The World Beyond

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An interview with Bueno

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by alex wexelman

“Thanks for being my ersatz therapist for the last hour,” Bueno’s Luke Chiaruttini says to me at the end of our interview. I laugh. He tells me I can add that to the story. I do. His joke serves to clear the air between two relative strangers. Prior to the exchange, Luke was struggling with how to respond to my questions about ‘Hizznherz‘, a song that appears on Bueno’s new record, Illuminate Your Room, with lyrics that challenge the gender binary in a more straightforward way than maybe Luke is comfortable articulating.

“That one was really hard for me to, first of all, record and sing, but then also fight myself to put that on the record. The other songs are autobiographical, but this one in particular was a lot more direct about my feelings on the subject and I did have to fight myself and it actually pushed me to talk a lot about that more in my personal life,” Chiaruttini obscurely observes. Emotional honesty is something Luke stresses as being at the heart of any good songwriting. On ‘Hizznherz’ he sings, “I can’t fucking stand it, you know, living like this / there’s a world beyond what we see,” hinting at the spectrum of genders with a swagger reminiscent of one of Luke’s heroes, Prince. The song itself is a hybrid of disco and post-punk with a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar line and gritty Gang of Four styled rhythm section.

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When I ask Luke directly about his feelings on gender, I feel a bit like I’m simultaneously pushing his buttons, but also that he wants me to. That gender, as he mentions to me numerous times, is a topic he hasn’t talked much about outside of a group of a few close friends, but it’s something he feels is important to share. “I feel like [gender]’s probably not going to be a thing in a couple of years—or maybe that’s just the circles that I run with,” Chiaruttini says. “It is a spectrum and I think that most people wouldn’t fall on one extreme or the other and I would count myself in that.” This last detail is the most candor Luke shows throughout the interview, but sensing his trepidation, I steer the conversation back to the reason for this call in the first place: the music.

Bueno is a Staten Island five-piece composed of Mikey Gagliardi (guitar and sax), Joe Imburgio (bass), AJ Pantaleo (drums) and Mike DiBenedetto (guitar). Luke is the lead singer. He wrote half of the songs on Illuminate Your Room, though he quickly dismisses the assertion that that fact somehow makes him the band-leader. “I bring songs to the band that are pretty basic, and half the songs [I wrote] on the record are like that, and they embellish them. And then the other half are songs we come up with in the studio or songs we improve live,” he clarifies.

Luke’s languorous singing style garners him comparisons to Lou Reed and Stephen Malkmus of Pavement. Luke kindly rejects this notion. “I think we’re pretty weird and different from Pavement,” he says. “If you’re just hearing the singles maybe it would be easy to jump to the conclusion we sound a lot like Pavement, but the record is pretty musically diverse.”

Before you start furiously firing Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain flac files into Luke’s inbox know that he is indeed a big Pavement fan, but he’s right, the comparison doesn’t quite fit. Illuminate Your Room takes place over the course of a 24-hour period and, as a result, the songs vary in tone. Luke credits Blowout, the 2013 album by Brooklyn punk rockers The So So Glos as a source of inspiration for sonic exploration. “It showed us that you could make a record that’s kind of all over the place but if it comes from a place of love, and if it’s an honest record, it’ll still make sense,” he says.

Bueno’s album is bookended by two tracks: ‘Rosebank 5:00AM (Intro)’ and ‘Illuminate Your Room (Rosebank 4:59AM)’. Each evokes an early morning feeling. The former is a jazzy piano instrumental composed by Mikey; the latter has a very Bruce Springsteen ‘Meeting Across the River’ vibe, with its lonely saxophone line, and features yearning lyrics that point more toward ‘Thunder Road’ territory. In between, the remaining ten tracks offer raucous rock sing-alongs and mid-tempo musings that, yeah, sort of sound like post-punk Pavement.

Rosebank is a neighborhood in Staten Island and 5:00 AM is a wee small hour of the morning. Luke has an on-again-off-again sleeping disorder that, coupled with his job at Brooklyn DIY venue Shea Stadium, sees him keeping odd hours. “Illuminate Your Room, the title track, is about doing what I’m doing right now actually; seeing people in their intimate space, in their homes, their TVs on at 2:30 in the morning. They hate being alone so much they have the TV on. They need that safety net and that’s not coming from a judgmental place. I think we’re all like that. We all have those safety nets, they just appear in different ways,” Chiaruttini says.

Apart from an insomnia-inducing schedule, Shea Stadium has offered Luke the chance to observe first-hand more than a thousand bands perform since he began working there in 2010. Watching, he notices what works and what doesn’t. “With a good band you’ll know more about them after they get off stage than you did when they got on. You get a better sense of who they are as people. I think that’s a successful performance and a successful band,” Luke says.

Anyone going to see Bueno perform will most likely hear Luke utter the lines, “Man, can I be solely ashamed of the things I accepted that I cannot change?” and they’ll get a better sense of his struggle. But it seems unlikely that Luke’s mom hangs as Shea. She will, however, be reading this article he tells me, and that makes him nervous.

Toward the end of our interview, Luke can’t even remember what he said about gender because he had just risen from a nap and his brain was fuzzy. I ask him again about his thoughts on the matter. “I feel like for a long time there we so many things that I treated about myself like they were a bad habit, like I was going to grow out of them, like these parts of my personality and myself were these things to be ridiculed for a long time,” he says. “There were only two options and that was either I was being a man or being a boy and because I wasn’t being one I must be the other. But then eventually you figure out there’s a third option which is you’re just an adult in the world and you deserve to be treated with respect for whoever you are.”

When I ask about what specific things triggered these feelings Luke freezes up. Another wave of regret comes on so I offer to email an early draft of the story to him. It’s important to me to tell Luke’s story, but it’s more important to me that he feels ready to tell it. A few days later, I get an email back. Here are Luke’s thoughts:

“What I was attempting to say was that those bad habits were my aversion to a lot of masculine ideas / behaviors. I know that I don’t want to be that and have mentally rejected it for most of my life but I also feel like I’ve been misunderstood or treated with hostility because of what people have expected from me or how they expected me to act. And it usually took the form of offhand comments or whatever but those things get internalized. So it’s very freeing to say fuck it, I don’t care anymore what I’m supposed to be like or act like when this is natural for me.

It’s funny, because there are so many great bands right now addressing things like this but the catalyst for me ending up being Prince. That’s just what made the most sense.

So when I spoke about not feeling as though I’m a man in my brain for a long time that meant that I just needed to “grow up” and one day I’d embody those things other people wanted from me. I’m just trying to be myself, whatever that means. Most people would probably agree that’s never as simple as it sounds.

It’s also probably worth mentioning that I didn’t go into this record thinking about any of this stuff. Even with Hizznherz, it took a while to unravel it and figure out exactly what I was trying to say long after the words were written, sung & recorded. That’s the hesitance really, because it’s still being sorted out. There isn’t really a grand arching theme of the record and there aren’t any answers for these problems that it brings up. Singing about it helps more than talking about it, and more than not saying anything at all.

Believe it or not I also tried very hard not to “complain” on this album as much as I did on Guilt! You can see how that worked out lol. It all seems very self-centered but I can only speak for my own experience. When I listen to the record I hear myself, hopefully the record will reflect the people who listen to it the same way.”

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Illuminate Your Room‘ is out now on Babe City Records / Exploding In Sound

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Live shows:

09/08 – Jersey City, NJ @ Monty Hall w/ Titus Andronicus

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photo credit: danny lane

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