'We've always been a folk-rock band, more leaning on the rock," explains bassist Chris Wise as Buxton drains a pitcher or two on the Stag's Head patio. "But the things that have been coming out — like, we have a banjo on maybe two songs, but somehow we're pigeonholed into this banjo thing."
So don't call the amiable Houston quintet Buxton and Sons, then. Ever. Marking its tenth anniversary as a band this weekend, Buxton is in a peculiar position. It's celebrating a slow and steady climb to a perch as one Houston's more popular and well-respected indie bands, but the more successful Buxton gets, more and more the members find themselves explaining that their earnest and eerie sound has been around since well before the Lumineers hit the Top 40.
"It's strange," offers singer/guitarist/lyricist Sergio Trevino. "You have to say to yourself, 'You are not influenced by Mumford & Sons at all, or 'You are not influenced by the Avett Brothers.' I like the Avett Brothers, but that's never been anything we're going for. I think it just happens that this [next] record is going away from that."
"A bit naturally, a bit self-consciously," admits drummer Justin Terrell.
Simultaneously, Buxton has reached a period of unprecedented creative output. After a recent retreat to Athens, Georgia, they have completed a number of songs and plan to write more in the next few months. ("It was almost too easy," says lead guitarist Jason Willis.) Compare that with Buxton's previous album, 2011's Nothing Here Seems Strange, where they found themselves facing studio time and forced to write songs just so they would have something to record.
"The arrangements we've been coming up with, which are very different now, aren't forced at all," explains guitarist Austin Sepulvado, Buxton's newest member, who joined the band in early 2010. (Keyboardist Haley Barnes was with the band from the making of Strange until she headed back to school in mid-2012.)
"This is arguably the first full-band record," says Wise. "The last record was really not written with Austin. This is the record with the five of us that have gone out and played a bunch of shows. There's no auxiliary members involved. It's just these five guys."
"If you know them all individually, it sounds like a record they'd listen to on their own," offers Aaron Danger Sainz, a longtime friend of Buxton who is more of an unofficial sixth member, and has also worked closely with local bands The Energy and Wild Moccasins. Sainz is a pivotal figure in Buxton's development — he saw an early Buxton show in their hometown of La Porte and told them to come play Houston.
"The Mumford thing, you would never catch any of these guys listening to that stuff on their own," affirms Sainz.
Buxton says their newer material is darker, grittier, heavier on Willis's riffs and Sepulvado's keyboards. (There is no timetable yet for a release, they say.) Wise's taste for Converge has led to a more aggressive approach the others have noticed, while they've heard Neil Young and Crazy Horse from label boss George Fontaine, who signed both Buxton and Wild Moccasins to New West Records in late 2010.
"In a nutshell, I think it's just the natural progression of the band," says Terrell. The drummer joined Buxton just after the release of 2008's A Family Light, the album on local label Mia Kat Empire that first brought Buxton widespread local attention.
"I like to think that we're pretty self-aware in terms of what we're doing," he adds. "We know when something's done and we can use it, but we're never at a point where it's like, 'Oh, here's the album. Here's ten songs.'"
Buxton spent several months touring Nothing Here Seems Strange, their first record with national distribution, which opened their eyes to how much the stakes had been raised.
"I feel like we've changed more in the past two years than the eight years prior," notes Wise. "Things are growing exponentially, and we're trying to keep up with it as much as possible. We were playing with these bands that were just incredible. I remember playing with Shovels & Rope, and it was like, 'Fuck, man, we gotta get really good.'"
Ten years with the same core membership and no significant loss of personnel is something to celebrate, for sure. Although they're still in their mid-to-late twenties — early thirties, tops — Buxton's three founding members go back a long way indeed. Wise went to elementary school with Trevino's sister. He and Willis used to ride home together from sixth grade. Although they didn't like each other at the time, somehow the rides home led to jamming together. ("You don't get very good at bass playing on your own," allows Wise.)
Then one day Wise came up with a bass line to a tune of Trevino's called "Beach Song," and Buxton has more or less existed ever since. At some of their early shows the audience sat on the floor, which perplexed them no end. The gigs were at places like Fuel Cybercafe, the Roadhouse and Rickster's, a restaurant/bar in a converted hangar near the LaPorte airfield.
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"This is one of the first times we ever played out," says Trevino. "We played three or four songs and I remember one guy yelling out, 'We already heard this song!'"
Now here they are, ten years later, trying to figure out just how far back to stretch that anniversary-show set list. Fans will hear crowd favorites like "Boy of Nine," "Down In the Valley" and "Feathers," to be sure, but quite a few of the songs Buxton will play on Saturday night have yet to be released.
"I don't think we're going to stop this anytime soon," muses Willis. "I think at some point along the line Buxton became its own thing, and we're just along for the ride."
Buxton's tenth-anniversary show is Saturday night at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, with special guests Papermoons and Deep Cuts. Doors open at 9 p.m. Sergio Trevino also plays a solo instore at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth.