SUBURBAN DEATH MARCH: “Being American these days is an exercise in how much abuse we can endure.”
ADDICTIVE, doom-laden industrial metal jazz – there’s clearly not enough of it about – but East Bay, California’s Jason Buckley and his solo recording project SUBURBAN DEATH MARCH is on a one-man crusade to change all that.
His sound could be easily, lazily, pigeonholed into the soundtrack genre, but its strength of depth and consistence in quality puts it into a category all of its own, head and shoulders above any potential competitors brave – or foolhardy – enough, to peek over the parapet and consider undertaking a similar venture.
And with at times such a dark subject matter, does the old maximum regarding only writing about what you know apply to Buckley’s approach?
“Absolutely, the last few years have not been the best for a lot of us, and I’ve definitely let some of my demons loose here,” he said.
“The pandemic could not have happened at a worse time for us, caught in the middle of a disastrous national experiment with fascism, it really stripped our broken system bare for all to see, and yet we learned nothing from it.
“Science and medicine became even more politicized and with us being the last major industrial country to not have universal healthcare, we probably did a lot worse than other countries. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how it all affected mental health on a larger scale. Being American these days is an exercise in how much abuse we can endure. The French would have rioted a hundred times over the ever-worsening conditions we are just expected to put up with.
“As far as my sound, I find motivation and inspiration all over the place. Sometimes it’s from a piece of gear. ‘Ambient Ambivalence’ came about because I got a cheap twelve string Strat and an ambient reverb pedal. Often, it’s from something I’ve been listening to. And a lot of it is from working within my limitations as a songwriter with a half-assed knowledge of music theory.
There aren’t always a lot of chord changes or key changes, more explorations over a groove or two, trying to keep it interesting with weird sounds and textures.
“Whenever I try something particularly weird, it’s usually inspired more by jazz than rock.
I’ve definitely borrowed progressions from Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane, and rhythms from Dave Brubeck, and the idea to do a solo improvisational piano piece from Keith Jarrett.”
Buckley’s project began in March 2020, but he refused to allow those approaching series of lockdowns to dampen his enthusiasm.
“I had been out of music for a couple of years prior to that due to a bad band breakup and was just getting ready to put myself out there again. In fact, joining or starting a new band was my 2020 New Year’s resolution – and we all know what happened next. I used some Christmas money to buy an interface and midi controller to start recording and literally ran out of my job to Guitar Centre for a few last needed patch cables for my pedals within hours of things locking down. And then I had to spend quite a bit of time learning to use a DAW and figuring out how I liked to do things.”
That such a sound could have its origins on the fabled California coast is remarkable, but as methodical as the writing and production of every piece of Suburban Death March music is, so too is the story behind the choice of name.
“East Bay is part of the greater San Francisco Bay area,” explains Buckley. “I live in a small island suburb just outside of Oakland called Alameda. The ‘East Bay’ can go anywhere from very densely urban to suburban, to rural and wild and everything in between. And we’re in the midst of a housing crisis caused by a shortage of supply and a demand, increased by the influx of highly paid tech workers which has driven the housing prices sky high and created massive homelessness.
“So, there are areas that would not look out of place in the sort of developing nations we typically install puppet dictators in so we can have cheap foreign goods and labour – actual shanty towns, encampments, broken down RVs wherever they can park them. And it’s all exacerbated by local people who consider things like ‘neighbourhood character’ to be more important than building enough housing.
“These same people who don’t want any more homes built too close to their back yards don’t want to look at homeless people and have made cruelty their brand. They see making the police state more authoritarian as a better solution than more income equality and affordable housing availability.
“It’s this banality of suburban evil that inspired the name Suburban Death March. Initially my first release was going to be a whole doom metal concept album all about that, but it wound up just becoming the first song on my first EP, ‘Small Town Tyrants.’”
And if all that wasn’t enough, Buckley also records his music at his very own facility, the Hangry Chateau Studio.
“The ‘Hangry Chateau’ is wherever I can fit my laptop and an instrument! I came up with the name during the early days of lockdown because it had what I assume is the direct opposite vibe from the legendary ‘Honky Chateau’ studio in France, so beloved by Elton John and everyone else.
“It consists of a laptop with an interface, a pedalboard – with a rotating assortment of fun toys – and some headphones. There’s an assortment of basses and guitars and mics and synths. I enjoy using weird toy synths like the Stylophone and the Korg Monotron. I also have a Pocket Operator drum machine the size of a calculator.
“My iPad is usually involved too. I prefer playing virtual instruments with that than using MIDI and using physical effects to virtual ones – mostly. Mixing monitors stay at my office where I can crank it during off hours. My rough mixes are all in headphones and most of my instruments go directly from the pedalboard into the interface, though occasionally I’ll mic up an amp if I feel I really need that sound. So usually it’s my desk at home, but sometimes it’s my bedroom, and sometimes it comes on vacation with me, and sometimes it’s my office.”
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