Guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Scott Rogers, bassist Juan Pablo Mendez and drummer Clellan Hyatt make up the Austin band BUHU (pronounced “boohoo”). The trio isn’t entirely pop, nor entirely electronic-rock, nor entirely experimental rock, nor entirely dance. Instead, BUHU is some amalgamation of all these differing styles, a kind of party-pop if you will, and their goal is to make their audience a little bit happier by way of their music. From the sounds of their recently released EP, 4-Track Cinemat, they have the experimental know-how and electronic-rock chops to make that happen.
Rogers and Mendez first met by chance at a bar where Rogers worked. After talking about music, the two began experimenting with a new sound that drew on Mendez’s computer background and Rogers’ penchant for instrumental experimentation. The two forged a new way forward, which was later structured by Hyatt’s drums. It’s tricky to define BUHU’s music, since it dices and splices from a range of genres and styles to create some Frankenstein-esque pop sound that Rogers describes as “post-pop.” By way of comparison, think of Ratatat’s electronic experimentation with Maps & Atlases’ syncopated rhythms with TV on the Radio’s deep and often stylized vocalizations.
While relaxing lakeside in Wisconsin, Rogers took some time to talk about the band’s origin story and their unique approach to music.
Smile Politely: How did the three of you meet up? How did this project start?
Jeremy Scott Rogers: Well, first, I was bartending at Spider House [in Austin], and J.P. came into the bar. He’d just moved from Barcelona, but he’s lived his whole life in Mexico City. He came into the bar and we started talking about music. He said he is a producer and he plays bass. And, you know, I play guitar. I never worked with music in the way that he worked with computers and things like that. So we got together and started making music, and it was really cool what we were writing. We were both having a lot of fun. We both saw how cool it would be if we got a drummer.
And then I was bartending again on Thanksgiving. We decided to open the bar, and no one showed up because it was Thanksgiving. Then four people just rolled in, and they were super drunk and it was awesome. We started playing 90s dance jams. One of the dudes was Clellan, and he asked me if I played any music, and I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Cool, man, I’m a drummer. Count me in.” It was awesome that he had a feeling.
SP: The timing of that is so perfect.
Rogers: Yeah, it happened just a few months after J.P. and I wrote a few songs. Clellan came in and put beats down to all of them. Even when we already had some electronic beats, we kept them. He helped us round out everything, and we finished arranging the rest of the songs with him, and wrote all the lyrics out. That was our 4-Track Cinemat. And then we wrote some more songs, and here we are, we’re on tour.
SP: So is the songwriting process primarily you and J.P.?
Rogers: Well in the early days J.P. and I were writing stuff in the box. Now we’re writing it where we get upstairs to where our practice space is, and we start playing things, we start jamming, and then we take it to the box. There are definitely two distinct ways of writing that we’re going through right now, and we’re still discovering that, too.
I feel like that’s a never-ending process for bands, like, “What is the writing process?” But it’s cool, you can hear the difference in the songs. The ones where we jammed out will have typically less electronic and computer instrumentation going on, whereas the ones we wrote in the early days, we threw every sound that we could in to make it really big and really awesome. It’s cool because it’s two different sounds, but they work well together.
SP: That’s what I’m so struck by: how many elements you have going on, and what control you exhibit over them. It seems as though the writing process would become much more complicated, but you’ve got such a handle over it.
Roger: Well I have to hand a lot of that over to J.P., because he’s been doing a lot of this since he was four years old. His father had a recording studio, he was a producer, and I see pictures of [J.P.] and his brother when they’re just kids and they’re right up there on a Mac, like one of the first Macs ever made, and they’re pressing the space bar, like doing stuff. It’s crazy.
SP: I know computers play a huge role in the recording process, but I don’t always associate computers and music writing. I can see how they pair so well together.
Rogers: Yeah, it’s crazy. One of the first things I learned in this world is that you have to have a clear goal of what sounds you want to use for something, because otherwise you’ll spend hours and get nowhere. It’s not like jamming at all. It’s like having a clear vision of what a song can be, or its fullest possibility sonically. That’s where Ableton is super awesome. It has all the sounds, like every digital sound you could ever want is there. So if you have an idea of what you want, you can describe it, and find that sound. Then that sound inspires another sound maybe. You have to have very clear goals, otherwise you can just drown in it. It’s kind of cool to have that world at your fingertips.
