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By Emily Weiss
Karen Freire is back in Minnesota these days, but likely not for very long. At the end of last summer, Buffalo Moon's singer and chief songwriter moved in with her aunt in New York City to clear her head.
"It could've been anywhere else; it didn't matter," she says. "I was in this really long relationship that had ended — it was like six and a half years — so I just needed to go out there and lose my mind and be myself."
A spontaneous upheaval of this sort isn't too unusual for Buffalo Moon, a band that mixes Latin influences into an international indie-rock gumbo. Since their founding a few years ago, the group's appeal has more than a little to do with a haphazard way of life and a style of music that's often as much party as it is performance.
BUFFALO MOON play a release show for Machista with Frankie Teardrop on Saturday, January 11, at Icehouse; 612-276-6523
Self-released this week, Buffalo Moon's third album, Machista, has long been on ice. The tracks were recorded in the winter of 2012, but the band remained eager to get it out into the world. Long a five-piece, the band has slimmed down to three permanent members: Freire on vocals and guitar, Sarah Darnall on bass, and Jonny Wetzler on drums.
"Basically I didn't have the budget [to pay for it]. Literally, I put it on my American Express credit card," says Freire. "I was like, 'This needs to happen, and I don't care how it happens.'"
Machista was the product of another adventure. Not long after the fall 2011 release of their second album, Selva Surreal, the band decided to spend two months in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The city is where Freire was born and lived until she was 13, when her mother remarried and they came to Minnesota. "It was probably not a good decision as far as [Selva] goes because we didn't really do anything with it," Wetzler muses about the trip. "But it was fun."
While in Ecuador, they partied and became mall rats ("The A/C worked better in the mall than in our apartment," Freire explains), but still were productive. Many of the songs that went on to form the new album were written there, including "Luiggi," originally a stab at reggaeton that turned into a love song about a 50-year-old Argentinian scientist. "We met him on a week-long stint to Quito, where he was working in the area and taking extensive trips into the jungle," recalls Wetzler. "He was charming as hell."
Freire took charge of the creative process this time around, and it pays off with the band's most focused recordings. "In the past, we had all these crazy ideas and tried to fit it all in at once," she says. "I definitely had a vision for this album."
The results feature fewer of the abrupt changes and half-baked interludes that have often made Buffalo Moon's albums so scattershot — but also endearingly quirky. There are moments, too, when it sounds much more rock 'n' roll. "I was just beating on shit as hard as I could," Wetzler says with a laugh. "Karen kind of let me cut loose."
As in the past, Freire mixes equal parts English and Spanish in the lyrics of Machista, with the latter often proving enticing, even if you don't know the language. "I actually have a hard time writing in English. Not that it's hard, but it's harder," Freire admits. "I feel like I express myself better in Spanish." In fact, that's one of the things that she's come to love about her time in New York: "When I was [in Minnesota] I'd always been like, 'I should try and write in English more.' I think that in New York, it feels right to do that there because I know a lot more Spanish people; sometimes I feel like I'm in Ecuador or something."
Machista, named as a playful dig at hyper-masculinity, sees Freire delve into love and romance — themes she says she's explored even further in her writings while she's been out East. Yet she admits that those newer songs perhaps don't fit with Buffalo Moon very well, which brings things around to the topic of what comes next. For his part, Wetzler remains philosophical.
"After we released Selva Surreal, we moved to Ecuador for two months," he says with a shrug. "After we release this, Karen's going to be gone 'til whenever. So it's kind of what we do: We release an album and then we move away. Like I said, we're not good at business."