Brooklyn-based artist Johnny Buffalo, an internationally-ranked beatboxer, EDM producer, and classical/punk guitarist, shared his debut EP to an excited audience last night. The instrumental EP combines both Johnny’s classical and rock guitar backgrounds, electronic and trap production, and some incredible beatboxing. “Welcome to Buffalo (EP)” is readily available for streaming and purchase on all music platforms (Spotify, Pandora, iHeart, iTunes, etc.). We were lucky enough to sit down with Johnny and get some intensive insights into the EP and the life of a Brooklynite firsthand.
Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from? What inspires you? What is your daily life like?
I’m from Buffalo, NY originally, and have been living in NYC for a little over 7 years. I think music is one of the most inspiring forces on the planet. Humans use more parts of our brains simultaneously just listening to music than any other activity that exists, and being involved in performing uses even more. My daily life is far from ordinary, and always has been. I currently work for Backtrack Vocals, an a cappella group based in NYC. We perform nationally and it’s been an amazing opportunity to travel and work with them, performing at venues like the Beacon Theatre and appearances on large networks, like Steve Harvey’s daytime show. It’s a lot compared to working in restaurants for 5+ years in the city. In between Backtrack shows, I work mostly on my solo music, while also performing around NYC and attending shows and beatboxing events.
What is it like to be an “World-Renowned” beatboxer?
As a beatboxer, I’ve actually placed in most of the world’s leading competitions, and that’s where you get all the notoriety. At the American Beatbox Championships in 2015, I placed 2nd in both the loop station and 2v2 battles. Once you’re ranked there, so many doors open into this community. I also think beatboxing is wildly inspiring. It has evolved so much, that it changes the way people view human capability. A modern day beatboxer can make sounds and routines that only a computer can replicate – but that computer would need to use programming to control aspects of production that beatboxers can freestyle and control on the fly. I want to use this art form as a way to inspire others…if I can make an 808 sound with my face, what can’t you do?
What was the inspiration behind the EP?
The Welcome to Buffalo EP is the culmination of everything that I am as an artist. I started playing guitar at age 14, and ended up studying classical guitar in college. My senior year, my great friend Chris Celiz (@chrisceliz) taught me how to beatbox, which changed my life. I really focused on beatboxing for the next 4 or so years, to try to get that to a level that was close to the guitar. Once it was there, Chris asked me “who are you as a solo artist?”, something I hadn’t really explored before. That evolved into this project, which consists of playing synth guitar live, as well as clean and distorted guitar over production, and adding beatboxing as well. The idea of performing electronic music live is something that beatboxing opened my mind to, and ever since then, I’ve been striving to create a unique, performance- based electronic music show.
Why only 2 tracks?
Originally, I had 8 songs for my first project, but these two were the most recent tracks that I made, created about 8 months after any of the others. I had just returned from the World Beatbox Championships in Berlin and World Beatbox Camp in Poland, and was so inspired by these events that I made these two tracks within days after returning. Earlier this year, a Tokyo-based producer friend Rhyme (@_rhyme_) listened to the 8 song project, and she heard these two as a pair. She suggested releasing them together as a side A/side B EP. I really liked this idea, because sonically, they were different than all the rest. Also, I’m hugely influenced by classic rock, and the idea of a nod to ‘45’s from back in the day was and idea that I really liked. This project is also something that’s quite unique from anything else out there, and I also thought that releasing something on the shorter side would be a better introduction to my style.
Why “Crestwood Ave”? Why “Auburn Ave”? Was there any significance in those places, and/or choosing to name the tracks after these locations?
Crestwood Ave is the name of the street I grew up on in Buffalo, and where my parents still live today. The middle section of the song has a bit of a nostalgic feel, with a clean guitar section that acts as a nod to my classical studies. I chose Crestwood Ave as the track name because to me, that middle section represents memories and feelings from growing up on Crestwood Ave, with the heavier beginning and end of the track representing the chaos that comes with adulthood. I also have one of the most supportive families on the planet, and wanted to honor them by naming this track after the street that our house is on. My mother’s parents’ house was on Auburn Ave, and we were there a lot throughout my entire life. My grandfather John Cuffaro passed away when I first moved to the city in 2012. My grandmother, Millie Cuffaro aka Mimi, passed away at the beginning of this year. They were both huge parts of my life, so I wanted to dedicate this track to them. Welcome to Buffalo has a double meaning. It’s an introduction tomy style, but also totwo meaningful places from where I grew up.
Tell us more about your personal connection to this project.