SP: So I read that you describe your music as “post-pop.” Can you expand on that idea?
Rogers: Well, I mean, you look at post-hardcore, and post-metal, and post-this and post-that, but there isn’t a post-pop genre, I notice. Because pop seems to be this consistent thing. And while I believe that pop really is just a formula of a song, like verse, pre-chorus, chorus, we do all those things, and we have those elements of pop, but the time signatures that we tend to use are different. We have things where it’s 4/6 for a whole song, which is a really interesting way to play on 4/4 timing. It’s also how we’re melding rock elements with pop elements with these big produced sounds with these super lo-fi sounds, it’s definitely post-pop. There are moments where I feel we’re throwing back to the 80s and things like that, but I feel like, sonically, we’re really progressing. We’re really doing something.
SP: In terms of the time signatures, do you see a bit of math rock bleeding into the sound?
Rogers: Not really, because it’s not that complicated. And it’s not even so much that the time signatures are different. Everything is in 4/4, pretty much, but it’s when those things are syncopated.
SP: I can see with a lot of the guitar finger work, a lot of the rhythms are coming through as well.
Rogers: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. But there’s nothing too mathy at all.
SP: Why the choice to record in such non-traditional environments?
Rogers: Well, it’s interesting. It’s almost impossible to really understand that without seeing the video. It was made to be a live video EP. If you go to the playlist, and you start it from the first song to the end song, the whole EP tells this silly, fun story. And every instrument was recorded in a completely different location, save for drums and vocals, all those were recorded in the same spot. I think the statement of why we did it was, what is music really? And what does it mean to record music? You can do it anywhere was that statement. Also, just the fact that we wanted to do something that was really loud, that said, “We’re here.” That was the most important thing for us.
It turned out really cool because you can hear the flaws in it, or maybe you can’t but we can. There’s this endearing rawness to it because we focus not just on playing the part, but getting the best possible audio recording, and also getting the best possible video recording. It was a very hard intense process, but it was really unique. I don’t feel like anyone’s done too much totally like it, save for a few bands out there.
SP: It sounds like you guys are equally musicians and performance artists.
Rogers: We try to be. When people see us live, our energy onstage is really high, and we look really good. We look more like a rock ‘n roll band with a lot of crazy elements onstage, so we haven’t figured out how to make what happened in the video happen on stage in a certain way.
SP: How do you do that?
Rogers: I don’t even know. We have projections onstage. It’s hard to keep that going everywhere we go. Even then it’s got to be about the music. The video itself is its own art piece, and it’s also important to separate ourselves from that video. We have to be this moving, changing thing.
SP: What are the goals?
Rogers: This tour is about creating demand, because there’s no point in touring if there isn’t demand. This time I laid this tour out in such a way so we’re driving about an hour and a half between each city.
SP: That’s really cool!
Rogers: It is really cool because not only is it super cost effective but we’re investing a ton into each city and state, which is really cool because the next time we play one of those cities it’ll have a much bigger impact. I think the goal for us is to be able to play to a full room wherever we go. Once we meet that 100-cap room goal then we can expand to that 300-cap room and then that 500-cap room. It’s hard because people want to talk about labels and booking agents. Everyone wants to see you do it yourself and that’s the only way you can do things, and I think that’s the most honest way to do things.
SP: Definitely. Where does the name BUHU come from?
Rogers: It’s funny, J.P. and I were trying to think of band names before Clellan even joined the band. We were just trying to think of stuff, and I was Googling band names like crazy, because every time you think of an idea you Google it to see if it was taken, and of course Boohoo was taken. I wasn’t even attached to that idea at all, but then I sort of thought to myself, “What if we switched the O’s with U’s?” And the only thing that came up was Urban Dictionary: “Back up hook up.” [J.P.] said he really liked it because you could say it in any language. [J.P. in the background speaks up at this point.] He’s overhearing the conversation; he’s chiming in because he has a point. He says we also chose that because it’s all about making party music, and having fun and dancing. The whole idea of being able to have a B.U.H.U.
SP: You are providing the environment for someone to find their next B.U.H.U.
Rogers: Laughs. That’s exactly right. Yeah!
BUHU will be passing through Champaign on Tuesday, April 28th as part of their Mostly Midwest Tour. They perform at the Institute 4 Creativity. $5 cover.