Buster Shuffle’s Jet Baker On The 10th Anniversary of ‘Our Night Out’ And Recapturing Its Demo Charm (INTERVIEW)

What would have been a big tenth anniversary year for the London-based Ska Punk band Buster Shuffle has been mediated by the difficulties of 2020, but the party goes ahead in the form of a fully remixed and remastered edition of the band’s first widely released album, Our Night Out, coming to vinyl for the first time, and replete with two bonus tracks of songs original to the time of writing the album. Our Night Out Special Anniversary Edition Rerelease arrives on December 18th from the band’s own label, Do Nothing Records, in several colored vinyl versions and bundles. 

During a time when most of us are getting so few live performances to enjoy, the band has managed to release several live performance videos of the songs, played and filmed from a favorite venue of theirs, The Herald. Buster Shuffle also negotiated their social isolation by creating a special 7 inch record for charity, with a host of musical friends, called “Unsung Heroes”, which benefitted the World Health Organization. Keeping busy is the name of the game for frontman Jet Baker and the rest of the band but looking back at their first album has proven inspirational them, convincing them to incorporate some of that original “demo” feel into their evolved sound on new songs coming up.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Buster Shuffle has been keeping rather busy during all the lockdowns, not just with the anniversary albums, but with all the videos that have been released, the charity single, and some livestreams. 

Jet Baker: Because we’re such a busy touring band, lockdown scared the life out of us. We needed to stay busy. At first, when we did the charity single, the whole world was in shock. Both of my sisters worked for the NHS and were going out every day and dealing with the frontline, while we were just sitting at home. It’s all we could do. It made me think there had to be something else we could do, so we did a charity single. That turned out great and a lot of cool people got involved. Now we’re still in the “staying busy” mindset of lockdown. 

HMS: I can definitely relate to that need to stay busy. That’s “Unsung Heroes” we’ve been talking about. Did you choose the most difficult way possible to create that? Who compiled and mixed the tracks?

Jet: The thing about that project that made it unique is that not a single person set foot in a room with each other. I didn’t have a Producer with me or anything like that. I had to do something and a few phone calls later, we decided to put something out at home. Everyone in Buster Shuffle has the means to record something at home, so everyone had to record their bits remotely. But then we thought, “Why don’t we get other people in Europe involved? Why don’t we get friends in America?” And before you knew it, we were asking everyone in our contacts book. 

We were pretty persuasive. If people didn’t have recording capabilities on their computers, we got them to sing into the memo feature of their iPhone. And some of those vocal takes sounded brilliant in the mix! Getting them to video themselves, that was interesting. You wouldn’t believe the amount of musicians who can’t hold a phone straight! In the end, we got it, but it was a labor of love.

HMS: You also released this on vinyl and I wanted to ask about that focus. Are you just big vinyl fans?

Jet: I, personally, have a lot of stuff that I like, though I’m not a massive collector. But there’s something about the vinyl that has a tangible quality to it. If we’d released a charity single digitally, I think engagement-wise, you’d probably get a few hundred. Whereas we had hundreds of people buying the vinyl, which ended up with three thousand pounds, which is about four hundred dollars, to the World Health Organization. A lot of people didn’t just pay the ten pounds but gave extra. It felt like we’d done something and we were happy with it. But that did make us think, “Right, for our tenth anniversary, let’s do vinyl!”

HMS: I want to ask you about the location where you recorded a lot of your live videos from recently, The Herald Pub. What’s the band’s connection to this venue?

Jet: It’s a pub in a town on the outskirts of London. Like most people in big cities, we’ve moved around different parts of it. But this is a pub in a town called Harlow. The landlord there is great. He’s a massive supporter of live music and he always has bands in and puts on shows. He kindly opened up the pub for the day. We were in a summer period where we were in lockdown, and then we came out of lockdown but it was still very measured. We were only allowed a group of six people in a public space so he opened the pub just for us to spend the day and record videos. We were actually recording for Slacktober as well. But not only did he open the pub just for us, he opened the bar just for us, which made the day even better. We started out with coffee at 10am in the morning, but by one minute past 12, we were all drinking Guinness.

HMS: That was restrained! Especially after months of staying at home.  You made it to noon!

Jet: We’re very responsible musicians. We will go back there, though it’s locked down again at the moment. Hopefully next year! We could have recorded in a rehearsal room, but those things are so sterile sometimes. We wanted to create a bit of atmosphere for ourselves. 

HMS: It’s nicer to see you in your natural environment, like in a wildlife documentary. Is it your preferred method to record videos and performances ahead of time rather than streaming them purely live?

Jet: We’ve done a few things with just me broadcasting live from home on Instagram and Facebook Live. That was great because we were getting hundreds of messages. But with Slacktober Fest, there were bands all around the world. It was a pre-recorded live broadcast. If we could all get together on one stage we would, but you can’t do that worldwide without some kind of technical meltdown. So Slacktober Fest was prerecorded but you are getting live performances. 

HMS: How did you get the sound set up so clear at The Herald? Did they already have a sound setup there that you could use?

Jet: To be honest, we have all our own equipment, and the guitarist, Sam, is a great engineer in his own right. We just mic-ed everything up and we didn’t use any click tracks. We didn’t over-amplify it and it was well mixed by Sam. There was nothing distorted. We were just off, recording. With one song we started and the camera man asked for us to do it again. The quality of it is down to our good playing and Sam’s great mixing. We each had our own little amp. For me, it was plugged into the piano, with a vocal mix. It was pretty DIY but Sam took a split from everything and that’s what he mixed. It made it sound really vibey and really nice. There were no in-ears and no backing tracks. 

