ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 6, 1999
“Jewelbomb”, the fourth track on Richard Buckner’s Since CD, was one of my favourite tunes last year. It’s a finely crafted gem that beautifully combines Buckner’s resonant voice, exquisite wordplay, and knack for catchy hooks. In other words, it has hit single written all over it. But when I reach Buckner at his girlfriend’s place in Edmonton, the California-raised singer-songwriter isn’t so enthusiastic about “Jewelbomb” being his ticket to the big time. “MCA doesn’t do singles with people like me,” he announces bitterly. “They didn’t like the record, so they dropped me.”
It comes as quite a revelation that Buckner is label-less, especially since Universal Music—MCA’s parent company—set up our interview. Buckner’s dumping is even harder to fathom after a quick scan of the critical quotes included in his Universal bio. The Atlantic Monthly calls Buckner a “born poet”; Spin raves that he “writes circles around his peers”. The latter publication gave Buckner’s 1996 MCA release, Devotion + Doubt, a rating of nine stars out of 10. So why would a label drop somebody who wins that kind of acclaim?
“The only language they understand is the dollar sign,” says Buckner, “and if the critics don’t equal dollar signs, then they’re not interested. It doesn’t make any difference until it’s money in their pocket.”
MCA may have washed its hands of Buckner, but there are plenty of other labels out there, and who knows? His future distributor might just discover this fine singer-songwriter when he plays NewMusicWest ’99 on Saturday (May 8), opening for Mike Ness at Richard’s on Richards. Someone with the right connections is sure to be impressed by the crafty poeticism of the Fresno-born musician, who put his first couple of bands together while studying at Chico State University. According to his bio, most of Buckner’s student loans went toward PA systems and guitars, but he still managed to come away with a “barely earned” BA in English.
“It’s an easy degree to get through if your mind’s in other places,” he says. “I spent much more time on music than I did on my English, but I still think it did me a lot of good. I didn’t get honours or anything, but I did get a lotta writing done, and it was good spending a couple of years of my life to stay in school and just think about writing and writers and art and stuff.”