I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I recently learned who sang the 80s smash hit song, “Borderline,” thanks to Pittsburgh Americana & Folk band Buffalo Rose.
Now I know my fair share of Madonna songs as any mere pedestrian would, but this was news to me. If you want a quick teleportation back to peak 1980s to get a taste of the original magic, you may do so here.
Buffalo Rose is uniquely-layered string sextet consisting of Lucy Clabby (vocals), Rosanna Spindler (vocals), Bryce Rabideau (mandolin), Shane McLaughlin (guitar), Jason Rafalak, (upright bass), and Malcolm Inglis (dobro). The six musicians together create a warm blanket of sound weaving beautiful and angelic harmonies led by Clabby and Spindler, with the instrumentation hoisting them up with a badass bluegrass-type rhythm.
This is ever evident in their April 3rd release of “Borderline,” which is a must listen for everyone with ears. It hits on many levels, which can happen when you’ve got six very talented musicians at the helm. They capture the energy and feel of the song in their own stripped down acoustic version, and enough can’t be said about how well they all work together. No one is stumbling over any one else, which may very well happen when a band has a lot of moving parts.
Since forming in 2016, they’ve shared stages with some of the biggest names in bluegrass, Americana, and country like The Infamous Stringdusters, Pokey LaFarge, and Tyler Childers. Last September, they signed with Misra Records, agreeing to a two-record deal. Their first record with the label, Big Stampede, was released the following November, with Borrowed and Blue set for release optimistically this May.
We had the chance to ask the band some questions about the release and accompanying music video, their upcoming record, the first places they want to go when life resumes, and much more.
So how did y’all come up with and decide on revitalizing and covering Madonna’s hit “Borderline”?
Lucy Clabby: I am a pop music junkie. I love to translate all kinds of songs through our instruments. Madonna is the blueprint, and I had seen covers of her music before but not quite in this style. All of the members of our band come from very different musical backgrounds and sometimes we argue over what style to look to for inspiration (not everyone loves the hard pop stuff!) but I always fight for it. A great tune’s a great tune and I wanted to showcase that.
Where was the video shot?
Shane McLaughlin: We shot this video in a small church, The Unity Center of Pittsburgh, in Garfield. We have always been drawn to alternative and DIY spaces, and have thrown a show there in the past (as well as in several other churches/converted churches around Pittsburgh). The lighting in there is wonderful and there is a huge ceiling so it is an incredibly resonant space. We have recorded a lot in there.
How did the band come together, and when did you realize y’all had something special?
Jason Rafalak: The band initially started when the singers and Mac on dobro came together to record a song of Shane’s that he wrote for his mother. Eventually they added mandolin and upright bass, and I think at that point it was a “real band”. As an all-acoustic band with no drums, it was encouraging when we realized we could win over crowds just as well as bigger and louder bands.
What all went into adding your Buffalo Rose-spin on this song, and was the one-mic take an intentional choice?
Bryce Rabideau: It was an intentional choice based on a few factors, the biggest being our love of performing live. We wanted to capture the spirit of a live performance, which on some level necessitates us standing next to each other and feeding off of each others’ energy. We also had some time constraints on the recording end of things, which ended up being a blessing because we didn’t have the chance to be too precious about anything in the moment. We went in ready to go, recorded everything in two days, and that was that.
And do you find that performing with one mic keeps the musical conversation tighter, or was this more of a spontaneous decision?
Jason: We started practicing together completely acoustic for a music conference where we had to perform without amplification, and realized it took a whole new level of discipline, trying to make sure everything was perfectly balanced. As we got the hang of it, we realized it was something special that we could pull off that a lot of other bands wouldn’t be able to do.
Have you always planned to pursue music, or did it kind of just happen organically?
Lucy: I feel both of these things to be true. We have all had music in our lives, all our lives. We made some backup plans along the way, picked up some degrees that are gathering dust… but music is the point. It is what brings us & binds us together, with or without an audience.
Buffalo Rose seems to pride itself on belonging to no single genre; I can hear that in your 2018 album, The Soil and the Seed, and in your more recent arrangements of popular hits. Which artists are your primary influences?
Jason: There’s a diverse range of influences, because everyone in the band comes from different musical backgrounds and experiences, from jazz to songwriting to R&B to musical theater. Some examples include Andrew Bird, Punch Brothers, Janelle Monae, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and D’Angelo.
What’s one of the first cafes/bars/establishments y’all plan to hit up in Pittsburgh once this pandemic finally recedes?
Shane: Con Alma! Hands down. This is an incredibly cool new jazz club that serves Peruvian food opened up in Shadyside last year. The vibe is incredible and the musicians who play there are on another level completely. Can’t wait to get back there.
What can fans expect with your upcoming EP Borrowed & Blue, and how might it differ from previous releases?
Jason: This one is special for us because it gives a taste of what our live show feels like. Besides putting our own spin on the covers, it gave us a chance to show how some of the older song arrangements have evolved in the live setting. You get to hear some cool moments of interplay between the vocals and instruments that came about over time.
Lastly, what’s something you hope the world, or at least the country, will take away from this pandemic?
Shane: The current situation has amplified a lot of ongoing issues that we have faced as a country and as a human race for a long time. I would hope that this is a wake up call to those who have the power to make systemic change to address the inequalities that are laid bare in this pandemic, the social, racial and economic injustices that have been permitted in order for corporate interests to continue exponential and toxic growth, at the expense of our fellow people and planet. I hope it helps them reconnect with their humanity, and put people over profits and corporations.
*Intro by Paul Howard, questions by Nina Kindrachuk