to gig with way back before it all went down. But I’ve got a little semi acoustic cover trio thing happening and we’re not far from gig ready. And then I’ve got another kind of improvisational ambient psychedelic trio that I’m still exploring.

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about Jabroni. For the first take it was it’s very intimate, poetic even but it’s like it’s also cacophonous.

Jason Buckley: Everything I do has some level of weirdness and psychedelia to it. And this one really is just very dark and brooding. I mean, most of the lyrics are coming from a pretty dark place about these dark times. And I felt like the music needed to convey that as well. So yeah, there’s a lot of heavy, heavy rhythm samples, a lot of a lot of fuzz. Mostly minor keys. Somehow, I wound up with one in a major key which I don’t know if I’ve ever done before. And also, oddly enough, everything was in 4/4 time. I usually like to play around with time signatures, but somehow everything just came out in straight time.

Rockmommy: Because your child is in a punk band?

Jason Buckley: Or just, you know, it just that four on the floor just seemed to drive that kind of heavy 1-2-3-4 ‘everything sucks’ kind of vibe.

Rockmommy: I mean, these are dark times. What were you feeling?

Jason Buckley: I had already done an album called Less Than Ideal — which was kind of talking about how messed up everything is — and six months later, things are, like, twice as messed up and you know, there was that one week where there were two mass shootings and the Supreme Court took away Roe. And I’m just like, ‘Fuck!’ So yeah, I mean that that was kind of my mindset going into most of these songs.

Rockmommy: Can you take us into a couple of songs?

Jason Buckley: Well, ‘This is Fine,’ it’s kind of a post-punk sort of vibe. You know that meme of the guy sitting at the table in a room on fire who is saying, ‘this is fine?’ That was what I was going for with that. And it’s just like, yeah, things are falling apart and don’t even realize it and we’re just like, ‘oh, this is fine, whatever.’ And that’s one of the more subtle ones. I mean, I’ve also got ‘Burn it Down,’ which is basically just calling for the heads of oligarchs. There are chants in that one of ‘Off with their heads’ and ‘eat the rich!’

Rockmommy: You had your teenager do a little intro. And they have a beautiful voice!

Jason Buckley: Thank you. I had done a really off the wall single a while back and they did these four-part harmonies on it that they just came up with on the fly, and recorded in single takes and it was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. So yeah, when this one came around, I thought I’d get them to do the narration and I just gave them a little bit of instruction. And they just nailed it, again in a single take.

Rockmommy: How has parenthood informed or influenced your sound or your approach?

Jason Buckley: You know, parenthood is such a huge part of what my life is, so I don’t think it specifically influences my sound. But my whole life influences my sounds so, it’s all kind of one big organism or whatever you want to call it.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

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