Sad-sap songwriters are a dime a dozen in indie rock. From Elliott Smith to Fleet Foxes and onto the sulking folkie du jour Hozier, the further the evolution, or de-evolution, the more it seems the genre gets watered down. Nothing against the idea of a man, his guitar, and a song—it’s the bedrock, the essence—but lately things have become stale, completely one-dimensional. That’s something Dave Buker understands all too well. Along with his Historians, he’s determined to bring a multifaceted dynamism to a tired trend. Not everyone’s bruised by relationships and wanting the music to reflect their blues.
“I think my music is becoming more accessible now because you don’t only need a broken heart to appreciate it,” Buker said. “It goes a lot deeper than that.”
Full disclosure, on the surface, or at least initially, it’d be fair game to label Buker as just another post-collegiate Sufjan Stevens-type. After all, the “heart” is a major theme on the band’s trademark song “Molecules.” But it’s his ultra-sweet melodies that set it apart, projecting more as impressionist painting with bright dabs of pastel rather than a rainy day confessional. We are not wallowing in Buker’s misery as much as we are celebrating spring after the thawing of winter. Further listens to last year’s What Can Bring You Back To Me? reveal a wide range of the maladies and small triumphs achieved, as Buker puts it, “while living through your ’20s.” It’s a great encapsulation of the awkward delight felt in the space between the dormitory and domestication. It’s about being responsible for one’s honesty.
“I’m trying harder to be more relatable—being honest about things that people can easily grab onto.”
“I found that when you’ve been a songwriter for a while, you start to find that voice. It’s a comfort level, and at first I didn’t have that,” Buker said, admitting some growing pains. “So the first record I ever did was a concept album [2010’s New World, Old Flame]. I felt more comfortable telling a story because you can lie, make things up, and it’s easier to not be as vulnerable. But it’s also a lot less interesting. That’s not the case anymore.”
Buker has always played in bands, but in the background, rarely the main songwriter. He studied classical guitar in college and at one time was culling ideas from late-baroque, while getting a degree in musical education. But the only distinct technical trait that he incorporates into his current songs is the acutely technical finger picking style of his playing. The Historians arrangements, be it with synths, piano, horns, marimbas, or the voice of Leanna Stansell, are instead the key ingredients Buker took from schooling. As a master of many instruments, what could easily be left threadbare blossoms with color and shape.
The songs of What Can Bring You Back To Me? are “classic” in light of Buker’s list of influences—notably troubadour folkies of the ’70s like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. It’s a spirit Buker wants to keep alive as he sees it “dying with the radio.” A more contemporary reference might be the subtleties of Belle and Sebastian or the faded melancholy of M. Ward, one of Buker’s professed favorites.
Though content to whittle with his songs alone, it’s the rest of the Historians, including Tim Jennings on bass, Joe Spurlock on drums, and Paul Valdiviez on keyboards, that give the music a presence beyond the average soft rock band. Currently they’re in the studio, almost done with what is now an unnamed fall release.
“I think our first two records were honest, but in a more direct and impersonal way,” Buker said. “Now I’m trying harder to be more relatable—being honest about things that people can easily grab onto. There are themes that people will identify with because it’s about growing.”
So far Buker touts the upcoming record as the best representation of his songwriting, but knowing the wanderlust that lines his lyrics, there’s another new awakening right around the corner.