Allie Crow Buckley: Songwriter steeped in West Coast mythos
By Brian D’Ambrosio
Like the ocean is fed by rivers and streams, most of singer-songwriter Allie Crow Buckley’s creations are born of stream of consciousness.
“A lot of my songs are written stream of consciousness and there are very little chords,” said Buckley. “The songs are very repetitive, like a mantra, in a meditative way, and the songs go on in a meditative way, and it naturally creates space. My songs start with a stream of consciousness or a poem or finding a rhythm to sing to and seeing where the melody wants to go.”
Buckley’s art resounds with elegant, simple phrases and all-penetrating ideas. Her songwriting is tight, economical. And she has learnt that a powerful song is revealed only to those who follow it through completely.
“I have a notebook of phrases and things and I usually sit down in front of the keyboard and see where my hand wants to go,” Buckley said. “Oftentimes I have a poem or full written work and go finding the melody that wants to accompany them. Sometimes the melody will come first and I’ll start to sing and see what wants to come and see if there are any phrases or things that feel like they want to be integrated into that world.”
Allie Crow Buckley was born in San Francisco in 1993. Her parents were incredible pillars in shaping her sonic universe. Her mother had a soft spot for raw, honest troubadours such as Lucinda Williams and her father was into the Japanese three-piece rock band Prague and experimental Brit rockers King Crimson, as well as many other even more psychedelically charged soundscapes. Music seemed to always be playing in the house, or in the car, and she had ample latitude to pick and choose and sample such conceptions on her own accord. As a child, she was as transfixed by the whimsical designs of the album covers in her parents’ record collection as she was influenced by their jingling resonances.
“My parents’ music was a huge part of my upbringing,” said Buckley. “I was inspired as well by dancing and inspired by classical music. So, all of those sonic influences are imbued in my artistry. I played my first show at 24 but I was always writing poems, dictating poems to my mom before I was even able to write. It is a part of my spirit, creative writing, though it was always mostly for myself, and I didn’t start turning poems into songs until I was 22, 23.”
While living in Los Angeles in her early 20s she was heavily exposed to the clamor of music around her. She took her love of writing, journaling and poetry and merged it with the sharp distinctions of sound. In this, she tapped into a treasure of musicians in the cafes and clubs on the east side of Los Angeles, devotees steeped in their merrymaking, “a pure, beautiful, Renaissance feeling sort of folk scene,” she said, where many nights ripened into spontaneously extended singer-songwriters’ showcases.
“I was lucky to have been keyed in to the musical community and friends who were musicians,” said Buckley. “My first show was at The Echo (in Los Angeles) and it was the first time my family, friends or anyone in my life heard me sing at all. It was absolutely nerve-wracking. But it was wonderful, too, because it was this alignment of what I knew I was supposed to be doing. I had a residence the following year and developed my music community and sound. My first EP (“So Romantic,” released in 2019) was at 26 so I had the chance to nurture all of that slowly, and by then I knew what I wanted to be as an artist.”
Even before that first EP release, Buckley committed to music, “living it up” and “living on savings,” as she later alluded to in the 2021 song “Hanging Tough,” the endearing result a personal, direct and even mystical experience of the soul, as uplifting as it is transformative. She met the right people who pushed her to get her music out and the right musicians who patiently helped her compose it all for a live setting.
“It feels like it has been a lifetime of creating and getting to this point where I am now,” said Buckley. “A sound that is a mix between Joni Mitchell and Black Sabbath. Sonically, there are folk elements and whimsy. The first records of Black Sabbath were much more jazzy, and not that metal, or heavy, with a lot of emotion and mood and sense of world.
“Until you finish a body of work you don’t realize all of the themes running through you at that time,” said Buckley. “In the end you see the themes that had been occurring and re-occurring in the writing and it’s a wonderful way of looking at yourself in retrospect as an artist, because in some ways you are channeling whatever you are writing, and you don’t know…with your own music, for me I don’t know what’s going to come out, or what I’m feeling until after the fact. I never feel like I have a choice.”
Clean on the heels of a new release, Utopian Fantasy, Buckley draws lyrical and even vocal inspiration from many different sources: the wavy, sunny vibe of the West Coast; classical arts, painting, dancing, poetry (she names Robert Graves and Robert Penn Warren as heavy recent influences) and mythology. For example, “Naked at the Feast,” a song released in December 2022, was a title that came to Buckley while she was broadening her interest in the mythical Greek tale of Apollo and Dionysus.
Whether she is motivated by some fun, playful sign from the universe or stirred by the verse of a great poet, or attempting in her own writing to hold to what is deep and beyond what lies on the surface, she hopes that her associations will continue to flourish.
“I am joyful to be able to give people an experience to connect to. Finding people who connect with my music, that is the best feeling in the world.”
Find the music and more information about Allie Crow Buckley here: https://www.alliecrowbuckley.com
Music journalist Brian D’Ambrosio may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newest book, Montana Eccentrics: A Collection of Extraordinary Montanans, Past & Present, will be available September 2023.