Q&A With Brooklyn-Based Johnny Buffalo

Johnny Buffalo #1 Interview

Coming off the high of his debut EP release, professional beatboxer, guitarist and producer Johnny Buffalo has so much to share with a diverse array of fans and a growing musical expanse. Johnny takes his listeners on a flight of sonic experiences, from electronic trap and hip hop production, to fluid and intimate notes of rock and classical guitar, topped off with internationally-ranked beatboxing powers.

“Welcome to Buffalo (EP)” is readily available for streaming and purchase on RNB Music Spotlight and across all music platforms (Spotify, Pandora, iHeart, iTunes, etc.). The work contains two "sides", or tracks, like a conventional EP, and a bonus track, all produced, written, and mixed by Johnny himself. Much like his style, it is a piece of classical aesthetic and mindset that defies genre in all its facets. We were excited to sit down with Johnny and ask him about his monumental achievements.

Q - Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from? What inspires you? What is

your daily life like?

A - I’m from Buffalo, NY originally, and have been living in NYC for a little over 7

years. I think music is one of the most inspiring forces on the planet. Humans use more

parts of our brains simultaneously just listening to music than any other activity that

exists, and being involved in performing uses even more. I also think beatboxing is

wildly inspiring. It has evolved so much, that it changes the way people view human

capability. A modern day beatboxer can make sounds and routines that only a computer

can replicate - but that computer would need to use programming to control aspects of

production that beatboxers can freestyle and control on the fly. I want to use this art

form as a way to inspire others...if I can make an 808 sound with my face, what can’t

you do? My daily life is far from ordinary, and always has been. I currently work for

Backtrack Vocals, an a cappella group based in NYC. We perform nationally and it’s

been an amazing opportunity to travel and work with them, compared to working in

restaurants for 5+ years in the city. In between Backtrack shows, I work mostly on my

solo music, while also performing around NYC and attending shows and beatboxing


Q - What was the inspiration behind the EP?

A - The Welcome to Buffalo EP is the culmination of everything that I am as an artist.

I started playing guitar at age 14, and ended up studying classical guitar in college. My

senior year, my great friend Chris Celiz (@chrisceliz) taught me how to beatbox, which

changed my life. I really focused on beatboxing for the next 4 or so years, to try to get

that to a level that was close to the guitar. Once it was there, Chris asked me “who are

you as a solo artist?”, something I hadn’t really explored before. That began the process

of discovering what that was for me. In the early stages, I would loop beatbox trap beats

and play rock guitar over them. That evolved into this project, which consists of playing

synth guitar live, as well as clean and distorted guitar over production, and adding

beatboxing as well. The idea of performing electronic music live is something that

beatboxing opened my mind to, and ever since then, I’ve been striving to create a

unique, performance- based electronic music show.

Q - Why only 2 tracks?

A - Originally, I had 8 songs for my first project. These two were the most recent

tracks that I made, created about 8 months after any of the others. I had just returned

from the World Beatbox Championships in Berlin and World Beatbox Camp in Poland,

and was so inspired by these events that I made these two tracks within days after

returning. Earlier this year, a Tokyo-based producer friend Rhyme (@_rhyme_) listened

to the 8 song project, and she heard these two as a pair. She suggested releasing them

together as a side A/side B EP. I really liked this idea, because sonically, they were

different than all the rest. Also, I’m hugely influenced by classic rock, and the idea of a

nod to ‘45’s from back in the day was and idea that I really liked. This project is

something that’s quite unique from anything else out there, and I also thought that

releasing something on the shorter side would be a better introduction to my style.

Q - Why “Crestwood Ave”? Why “Auburn Ave”? Was there any significance in those

places, and/or choosing to name the tracks after these locations?

A- Crestwood Ave is the name of the street I grew up on in Buffalo, and where my parents

still live today. The middle section of the song has a bit of a nostalgic feel, with a clean

guitar section that acts as a nod to my classical studies. I chose Crestwood Ave as the

track name because to me, that middle section represents memories and feelings from

growing up on Crestwood Ave, with the heavier beginning and end of the track

representing the chaos that comes with adulthood. I also have one of the most

supportive families on the planet, and wanted to honor them by naming this track after

the street that our house is on. My mother’s parents’ house was on Auburn Ave, and we

were there a lot throughout my entire life. My grandfather John Cuffaro passed away

when I first moved to the city in 2012. My grandmother, Millie Cuffaro aka Mimi, passed

away at the beginning of this year. They were both huge parts of my life, so I wanted to

dedicate this track to them. Welcome to Buffalo has a double meaning. It’s an

introduction to my style, but also to two meaningful places from where I grew up.

