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Interview: Johnny Buffalo X THATLOWD

THATLOWD interviews and hangs out with Johnny Buffalo, a versatile beatboxer with an innovative performing style that blends live instruments, beatboxing and rhymes. And he does it all.

But first, in the video below, Johnny Buffalo and other beatboxers (Rhino, Tripp and GeometrickFX) play a game which consists of beatboxing a few bars each and showcasing their different techniques. A very popular game in the beatboxing world, THATLOWD got the exclusive on how these talents do it. Improvised. Raw. Amazing.

1. How did you get into making music?

I started playing guitar in eighth grade. When I was 17, I had to decide where to go to college. My uncle told me about a sound recording program that was in the music school I ended up going to. I figured it would be a good plan: if making music wouldn’t have worked out, I could have fallen back in becoming a sound recording engineer. Well, the thought process behind that was fucking stupid because I was basically going to school for my plan B. I stayed in that school, double-majored in guitar. Halfway through college I realized I didn’t want to be a recording engineer. I respect the hell out of it, but I just felt more skilled and more inclined to be on the other side of the glass. I finished that program, but the last half of my senior year I got into beatboxing, just for fun, I had no idea what it was going to become. What I had learned in school about music, upper level acoustics, how sound works, and producing, since I produce and mix my own tracks, definitely helped me develop as an artist, but it really took me another full year to get to where I’m at now. I focused on beatboxing for another 3 years, I spent a whole year in isolation to focus on my craft. I was so over-stimulated by what was around me and I had done so much cool shit in such a short amount of time that I needed to take a step back to get everything together.

2. Is this your full-time job?

Music is not my full-time job at the moment. A few years back, I really had to spend a lot of time not doing music. Balancing that is not easy. Going to work everyday to then come back home, get to work on your music and think that “now I finally get to work on what I love” it’s not a good feeling. I used to work at restaurants. The money was amazing for what it was, but it was detrimental emotionally and mentally. However, I am feeling less and less of that now. I have switched from working full-time to working part-time to have a more flexible schedule, and I don’t work in the restaurant industry anymore. I am currently working retail and I work for an app. I know that what I am doing is going to be successful, but I know that to get there it’s gonna take time. Eventually music will be my full-time job though, I am convinced of that.

3. What is the origin of your name?

I’m from Buffalo, NY and my name is Johnny. I’m very proud to be from Buffalo…it’s really an amazing place and it’s the basis of who I am. When I was in high school my friends would call me Johnny Blaze. I couldn’t use that because it was something Method Man used to go by, but I wanted to keep the JB. The last reason is kind of a play on words. When I started beatboxing I also started playing bass, and just became completely obsessed with the low end of music. The “lo” at the end of Buffalo represents that.

4. What’s the hardest part of beatboxing?

There are certain sounds that are trickier to learn and can take months, but that’s part of being a beatboxers. It’s different for each beatboxer, but I think that overall the thing that beatboxers struggle the most with it’s stage presence. As beatboxers, we learn a lot of stuff through watching YouTube videos in our rooms. Learning can take a long time, some of us can get a bit too isolated, and at that point it gets a tricky to be on stage in front of people and beatbox.

5. In some of your videos you are beatboxing without a beat in the background. What gives you inspiration to construct your melodies?

When I beatbox solo, I treat it as if I were a DJ or producer. Beatboxing in its current form has taken a ton of influence from electronic music, but everything is done organically, which is nothing short of amazing. So I’ll listen to producers that I like, then try to mimic what a live set of theirs might sound like…mixing in different drops with different build-ups and transitions. I also like to incorporate vocals and imitate vocal chops to give the music some familiarity.

6. Tell us  a bit more about your performance style and how it’s different than other beatboxers in the game.

I perform various instruments and rap sometimes on top of my beatboxing. Also, whenever I see an artist perform and I can see they’re having fun, it totally translates to the crowd and makes the performance more enjoyable, so I try to do the same. I like to use the entire stage, run around to get crowd hype, do some crowd participation/call and response, and probably a couple silly things. I’m a ridiculous individual and have learned to embrace that.

7. Guide us through the process of creating a track. Do you ever feature singers on it or are they just instrumentals?

My tracks are a mix of beatboxing, live instruments, and electronic sounds. I make a beat and yes, I may feature someone on it if I want them on the track, but I don’t necessarily make beats thinking they won’t be complete unless I feature someone on it. They can be stand-alone items. When I release my future projects, I may release one album with just instrumentals and one with artist features.

8. What are some of best and worst parts you are experiencing in chasing this career?

The best part of it is that it makes me feel like a superhero. Music it’s the closest thing to real life magic that exists. Music can change your mood for the good or for the better, it takes you places and transforms you, just like magic. Another positive part is the connections, being able to network and connect with people and seeing where that can bring you. I have gone to Berlin because of music, I have beatboxed with people who didn’t speak English but we speak through beats. The worse part is that is so much harder to succeed than it should be. Our government doesn’t support the arts nearly as much as other governments do. Here in the US it’s just such a difficult battle to get off the ground but at the same time, like everything in life that’s worth doing, it’s not easy.