These two tracks were a breakthrough for me musically. When I first started producing, songs would have 4 vastly different sections, because that’s how my brain works – it’s all over the place. I started to limit myself in doing that, thinking of how digestible the music would be to a listener if it didn’t have these crazy changes. I view myself as having two major sides to my art – the heavy side (trap / hip hop and heavy bass which inspires my beatboxing, and rock / metal), and the lighter side (classical guitar, with prettier sounding chords and melodies, and more complex progressions). These are two sides that I would keep separated – each track would be either fully one way or the other, but never both. I always viewed these sides as kind of conflicting, in that they were opposite of each other in a way. Crestwood Ave was the first time that both sides existed simultaneously in a track, and that was the breakthrough. It became an extremely significant message to me. We are all made up of different sides that might conflict, and instead of trying to limit ourselves to one side or the other, we should embrace all of them simultaneously, because that’s what makes us who we are.
Who/What were your biggest influences when creating this project?
Mr. Carmack is far and away my biggest influence as a producer. I first heard R.L. Grime as a trap producer and really loved it, but when I heard Carmack’s style, it was a wrap. When it comes to guitar, I started with classic rock. Artists like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin were very big influences. I also have to shout out The Beatles, they changed music and I still consider them one of my favorite bands. Then I eventually got into metal music, with artists like Between the Buried and Me, Veil of Maya, and Every Time I Die, and more. 5 or 6 years ago, I started to realize that a trap drop and a metal breakdown were very similar in feel. They were both bounce-y and syncopated, the main difference being metal breakdowns would just have more subdivisions in the kick pattern. That was the first time I saw the parallel between these two styles, and it started my idea of fusion between rock and trap. With beatboxing, Reeps One and The Beatbox House were hugely influential on my style, as well as Kim from France. Gene Shinozaki of The Beatbox House is also a huge influence because he combines beatboxing and guitar in a live “electronic” music show, which is one of the only other artists that I know of in the world doing so.
What was the most difficult part of creating this music?
It took me years to finally get a grasp on what my “sound” was, which has become a blend of trap and hip hop and rock n roll, with some classical vibes thrown in as well. I didn’t have one single artist to look at and replicate. This was a challenge when starting out, because I had to figure out how to combine all of my different areas of influence in music, and also on the technical side, how to produce and play in this style. It’s still evolving, but that’s the beauty of art, it never stops evolving. I believe that the combination of all of these styles, as well as performing with midi guitar, and beatboxing live, is a new style. Music has been around for thousands of years, and the possibility of doing something new is as daunting as it is exciting.
What’s your songwriting process like?
My earliest songs I wrote were on guitar. Sometimes I would hear a song, and try to write something in a similar style. Other times, I’ll start playing, and things just…come out. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’ve been blessed and have learned to trust in it. Writing solo classical guitar pieces would usually result in these complex progressions involving mode mixture, which usually resulted in a kind of nostalgic feel. The process for me usually involves jamming, a lot of jamming. Beatboxing is something that’s always with me, so I’m constantly doing it. When an idea pops out that I really like, I’ll record a voice memo of it, and then come back to it later to hash out a full tune from it. I have recently started to write beatboxing routines with lyrics, which is something new for me. I have focused my entire life working on the instrumental side of music, so to start to include vocal melodies and lyrics is something I’m excited for. I want my music to have messages as well, because a mentor of mine taught me that activism through art is one of the best ways to spread a message. We have so much work to do as a country, and I want to use my art to help spread messages of peace, love, and inclusion.
What is your production process like?
Similar to beatboxing, I’ll try a few different things until I come across something I like. The first thing I start with is beat style, whether it’s going to be a down tempo trap song, or maybe a faster track with a boom-bap feel. Next, I’ll find my main melodic line, or main synth sound. Then, I’ll create what will serve as the first drop, and iron it out until I’m happy with it. From there, I’ll create the intro / buildup. Usually, a track will start with full synth orchestration (and when playing live, I’ll play those synth lines with midi guitar), and then the track will drop in energy and I’ll bring rock or clean guitar in, and then build it up again to the final drop, which usually features some distorted guitar melody, and some shredding.
How do you feel now that this project is out there?
Relieved. It’s gotten a really positive response, and there’s always that worry when first releasing something into the world about how it will be received. It’s also been technically almost 15 years in the making from when I started to play guitar, and 7.5 years in the making from starting to beatbox. However, I started working on this specific project 4 years ago. It’s been such a long road, and sometimes we’re impatient. However, the first step has been taken. After releasing Crestwood Ave and playing my debut show, I am so excited to see what the future brings.
What has been your biggest takeaway from this project and experience?
All things take time. Sometimes more than we would like, but everything happens for a reason. Instead of beating myself up for not releasing something sooner, I feel grateful to be where I am now and finally have music out there.
