It was about 7pm when I saw the head of Javelin‘s Tom Van Buskirk pop out of a side door at Neumos. Later that night, he would perform at Barboza, a smaller, sister club, with a speakeasy vibe, that was built last year in the basement of the notable Seattle music venue.
“You’re Tom, right?”
“I’m supposed to conduct an interview with you tonight.”
When an interview is scheduled to take place at the venue prior to a show, there is always a chance of delays and other issues. Typically, the soundcheck runs late, and/or there’s a miscommunication, leaving the writer waiting indefinitely, as both their window of time and self-assurednes evaporates around them. It doesn’t matter if everything was arranged months in advance; in a split second you can find yourself feeling like a groupie, standing outside by a security guard with a little notepad in your hand. That shit is so common that I’ve begun to expect it, and I was actually making my way to the connecting MOE Bar to kill some time and level my anticipation, when the door opened in front of me. This meeting with Javelin was arranged somewhat last minute and I was even a half hour early, but that didn’t matter; Van Buskirk was ready to go, right then–no issues.
We waited outside, speaking casually as George Langford, the other half of the New England-bred production duo, dug into the back of the Nissan hatchback that they were traveling in. After Seattle, they would only have one more date left on their West Coast tour with the up-and-coming Detroit trio, Jamaican Queens; and Ecuadorean/American solo artist/producer, Helado Negro. I’ve noticed that George doesn’t seem to be fielding many interviews these days, leaving that task up to his cousin/bandmate. This time would be no different. In fact, I didn’t exchange one word with Langford, before Van Buskirk and I separated from him, heading downstairs to find a quiet, less distracting location for our conversation. I did, however, speak with George after the show and found him to be an incredibly cordial and engaging figure. We connected through the fact that we both have toddlers at home–me a 20-month-old son and him a 2 year old daughter. “I’m the only one on tour that has a kid,” he said. It’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be eager to get back to his family in Brooklyn. Van Buskirk doesn’t live in NYC anymore; sometime within the last 2 years, he’s relocated to Los Angeles. But, as I would soon discover, Tom already has plans to return to where it all began for the duo: Rhode Island.
Being cousins, Van Buskirk and Langford have known each other their entire lives, but Javelin didn’t coalesce into an official group until around 2004 or 2005, depending on which press release or article you come across (Langford’s Linkedin account even lists the band’s inception as far back as 2003). Both members grew up involved in music and are multi-instrumentalists, but it was the discovery that each of them had separately begun to embrace the use of MPCs for their own private individual compositions/productions that really sparked the musical union, which would transform them into the genre-hopping, collage-beat groove wizards that they are known as today.
And everything that’s unfolded for Javelin since seems to have been as equally organic and natural as their formation. Their band name was even chosen arbitrarily by Langford‘s sister, out of necessity, after they had booked their first show and realized that they had never bothered to decide on one. After having an FM transmitter kicked down to them from Tom‘s brother, Eliot Van Buskirk, who had been doing a number of gadget reviews for Wired Magazine, the device became an integral part of Javelin‘s live setup, and remained so, for quite some time. Forming a budget wall of sound, of sorts, from old, spray-painted boomboxes that they had acquired from thrift stores and various friends, the guys would set all of the tuners to the same FM radio station, which they would then broadcast their concerts through live, via the transmitter. They would encourage their audiences to bring booxboxes of their own and, occasionally, even distribute transister radios to the crowds themselves. In 2008, they left Providence for Brooklyn and self-released Jamz n Jemz, a 25 track effort, with each song averaging around 2 minutes, that came across like the greatest 47 minutes of skipping through radio stations imaginable. Pitchfork got a hold of the CD-R and praised its eclectic “patchwork of dime-store samples,”eventually, giving it an honorable mention for their 2009 Albums of the Year list. Prior to that, Tom and George had already found themselves signed to the David Byrne-founded Luaka Bop, after one of the many friends whom they had given a copy of their CD-R to, passed it on to the folks in charge. Unbeknownst to them at the time, that friend had been doing graphic design work for the label. As the hype around them increased, so did the necessity to perform live. Wanting to be more than just a pair of guys playing samples while standing behind a pair of MPCs, as they were in the early days, they began finding ways to perform their tracks while increasing the human and improvisational elements in their live shows. This led to Van Buskirk picking up the microphone more and more and, ultimately, playing the bass throughout their sets. Likewise, if you catch a Javelin performance, you’ll discover George Langford cracking out every one of their complex electronic drum patterns live, with such robotic precision that you’d swear that he was manufactured by Skynet.
