The Buckleys Part 2: ‘The Atmos Experience’, Getting Jack White's Permission & Murph’s Ongoing Legacy

16 November 2022 | 2:00 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

The day after the global premiere of The Buckleys’ 'Take It As It Comes' documentary – which screened as part of 2022’s Byron Bay Film Festival – Bryget Chrisfield sat down for a chat with its director Grant James plus all three members of the sibling band – Sarah, Lachlan and Molly – inside the beloved South Ballina home of the late, great Chris Murphy; the precise location where he signed this talented, Clunes-based outfit to his label, Petrol Records.

The Buckleys and Chris Murphy (pic by Caroline Paidasch-Murphy) and Sugar Beach Ranch

The Buckleys and Chris Murphy (pic by Caroline Paidasch-Murphy) and Sugar Beach Ranch

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Catch up on The Buckleys Part 1: Movie Premieres, Recording In Nashville & Exclusive Signing News here.

Following Saturday night’s screening of The Buckleys’ Take It As It Comes documentary, Q&A, live performance and then celebratory dinner, we rage on at The Northern Hotel’s front bar. Why? Because it’s an awesome live music venue and also because Mick Buckley – the sibling trio’s rad Dad and former The Radiators drummer – was playing one of his famous Duelling Piano Bar sets. Watching music fans of all ages jostling for space inside this packed venue, beaming and swaying with arms around each other’s shoulders while belting out every lyric to classic songs by artists including Neil Diamond, Elton John and The Proclaimers – to name just a few highlights – is an absolute hoot! 

The Buckleys even make a guest appearance on this particular occasion, expertly leading raucous crowd singalongs during their Dad’s rollicking piano renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary and Great Balls Of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. 

Fast forward a few hours and The Buckleys somehow manage to assemble, back at Sugar Beach Ranch, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a relaxed afternoon poolside soirée, which culminates in a special performance by the sibling trio (with Papa Mick supplying guest drums for one number). 

Exploring the Dolby Atmos sound

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Earlier that day – during our interview up at the main house – Grant explains how he came to direct a doco about The Buckleys: “Chris Jenkins is basically the individual that brought us all together for this project: he’s an Oscar-winning sound engineer, he’s won Oscars for The Last Of The Mohicans, Mad Max: Fury Road – he’s done a tonne of films. And when he decided to make the jump to go from exclusively doing films to the music industry – and working with Universal Music Group over the past three or four years – is, I think, really when Atmos became a new deliverable for the music industry.”

The “primary objective” for this Take It As It Comes documentary was “the Atmos capture”, Grant reveals: “The main focus was The Buckleys recording in Atmos and that’s something that they definitely wanted to document.”

The Sugar Beach Ranch dog pack, which consists of two fluffy white Maremma Sheepdogs – Chris Murphy’s dog, Ice, and Diana, who joined the family to be a chicken dog – plus his daughter Stevey Arena’s two beloved pooches: Cleo the Jack Russell Terrier (an engagement gift from her Dad) and Jack Russell Terrier mix Max (a rescue), announce the arrival of some more guests. So Molly has to raise her voice slightly as she continues to sing the praises of Atmos, which is basically like listening to music in surround sound: “It’s just awesome, because their goal is to make the listener feel like they’re in the room with the musicians, which is also so great for us performing it – for people to have that experience while listening to our music. We’re so grateful that they agreed to do it.”

“The Atmos experience,” Lachlan chimes in. “It just sounds cool. It kind of, like, swirled as well.” 

“In the film, we were talking about the guitar solo in Fool Me,” Molly reminds. “I’d never heard the guitar pop out so much!”

“You get to control where all the stems, and all the different instruments, live in the space,” Grant elaborates. “So it’s kind of like you’re the painter, and you’re like, ‘You know what? I want the cymbal to ride from the far corner to the back corner – all in the one breath. And you can be as subtle as you want or you can go balls to the wall and be completely bonkers.” The Buckleys chuckle as Grant struggles to contain his enthusiasm: “So we were obviously in the main room, and all the marks were placed everywhere, and, even though we were recording a stripped-down version of the song, all those channels were piping under the street across the way to the Atmos mixing room and there was someone in there mixing live. It was cool.”

Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, remastered the Beatles compilation, 1, for spatial audio on Apple Music earlier this year. Molly points out the latest AirPods already have a spatial audio setting. Then Grant enlightens, “The car is a perfect space for this, because a lot of people listen to music in the car and it’s already an enclosed space that suits the spatial audio technology.” He then remembers a “cool” detail from The Buckleys’ East Iris Studio sessions in Nashville, asking The Buckleys: “Were you the second band to record a wide Atmos track?”

“Yeah, totally!” Sarah confirms. “It was very new. It was a whole new experience for everyone; just experimenting with sound, really.”

“It’s definitely a technology where you ideally want the artist to collaborate and be involved in the process, you know?” Grant stresses. “You want their input, because it’s obviously their art and you want them to have a say in how it’s presented.”

Getting permission to record at Third Man’s record booth from Jack White 

A refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine, Third Man’s record booth records up to two minutes of audio and then dispenses a one-of-a-kind, six-inch phonograph disc to the user. And, man, it sure looks tiny! “Yeah, it did not fit Lachlan,” Sarah admits, which makes them all laugh heartily.

The above scene is wonderfully captured in The Buckleys doco: Sarah and Molly squished into Third Man’s record booth in Nashville, delightedly laying down a couple of tracks – Fool Me and Love Me Wrong – from their new EP. Lachlan confirms, “The six-foot-six guitarist couldn’t fit, so I had to play outside of the booth.”

Although Grant has previously worked with Third Man “on a couple of occasions” – including an Apple Music campaign with Zane Lowe – it was actually Chris Jenkins from Universal Music who became “obsessed” with the idea of The Buckleys recording in this booth, the director tells: “He was like, ‘We gotta go, we gotta go, we gotta go, and just get the girls in the booth and lay down a song.’

“Then, funnily enough, me, Sam [Evans, Petrol Records], Chris from Universal and [his wife] Jeanne were all at Bob Dylan the night before at the Ryman [Auditorium],” he continues (show-off!). “Sam and I had separate seats from Chris and Jeanne, but, of course, Chris and Jeanne sat next to Jack White! And during the show, Chris said, ‘Hey, is it cool if we just pop over there tomorrow and record?’ And Jack was, of course, very accommodating… I mean, obviously Jack is very much a pioneer and supporter of independent music and independent artists. And vinyl.”

“So he got the green light from the man himself!” Molly extols. 

Then Grant considers, “What I actually really liked about it – and I kind of tried to put this into the film – was going from this very mono, analogue medium and then taking us into the Atmos, you know? To really show it off and see that rush in the transition.”

For the documentary, Grant also filmed The Buckleys’ gig at The Basement and observes, “It’s nice to see what the live music scene is like in Nashville. I mean, people say Austin is the music capital of the world; I say Nashville is – very much so.” Much furious nodding from The Buckleys as Grant continues, “It’s a great place for people to showcase at all these amazing venues and they’re not all honky-tonks. So I thought it was important to just capture that atmosphere, plus The Basement definitely has a real vibe to it, it’s kinda small, intimate, low ceilings…”

“A lot of artists go in there and do little spontaneous performances,” Sarah offers before Lachlan provides a couple of examples: “The Black Keys, Jack White…” Sarah enthuses, “Yeah, yeah totally! All the time.”

The Buckleys’ style

They always look a million bucks while also staying true to their own unique, individual senses of personal style. So do they style themselves? Molly styled The Buckleys’ looks when they recently attended the Country Music Association Awards ceremony in, you guessed it, Nashville. But for their Take It As It Comes doco, Molly divulges, “We teamed up with Sydney Young, who’s a stylist in the States, and she pulled some really cool vintage pieces for us. There’s such an amazing vintage scene – in Nashville, especially.”

“Yeah, totally,” Sarah seconds, “‘cause we also went shopping to a bunch of the vintage stores a few days before we recorded – just to see what we could find; it’s like a treasure hunt, there’s so much there, like, really funky, cool vintage pieces – in East Nashville, especially.”