Q - Tell us more about your personal connection to this project.

A - These two tracks were a breakthrough for me musically. When I first started

producing, songs would have 4 vastly different sections, because that’s how my brain

works - it’s all over the place. I started to limit myself in doing that, thinking of how

digestible the music would be to a listener if it didn’t have these crazy changes. I view

myself as having two major sides to my art - the heavy side (trap / hip hop and heavy

bass which inspires my beatboxing, and rock / metal), and the lighter side (classical

guitar, with prettier sounding chords and melodies, and more complex progressions).

These are two sides that I would keep separated - each track would be either fully one

way or the other, but never both. I always viewed these sides as kind of conflicting, in

that they were opposite of each other in a way. Crestwood Ave was the first time that

both sides existed simultaneously in a track, and that was the breakthrough. It became

an extremely significant message to me. We are all made up of different sides that

might conflict, and instead of trying to limit ourselves to one side or the other, we should

embrace all of them simultaneously, because that’s what makes us who we are.

Q - Who/What were your biggest influences when creating this project?

A - Mr. Carmack is far and away my biggest influence as a producer. I first heard RL

Grime as a trap producer and really loved it, but when I heard Carmack’s style, it was a

wrap. He’s amazing, and that influenced my beatboxing and production style more than

any other artist. When it comes to guitar, I started with classic rock. Artists like Jimi

Hendrix and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin were very big influences. I also have to shout

out The Beatles, they changed music and I still consider them one of my favorite bands.

Then I eventually got into metal music, with artists like Between the Buried and Me, Veil

of Maya, and Every Time I Die, and more. 5 or 6 years ago, I started to realize that a

trap drop and a metal breakdown were very similar in feel. They were both bouncey and

syncopated, the main difference being metal breakdowns would just have more

subdivisions in the kick pattern. That was the first time I saw the parallel between these

two styles, and it started my idea of fusion between rock and trap. With beatboxing,

Reeps One and The Beatbox House were hugely influential on my style, as well as Kim

from France. Gene Shinozaki of The Beatbox House is also a huge influence because

he combines beatboxing and guitar in a live “electronic” music show, which is one of the

only other artists that I know of in the world doing so. All of these different areas of

influence combined into my style, which is why it’s difficult when asked “which artists do

you sound like”, because it’s a little of this, and a little of that. It’s something that I take

pride in; my favorite musical artists throughout my life were always the ones who were

hard to classify or put into just one genre.

Q - What was the most difficult part of creating this music?

A - It took me years to finally get a grasp on what my “sound” was, which has

become a blend of trap and hip hop and rock n roll, with some classical vibes thrown in

as well. I didn’t have one single artist to look at and replicate. This was a challenge

when starting out, because I had to figure out how to combine all of my different areas

of influence in music, and also on the technical side, how to produce and play in this

style. It’s still evolving, but that’s the beauty of art, it never stops evolving. I believe that

the combination of all of these styles, as well as performing with midi guitar, and

beatboxing live, is a new style. Music has been around for thousands of years, and the

possibility of doing something new is as daunting as it is exciting.

Q - What’s your songwriting process like?

A - My earliest songs I wrote were on guitar. Sometimes I would hear a song, and try

to write something in a similar style. Other times, I’ll start playing, and things just...come

out. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’ve been blessed with this musical ability and have

learned to trust in it. Writing solo classical guitar pieces would usually result in these

complex progressions involving mode mixture, which usually resulted in a kind of

nostalgic feel, si. I have recently started to write beatboxing routines with lyrics, which is

something new for me. I have focused my entire life working on the instrumental side of

music, so to start to include vocal melodies and lyrics is something I’m excited for. I

want my music to have messages as well, because a mentor of mine taught me that

activism through art is one of the best ways to spread a message. We have so much

work to do as a country, and I want to use my art to help spread messages of peace,

love, and inclusion. The process for me usually involves jamming, a lot of jamming.