9. What are some of the milestones you’ve reached in your career so far?

Beatboxing has led me to do things I never would have dreamed of…and that actually taught me to dream bigger. I was able to perform at the Trinity Hip Hop Festival in Hartford, Connecticut with the Hip Hop Re:education Project. It’s an international hip hop festival, with performers from places like Montreal, South Africa, Czech Republic, NYC…and Talib Kweli was the headliner. We performed second out of nine…but something crazy happened. Talib’s DJ wasn’t ready when they were about to go on, so my friends Chris (who actually taught me how to beatbox), Dizzy Senze (one of the dopest freestyle rappers on the planet) and I got to rock a 5 minute freestyle to kill time, for Talib’s crowd! That’s still the biggest crowd I’ve performed in front of to date. Another amazing thing happened as a result of busking in Washington Square Park. Chris and I were invited by someone who saw us to perform at a gala event for the Lowline…which is going to be the world’s first underground park and is in development in NYC. My friend’s Kenny, Amit, Chris and I rocked a 10 minute set. Edward Norton was in the crowd like 15 feet away, and I got to see one of my favorite actors react in genuine amazement to us beatboxing…it was unreal.

I also got to beatbox for Mr. Carmack and What So Not and met J Dilla’s mom who complimented me on my beatboxing, that was dope.

10. When will you know that you have made it?

When I can support myself from my music. That’s all I want. The ultimate dream is to be paid to travel through music. Also, I don’t wanna chase fame but I do want to have a fan base that I can spread my positive message: “believe in yourself, we can do anything.” There are so many messed up things that are happening in this country and in this world and I feel like not enough people are addressing it – or more people can be addressing it who are in the spotlight.

11. We saw an Instagram video about you performing some Pokémon-inspired tracks. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

That’s is literally the most ridiculous thing I have never done. I’m a ridiculous, ridiculous person, and that track is so me. I made a beat out of Pokémon Red&Blue’s Lavender Town five months ago. It was not Pokémon-Go related, this was before I even knew that it was coming out. That track was dope as fuck, I didn’t need to change tempo at all. Then Pokémon Go came out and I was like “Oh shit, this track just became completely more relevant.” So I wrote some raps over that beat and another two beats I had made out of Pokemon theme songs. I mixed one with Panda by Desiigner too. In case that wasn’t enough, I also bought 200 Pokémon cards for $5 off of Ebay and went on to perform the tracks at Beatbox House . My homies were throwing out Pokémon cards in the audience. It was awesome.

12. How did people respond to it?

They loooooooved it. Someone came up to me and asked me to sign his pokemon card. I almost cried.

13. What were your influences growing up?

The Beatles were the first band that I really got into because I got into music through guitar and at the time I was very much into classic rock. They did the most for music than any band can and will ever do. Jimi Hendrix was the biggest influence in terms of my guitar playing. Once I got really good at guitar, I started listening to metal as well as progressive rock artist like Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani. Those guys played the most technical shit you have ever heard. Then, “Single Ladies” was released and that track captured my heart. Beyoncé made me realize that great songs can be simple, poppy and catchy and I didn’t have to fit all that crazy technical shredding in them. That’s when I start getting more into pop and rap and metal. For a band to be able to be on point and hit those subdivisions together it’s crazy. I begun listening to dubstep and electronic music once I started beatboxing. I got into an artist called What So Not. He had a mix called Flying to Europe that I really liked. Once I started listening to Mr. Carmak, I realized that a lot of the tracks included in that mix were Carmak tracks.

14. What are your influences now?

I would say that Carmack is my biggest influence today, all of the beats that I have been making are very much Carmack-influenced. Moving to New York also inspired me. Once I moved there, I got me way more into hip-hop. Hip-hop it’s not just music, it’s a lifestyle. When it comes to hip-hop, even though I do listen to the classics, I mostly listen to my friends. That’s another thing that shaped me into the artist I am today: going to live shows, seeing people perform and jump in to perform with them. I go to quite a few hip-hop gatherings, like the Lesson. I go to the Lesson every Thursday, it’s church to me. The Lesson it’s a free space where artist can learn how to coexist with each other and perform in front of people, it’s called the lesson for that very reason. They have a live jam session, a live horn section and more. It was going to Lesson that made me realize that this is what Electronic and hip-hop music is missing: watching a band playing live. The best part of the Lesson, even more so than the musicianship, which is out of this world, is the atmosphere, which playing live definitely helps create.

15. Who is your favorite emerging artist?

Honestly, I’m gonna have to shout out my homies, The Beatbox House. They’re the beatboxers that I’ve been fortunate enough to grow with and learn from ever since I moved to NYC, and they’re starting to do some really amazing stuff as a crew. Also, Sam Gellaitry is really dope.

16. What is your dream collab?

Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

17. What was the first concert you went to?

NSYNC with my sister.

18. What’s the craziest concert that you’ve been to?

Electric Zoo in 2013 & Mad Decent Bloc Party in Coney Island a couple of summers ago.

19. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’m coming from the lowest I’ve ever been, but in the past 2 years I’ve realized that everything happens for a reason. Thanks to music, I fought my sadness and I cannot wait for what’s to come. I can’t wait for that time. I’m gonna have more material, 10 hours worth of music. Also, since January all that I have been focusing on is content. I need to get a grasp of what I am trying to do. I have 3 EPs worth of tracks. I need to start putting it out there, the more businessy end of stuff.

The interview Gallery

Check out some pictures from our hangout session with Johnny Buffalo and friends!

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