Sarah’s incredible silver, glittery knee-high boots, which feature in the documentary, were also worn to last night’s premiere. “Those were not vintage, but…” she confesses with a chuckle. When told these spectacular boots remind this scribe not only of ABBA but also Xanadu, Sarah beams, “Ooooooh, Olivia Newton-John! Yeah, love both of those references. I’ll take them!”

Matching mother-daughter tattoo inspo

True story! The Buckleys can confirm that one of their songs, 2020’s Breathe, inspired a mother and daughter to get some matching ink. 

“We released that song during Covid,” Lachlan says of Breathe. “They [the mother and daughter] just told us that it really hit a spot with them, you know? And they just loved it.” 

“They came up to us and just had ‘Breathe’ tattooed there,” Molly points out the mother-daughter’s tattoo site on her own forearm.

“It was amazing, yeah,” Sarah recalls, “very cool.”

“So beautiful!” Molly concurs. “So we’re like, ‘We’ll tattoo anyone who wants a tattoo. Lachlan will do a quick stick-and-poke tattoo sidestage…” They all crack up laughing. 

California dreamin’

At the time of our chat, The Buckleys are preparing to head back over to America in a couple of days time. “It’s mainly a promo tour,” Molly explains. “Lots of songwriting,” Lachlan adds. Sarah enthuses, “We’re doing School Night in LA, which will be really cool. We’ve never played in LA before, either. I did a co-write over there a couple of years ago but, yeah, we’ll spend some time writing and doing promo and that show.”

Grant chimes in, “That’s a fun night; I’ve been to that a bunch. It’s a curated night. They put on, like, five or six bands.”

School Night is a reputable “New Music Discovery Showcase”, which takes place on Monday nights in Hollywood. The Buckleys are the only Australian band showcasing alongside three American and two Canadian acts on their designated School Night (14 November) and certainly value opportunities such as these. “I think Ocean Alley played there when they were in LA,” Molly ponders before Sarah adds, “I think Kassi Ashton, a Nashville artist, just did it last week.” 

Sarah then reminisces about their recording trip in Nashville earlier this year, “It was good to connect with other musicians and artists, and just jam and have a good time.” They hope LA will open up even more opportunities for songwriting, collaborating and showcasing. 

The Clunes Café brekky roll

Clunes (population: 450): Gaelic word for ‘pleasant place’.

“The brekky roll at Clunes Café is…” Molly completes her sentence with an enthusiastic chef’s kiss. Grant gushes, “It’s my favourite place on earth now!”

Grant has been staying with The Buckleys at their Clunes abode and Sarah explains, “We’ve been treating Grant to all of the local spots and we’re like, ‘The brekky roll at the Clunes Café. Every day’.”

“Something happened at the café, the morning of the release,” Molly wonders aloud, “and it was so coincidental. We told Sam and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s Chris [Murphy] – 100%’… Even when we were releasing the EP, there were little things. I dunno, whenever we’d be together certain things in the universe would just happen – like, very coincidental things. And it sounds kind of, ‘Oh, hippy-dippy,’ but it’s very true, and we could all feel it when we were all together. And when we were releasing the EP, Sarah was constantly seeing angel numbers.”

“Oh, my god!” Sarah interjects excitedly. “I mean I’m not super into this stuff, but I literally, every day, saw 11-11. And one day I was texting Sam about something and I sent her some important message – I was saying yes or no to something, it might have been about the EP release date – and then I’m like, ‘Oh, my god! [The time is] 11:11!’” she laughs in disbelief. “And I don’t even know what it means exactly, ‘cause I didn’t look it up. I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna keep it as a sign from Chris; I’m not gonna Google it,’ or whatever.”

In lieu of flowers at their late mentor Chris Murphy’s funeral, his family requested that seedlings/trees be gifted to contribute to a memorial rainforest at Sugar Beach Ranch. 

After The Buckleys’ poolside set, small groups of family and friends are transported by tractor to check in on the progress of CM Murphy Memorial Forest: a beautiful living, breathing legacy, which honours the man who christened this beachside haven “nature’s paradise”. 

The Buckleys’ latest single Take It As It Comes just went Top 10 on the Country Hot 50. Another EP track Love Me Wrong is currently #1 on Australian Country Radio.