After Jamz N Jemz, Javelin released their 15-minute Andean Ocean mixtape, via cassette and a Luaka Bop podcast; along with a pair of limited editon 12″ EPs through Thrill Jockey (each copy came inside of a hand screenprinted thriftstore jacket), but I didn’t encounter their work until No Mas came out in 2010. A slightly more cohesive offering, their infectious full-length debut included some original and reworked tracks from Jamz N Jemz and the Andean Ocean tape, while allowing the group to progress forward, showcasing more of what they were capable of, in both artistic and musical respects. No Mas continued to collage a variety of sounds from old-school, cowbell-infested hip hop beats and 8-bit glitches to 1970s soul grooves, but what most people didn’t seem to realize was that, while the duo continued to incorporate samples, they were still incredibly skilled musicians that, much of the time, were actually just sampling themselves. The following year saw the cousins taking a drastic turn with Canyon Candy. Released as a 10″ vinyl for record store day 2011, the EP featured the production team venturing into the singing cowboy pastures of Western music, a la Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers, rather than the more en vogue, psychedelic, Ennio Morricone, Spaghetti genre. It was a triumphant release made more impressive by their collaboration with friend/artist/filmmaker Mike Anderson, which yielded an accompanying multi-media art installation and kickstarter-funded short film, that remained on display at New York‘s Clocktower Gallery throughout much of 2012. Their brand new album, Hi Beams (Luaka Bop), is yet another leap for Van Buskirk and Langford. Produced by Seth Manchester at Machine With Magnets (Pawtucket, RI), the LP marks the first time that Javelin has ever worked in an actual full-blown studio for any of their releases, or allowed anyone else in, to put their fingerprints on the music that they have been producing for so long by themselves on their laptops. The result is, arguably, their poppiest album to date, but it retains the same brilliant layering and sensibilities that they’ve built their career on, up to this point.
Tom and I accepted an empty green room to conduct the interview. He graciously offered me some bottled water that had been stocked on one of the tables and, as I set up my camera, he clicked on a couple of floor lamps to assist with the lighting. We talked for about 45 minutes, covering everything from the past, present, and future of Javelin, to the idea of sounding “too white,” reggae tribute albums (“Jah-velin”?), and the importance of a good karaoke bar. Aside from the background noise of a refrigeration unit that would intermittently click on (you’ll hear it in the video), the conversation went incredibly smooth and reinforced the positive interpretation that I already had of these guys–the same interpretation that prompted me to ever want to meet and speak with them in the first place.
Van Buskirk and Langford are simply 2 guys that make their music as an end goal. Sure, they travel, perform live, and might even build a multi-media project or two around their audio creations, but the work is much more to them than just a stepping stone to fame, “bigger things,” record deals, or even a paycheck. More than viewing their art as a launching pad to somewhere else, the art takes priority and the music, itself, is where they are trying to get. There’s a point in the interview where we are discussing the wide range of territory that the band covers and their tendency to continuously shift direction, as well as the idea that there must be a more abstract, underlying continuity to all of their work, simply because they are the ones creating it. What I’ve noticed is that, no matter how meticulously layered or complexly they might manage to assemble a track, everything that Javelin produces is infused with an energy that is equivalent to that generated by a couple of kids sitting around a janky old Fostex 4-track, taking knife hits after school, and making beats for the joy of creation and entertainment of each other. Above all else, it’s that purity that epitomizes this group to me and, regardless of if you’re a fan of every single turn that they decide to take, or not, the one thing that you can always count on is that, whatever they’re going to make, it’s going to be honest.