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