“[Vancouver]’s not an easy market to thrive in,” says We Hunt Buffalo frontman Ryan Forsythe (pictured left, above), citing the city’s real estate market and ongoing venue closures, but his band has done exactly that. Ryan and his bandmates have a built a dedicated local fanbase, toured internationally and are about to release Head Smashed In, their second album on the combination of New Damage and Fuzzorama (the band’s third album overall).
That hasn’t come overnight, though. We Hunt Buffalo has been around for a decade, slinging heavy stoner rock to bearded, denim-clad punters in Vancouver and beyond. Being picked up by Fuzzorama and New Damage for the band’s third album (Living Ghosts) has meant Ryan can spend less time worrying about promoting the band and more time playing and writing music.
“If 20-year-old me knew that we would be signing with Fuzzorama and touring with Truck Fighters, I think he would have had a heart attack,” says Ryan. “But when you finally get there, you gotta step back and recognize the accomplishment, but at the same time, realize that you still gotta work hard and keep pushing forward.”
We Hunt Buffalo are definitely doing that, having once again joined forces with Jesse Gander at Rain City Recorders to record a powerful LP that will delight fans of the band and of stoner rock in general.
Ryan is excited to get the new record out into the wild, telling me: “It’s been recorded since January. We’re just really stoked to be able to share the songs that we’ve been sitting on for so long and then start playing them live.”
Featuring a new bassist (Cliff Thiessen — pictured centre, above), Head Smashed In is an album which lives up to its title, emphasising We Hunt Buffalo’s heavier side.
“We really put the emphasis on having some loud and aggressive songs on there,” says Ryan. “We still do have dynamics like… There’s moments where it chills out, but I don’t think it’s quite as soft as some of the songs on Living Ghosts, our last album. It’s kind of like a new direction.”
In addition to taking over bass duties from Brendan Simpson (who left the band to focus on raising a family), Cliff has added a new instrument, the Moog Taurus, which Ryan believes “really fills out the live sound.”
Head Smashed In deals with similar concepts to its predecessor, focusing on the potentially apocalyptic results of current political and environmental conditions.
“I always try and write lyrics that are not the standard love song or the token party rock song,” says Ryan. “I’m always looking for something a bit deeper, and it just seems that the current state of our world, whether it’s political or environmental, is one that is leading back on a slippery slope, right?”
“While Living Ghosts was kind of a concept album with all the lyrics being like that, it was just natural that they would carry over to our next record.”
“Things aren’t really much better than 2015. If anything, they’re worse off with the current President of the United States and all the environmental disasters that are going on. It’s just like, if we can do our part to spread that message a little more, then I’m happy to do it.”
This time around, Ryan wanted to make sure that message was more accessible, saying:
“One thing we didn’t do with the last record, and I wish we did, was include the lyrics in the physical copy. That was one thing we did with this new record, so the vinyl and the CD will have the lyrics in there so that that message can get across a little better.”
“With live and this kind of music, it’s almost impossible to understand lyrics, and same with recordings when you have screaming verses and things like that, so we put together a little lyric video for ‘Angler Must Die,’ and we made sure to have the lyrics in there because the verses are all screamed and almost inaudible.”
As well as providing fans with the lyrics, that video as well as others for songs including ‘Heavy Low’ from Head Smashed In or ‘Back to the River’ from Living Ghosts allow the band to balance out those heavy themes with some lightheartedness.
“We always try to have that underlying theme of humour and comedy,” explains Ryan, “because our lyrics are, they’re quite sombre or mature-themed. But us as people, we’re all pretty easy going and like having a great time and laughing. So we always try and add a little bit of that to the videos that we do.”
We Hunt Buffalo will be heading out on the road in support of Head Smashed In, with plans for Canadian and European tours in the works (including a slot at London’s Desertfest alongside names such as All Them Witches, Kadavar and Earthless). US fans are less likely to get a chance to see the band, though.
Ryan describes the difficulties of touring in Canada’s southern neighbour as “a tease.” He elaborates: “It’s so expensive and very hard to make that tour viable and profitable.”
He doesn’t see much chance of that changing, either, “until that country changes their policies on art. They see it more as, I think, taking jobs or other bands coming to take an American band’s job, essentially. But, it’s really not that. It’s art and it’s the sharing of music, and I think Europe and Canada are great. You can come play at these countries with no visas at all, and bring your merch and sell it, and just spread your music.”
“I really think America has to get on board with that. And, I don’t think this administration is gonna be the one to notice that, right?”
On the other hand, Ryan has noticed positive signs from the states on the subject of streaming, telling me: “In the news recently, they have been tweaking the copyright laws to account for better revenue for streaming services. So, that is actually encouraging to see and kind of surprising. So, we’re definitely watching that, because that will have a trickle-down effect in Canada.”
The big news locally, of course, is Canada’s legalisation of weed on October 17, which Ryan sees as “a step in the right direction, for sure.” That’s an attitude you might expect from a stoner rock band, but Ryan points out that not all the genre’s proponents fit the stereotype.
“Being a stoner rock band,” he says, “the marijuana kind of coincides with it in people’s minds. But it’s kind of funny, meeting all of these big stoner rock bands through the years and then finding out that they don’t smoke weed.”
“I could maybe see it in the sense of the song structures that are a little more drawn out, and you spend more time focusing on jams. And if you look at the real stoner rock grandfathers, in my opinion, are like Brant Bjork out of Kyuss, right?”
“If you listen to his records and his live shows, that is stoner rock because he’s got like a 15-minute song and it’s the same riff and it’s super chill and groovy.”
“And our drummer, Brandon Carter [pictured right, above], he doesn’t like the stoner rock to define us. I personally don’t mind it, I think we fit right in there. But he’s like, ‘No, we’re more of a progressive rock or … ‘ And when you start drawing all these sub-genre lines it gets so confusing.”
“It’s rock, right? It’s guitar-driven rock and roll, expanding off of what was started in the 50s, 60s and 70s, right? That’s the way I see it.”
Head Smashed In by We Hunt Buffalo is out now on New Damage / Fuzzorama Records. Get your digital copy from Bandcamp or order the CD or vinyl from New Damage’s store (in Canada) or Fuzzorama’s store (elsewhere).