Beatboxing is something that’s always with me, so I’m constantly doing it. When an idea

pops out that I really like, I’ll record a voice memo of it, and then come back to it later to

hash out a full tune from it.

Q - What is your production process like?

A - Similar to beatboxing, I’ll try a few different things until I come across something I

like. The first thing I start with is beat style, whether it’s going to be a down tempo trap

song, or maybe a faster track with a boom bap feel. Next, I’ll find my main melodic line,

or main synth sound. Then, I’ll create what will serve as the first drop, and iron it out

until I’m happy with it. From there, I’ll create the intro / buildup. Usually, a track will start

with full synth orchestration (and when playing live, I’ll play those synth lines with midi

guitar), and then the track will drop in energy and I’ll bring rock or clean guitar in, and

then build it up again to the final drop, which usually features some distorted guitar

melody, and some shredding.

Q - How do you feel now that this project is out there?

A - Relieved. It’s gotten a really positive response, and there’s always that worry

when first releasing something into the world about how it will be received. It’s also been

technically almost 15 years in the making from when I started to play guitar, and 7.5

years in the making from starting to beatbox. However, I started working on this specific

project 4 years ago. It’s been such a long road, and sometimes we’re impatient.

However, the first step has been taken. After releasing Crestwood Ave and playing my

debut show, I am so excited to see what the future brings.

Q - What has been your biggest takeaway from this project and experience?

A - All things take time. Sometimes more than we would like, but everything happens

for a reason. Instead of beating myself up for not releasing something sooner, I

feel grateful to be where I am now and finally have music out there.

Q - What kind of impact do you want your music to make?

A - I want to inspire everyone to follow their dreams. Beatboxing was what opened

my mind to that. When a beatboxer discovers a new sound, that’s something that wasn’t

humanly possible the day before. As beatboxers, we are discovering new things about

the human voice in present day, when the voice has been around for thousands of

years. It’s absolutely mind blowing. I think we all deserve the chance to follow our

dreams. I want to use beatboxing, and my live electronic style to influence anyone on

the fence about diving in head first in pursuing their passion. We’re taught by society

that certain jobs are better than others, that we should strive to find a job and make a lot

of money and that will make us happy. That might be the case for some, but for me, I

knew that the artist life would be a struggle, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Words

can’t describe how meaningful it is to be able to do what I love for a living, and I think

everyone should have that opportunity.

Q - Where do you see yourself post-release and in the distant future with your music

career? What’s the game plan?

A - The sky's the limit. I want to spend this next year gigging and making a name for

myself, and eventually play on the biggest of stages. My goal is to perform at all kinds of

electronic music festivals, and to use live performance as a way to stand out from other

DJs. There are acts starting to pop up more and more who incorporate live performance

into their DJ sets, and I want to be a part of that wave. Specifically, I want to use my

combination of styles to help bring rock n’ roll back. Also, the added aspect of

beatboxing at this level is something that not a whole lot of people in the world can do. I

want to use my platform to help enlighten the world on what beatboxers (and human

beings) are capable of. I’ve learned that anything is possible if we put our minds to it, so

playing at a venue like MSG or Red Rocks is something that I will be striving for over

the next years to come. It’s a long way away, but I’m a big believer in putting ideas out

there and manifesting them. I would also love to work with vocal artists, and be a

producer that can bring certain live elements to a performance that most others can’t.

Q - Is there any advice you would want to give to listeners, fans, and upcoming

artists within the electronic music and r&b spheres?

A- YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. We are capable of so much more than we know. If

you have passion and dedication for something, anything is possible. However, it’s not

going to be easy. I’ve almost left NYC twice and given up, but I read a letter that Frank

Ocean wrote to his 5 year past self, and it opened my eyes. The most successful artists

out there struggle, but the ones who make it are the ones that don’t give up. The

universe is going to throw everything at you to test your resolve, but if you really want it,

you can find a way to make it happen. I would also strive to be unique. Find something

about your art that will help you stand out. Genres are mixing more and more

nowadays, and finding that magic equation of different styles blending can give you your

unique sound.

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