HMS: It was really clean! Now that you know how to do that, you should do it again. 

Jet: I agree. We’ve got some good B-sides now if we ever need them.

HMS: I heard that you’ve been spending time working on some new material for the next album. Is that true?

Jet: We’re basically looking at 2022 for putting out a new record, so we’re in the early staged of demoing and writing. It does take a while since we can’t really get together. A fifth album. 

HMS: Your most recent album, I’ll Take What I Want, has quite a layered sound, and often quite a hard edge to it. Do you think that’s the direction you’ll continue to take with the new album?

Jet: I don’t know, to be honest. It’s heavy-ish in places, but not “Heavy”. We’re mild. We’re like the chamomile tea of the Punk scene. Or maybe more like an Irish coffee that can pep you up. I think it’ll be a cross between our most recent one, I’ll Take What I Want, since we liked that approach, and our very first album. 

HMS: I was totally going to ask you if you were being influenced by going back through your first album for rerelease. Does having it on your mind push you toward those sounds again?

Jet: Yes. Originally, we funded Our Night Out ourselves, recorded it in my bedroom in a shared house in East London, and put it out on our own label. Then it got picked up and rereleased all around Europe by Century Media. Technically, that’s the anniversary we’re celebrating, not the release that we did ourselves. When listening to it and to the remasters, while the feedback we get from people is that they really like how it sounded, to us, it always sounded like a demo. It didn’t sound like a polished Punk Rock record. 

But it transpires that people really like that it sounds like a demo and has this single-track innocence about it. There’s the piano, guitar, and lead vocal. It’s kind of like an old 50’s record, or something Sun Records would have done. We might go back to that approach a little if we can in future, bringing in the lightness of the live demo and the heaviness and punch of the recent one. They are probably the two fan-favorites, sound-wise. That’s all in our psyche right now.

HMS: Were the masters good for use? Did you change anything for the rerelease?

Jet: They were, but we changed the bass a little. The first time around, we had an upright bass, something that we were never happy with, sonically. On some of the songs we replaced that with electric bass. To the listener, they are still the same song, so people won’t be upset. It’s not like, “This is our unplugged version.” But we’ve made it a little more bass-heavy, which is a significant improvement. The masters now sound good, probably more like we wanted them to sound ten years ago.

HMS: I’ve heard that from a number of bands, particularly Punk and Metal bands. Now that they have more resources, when they have a chance to go back before a rerelease, they bring in better tools to do what they would have done then if they could have. Also, they have the ability now to work under better conditions. 

Jet: We know a lot more people now who we can ask to help. We’ve added a little bit of organ in there to bring a bit of vibe, too. I’m glad we’re not the only band who thinks like that! We had actually built a vocal booth out of sleeping bags and we’d gaffer-taped them together. It was shambolic, and I was in there for hours. I don’t think they dampened any noise. Someone would come in and the front door would go, “Bang!” And the guy who was engineering it would shout, “Ahh! That’s just ruined the take!” Nowadays, I think you’d just chop that little bit out, but we were insistent that we’d do only live takes. We had no idea what we were doing, which I think was captured on that record. It may come across as incompetence, but I hope, as charm. But it probably sounds like English guys who haven’t got a fucking clue.

HMS: Were you surprised by anything that you encountered when you listened to the masters again? Though I know you play a lot of these songs live anyway, right?

Jet: Yes, we do play a lot of them. There are at least three or four songs on that album that make every set, even if we’re doing a 25 minute warm-up gig. We’ll still get these key songs in there. That element made it feel like those songs have always been with us. However, the ones that don’t get played a lot were really cool to revisit. You remember the bits of life that inspired you to write it and the incidents that were part of the journey. 

We have a song called “The Thirty Eight”, which was about a bus we used to have to get to a residency at a pub in Islington. Getting the bus there was like a life or death experience. That was really nice to revisit, and the other tracks that we haven’t played live. With vinyl, you get the test pressings, and you have to listen to it in its entirety to make sure there aren’t any jumps or skips or scratches. I had to listen to the album quite a few times, and it was nice to have a glass of wine and listen to it, and think, “Yeah, man, that was alright.” Considering we didn’t know what we were doing!

HMS: What about the two songs that you’re releasing on this new version that were not on the original album? How did you decide to include them?

Jet: Back then, we were gigging loads. We were playing any pub that would let us play. Like we did at the Herald, we’d just set up our little amps. So we had a lot of live songs in our set that didn’t make the cut for the original album release. These two are ones we really enjoyed playing and we gigged a lot back then. We wanted Our Night Out to be super-punchy back then, with just ten songs, all two or two and a half minutes long. These are the two that weren’t as straight-forward so they didn’t get on their last time. We just thought that remixing and remastering are cool, but it would be nice to add a couple of bonus tracks. 

They were written at the same time. We’d all forgotten the songs and had to look at demos and relearn the songs we had written twelve years ago to make new recordings. We managed to get into a studio space quickly, around the time of The Herald, and get the instruments down. More lockdowns were immanent, but we managed to capture the spirit of the songs even if they weren’t recorded in the same manner. 

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