It’s something to celebrate when a band’s “years together” meter hits the double digits. For New York’s Donna the Buffalo, that threshold was impressively crossed back in the prior century.
As they near their 25th year as a band, Donna the Buffalo are stampeding right along with a new album, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday. Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear have crafted another feel-good batch of fun and funky Cajun-flavored country music for their legion of fans affectionately known as “The Herd.”
In a recent conversation with CMT Edge, Nevins talked about their career and latest music.
CMT Edge: It’s been five years since your previous album, Silverlined. What transpired in that timeframe that led to the songs on Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday?
Nevins: Well, life, I guess (laughs). When Jeb and I made Silverlined, we had a different band. We have new members now, and they are very inspired and are really great musicians. Jeb and I both feel that their positivity and their approach to playing music have helped to put across the songs that we write and have helped to optimize our sound. In these past years since Silverlined, I feel that we’ve been able to express our music better than ever.
Also, in the last five years, there have been things in our personal lives, our relationships and just seeing the world change that have certainly affected us in certain ways. We always write songs that have social commentary, and then they are the personal love songs here and there. We’re just continuing on in that same vein while trying to remain positive and not complain or be down-trodden.
Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday is the band’s 10th album in almost 25 years. To what do you attribute the band’s continued creative output?
Jeb and I are part of the old-time music scene here in the country. We’ve spent years going to festivals where we just camp out and jam and play our fiddles all night. When we formed the band and transferred over to electric instruments and started writing these songs, we actually started our own festival. We’ve just always been of the mind of music and traveling and festivals and just going out and gigging wherever. We even bought a bus after just our second gig.
Speaking of festivals, Donna the Buffalo is heavily involved with the Finger Lakes Grassroots festival in New York, the Shakori Hills Grassroots festival in North Carolina and the Virginia Key Grassroots festival in Florida. Can you tell us a bit about those communities and the atmosphere of those festivals?
Sure! The Finger Lakes festival was actually started by Donna the Buffalo, and we’re in our 22nd year of doing it. At the beginning, we had a lot to do with actually running it, and we are still able to take part in it on many levels. As far as the community, this is the mother ship up here. In Ithaca and Trumansburg, there’s not a whole lot happening. So every year, the entire community raises up and comes together for this festival. We’ve introduced so many kinds of music to the community, and it’s just a family-friendly, alternative community that’s very laid-back and down to earth. The festival isn’t corporately sponsored and it’s very grassroots.
Jordan Puryear, Jeb’s brother, used to be in our band, and he went on to travel and found a place in North Carolina. That started the next festival, which is called Shakori Hills. That one happens twice a year. It’s out in the country, too, and it’s the same kind of community, a music lover’s paradise. Then, Jordan traveled further down to Miami and Virginia Key and found another spot. We just had our second Virginia Key festival this past February.
With our previous album, Silverlined, we made a video for a song called “Locket and Key,” and we had some success with it. We love it, and we think that making videos is important. We’re going to make a couple of videos for this record. “I Love My Tribe” brought so many people together, and we had so much fun shooting it.
We’re good friends with Jim after meeting him years ago at the Newport Folk Festival. We actually made a record with Jim a while back called Wait ‘Til Spring, and that was really fun. When we were in Nashville shooting the video, we were just like, “We should call up Jim and see if he wants to come.” He was all excited to be involved.
The Cajun and zydeco influence on songs like “No Reason Why,” “All Aboard” and the title track showcase some of the unique elements of the band. Why are you drawn to those genres?
Jeb and I actually met playing traditional, old-time fiddle music at festivals down in North Carolina and Virginia. At those festivals, you come in touch with a variety of other genres of traditional music.
Also, about 23 years ago, I got the opportunity to take a spontaneous trip to southwestern Louisiana for Mardi Gras out in Cajun Creole country. I dove into this world of Creole zydeco music and bought a few accordions and such. I just fell in love with that music and try to incorporate into Donna the Buffalo as much as I can.
Seeing that you split vocal duties with Jeb, how do you decide who sings each song, and is there a song or specific lyric on the new album that you wish you could’ve sung yourself?
That’s easy. We just sing the songs that we write. He sings his, and I sing mine and it stays all good that way. We dig each other’s songs, but I don’t think we’re coveting them or anything! (laughs)