What kind of impact do you want your music to make?
I want to inspire everyone to follow their dreams. Beatboxing was what opened my mind to that. When a beatboxer discovers a new sound, that’s something that wasn’t humanly possible the day before. As beatboxers, we are discovering new things about the human voice in present day, when the voice has been around for thousands of years. It’s absolutely mind blowing. I think we all deserve the chance to follow our dreams. I want to use beatboxing, and my live electronic style to influence anyone on the fence about diving in head first in pursuing their passion. We’re taught by society that certain jobs are better than others, that we should strive to find a job and make a lot of money and that will make us happy. That might be the case for some, but for me, I knew that the artist life would be a struggle, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Words can’t describe how meaningful it is to be able to do what I love for a living, and I think everyone should have that opportunity.
Where do you see yourself post-release and in the distant future with your music career? What’s the game plan?
The sky’s the limit. I want to spend this next year gigging and making a name for myself, and eventually play on the biggest of stages. My goal is to perform at all kinds of electronic music festivals, and to use live performance as a way to stand out from other DJs. There are acts starting to pop up more and more who incorporate live performance into their DJ sets, and I want to be a part of that wave. Specifically, I want to use my combination of styles to help bring rock n’ roll back. Also, the added aspect of beatboxing at this level is something that not a whole lot of people in the world can do. I want to use my platform to help enlighten the world on what beatboxers (and human beings) are capable of. I’ve learned that anything is possible if we put our minds to it, so playing at a venue like MSG or Red Rocks is something that I will be striving for over the next years to come. It’s a long ways away, but I’m a big believer in putting ideas out there and manifesting them. I would also love to work with vocal artists, and be a producer that can bring certain live elements to a performance that most others can’t.
Is there any advice you would want to give to listeners, fans, and upcoming artists within the electronic music and RNB spheres?
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. We are capable of so much more than we know. If you have passion and dedication for something, anything is possible. However, it’s not going to be easy. I’ve almost left NYC twice and given up, but I read a letter that Frank Ocean wrote to his 5 year past self, and it opened my eyes. The most successful artists out there struggle, but the ones who make it are the ones that don’t give up. The universe is going to throw everything at you to test your resolve, but if you really want it, you can find a way to make it happen. I would also strive to be unique. Find something about your art that will help you stand out. Genres are mixing more and more nowadays, and finding that magic equation of different styles blending can give you your unique sound.
“Welcome to Buffalo (EP)” is readily available for streaming and purchase on all music platforms now (Spotify, Pandora, iHeart, iTunes, etc.).
Want more? Check out Johnny’s latest music video for “Crestwood Ave”, a release of the EP:
Johnny Buffalo is a professional beatboxer, guitarist and producer based in NYC. A celebrated performer and an expert musician, (with a dual degree from SUNY Fredonia in both sound recording technology and classical guitar), Johnny has performed in all types of venues, from the famed Carnegie Hall, to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival and the Trinity Hip Hop Festival (where he opened for Talib Kweli). His experiences and multifaceted range of genres (from rock, hip-hop, metal and beyond) has allowed him to perform internationally, from Toronto, to Berlin, to Krakow.
As a beatboxer, Johnny Buffalo is a leading curator of unique vocal sound. At the American Beatbox Championships in 2015, he placed 2nd in both the loop station and 2v2 battles. He also tours nationally with the professional a cappella group Backtrack Vocals, where he has performed at venues such as the Beacon Theatre and the BB&T Pavilion, as well as appearing on Steve Harvey’s daytime show, and on Broadway’s Kinky Boots.
Always an avid music lover and enthusiastic teacher, Johnny has always done his best to share his influence and expertise with students, up and coming musicians, and people from all backgrounds, and has worked with non-profit arts organizations such as the Hip Hop Re:education Project and Urban Art Beat, and many more, that have provided professional-level music programs to underprivileged communities.
For his solo project, Johnny combines his multitude of experience with electronic trap and hip hop production, as well as his fluid knowledge of rock and classical guitar in addition to his own beatboxing powers. A powerful and unique artist, Johnny hopes to pave the way for other unique and multifaceted artists and create avenues of intersectional, inter-genre appreciation for music in all its parts. To further build upon this, Johnny frequently performs live around New York City, and has headlined shows with organizations like SoFar Sounds, and Wonderville. He is a part of a new wave of electronic music that focuses around performance, something that is rarely seen in the electronic musical sphere. Everything is performed live on stage, with Buffalo switching between guitar, beatboxing, keys, and bass. It is a truly unique sound and performance experience.
© 2019 – 2022, Divine Magazine. All rights reserved.