It is one of summer’s last Saturday nights. An early evening thunderstorm has passed and now the late evening breeze whispers its gratitude through the gentle rustling of the leaves on the trees. For most, it’s been a dry summer.
Though inside the cozy home of vocalist James Lucchessi, the four boys of Spreads like Buddha, the newest, cutest band in Norwalk, Conn., each sit in a different corner of the room and reflect on the fruitful summer that birthed them.
It all began three and a half months ago, when 19-year-old Will Szwec, a protégé of today’s omnipresent YouTube guitar tutorial training videos, decided to start a band. He convinced his buddy James Lucchessi to sing and play bass, made a few phone calls to find a drummer and a rhythm guitar player, and soon enough, Spreads like Buddha had arrived.
Here’s how they make their music: Szwec (pronounced “SHWECK”), composes original electric guitar pieces with enough bravado to inspire a full-length track. Then, his bandmates – a bartender, barista, newspaper delivery boy, and a liquor store clerk – gather in the name of funk to listen to and obey the powerful voice of Szwec’s instrument. They listen to its cries, and take heed, as it demands layers of drums, rhythm guitar, and vocals to complete its message.
“The songs unselfishly start with me,” says Szwec, sitting cross-legged on a tan suede couch with a goblet of Chardonnay resting in his palm, while distantly a tenor saxophone gently sings through a pair of speakers, filling the dimly lit living room.
He looks up at his friends. “This is classy as shit,” he says.
In one corner sits dreadlocked drummer Jon Browne, an Afro-beat enthusiast donning a black Bob Marley graphic tee. To his right is guitarist and producer Chris Santaniello. He wears glasses, sits with his right leg crossed over his left, and speaks with authority. Next to him is Lucchessi, an ethnically ambiguous high-school dropout. He speaks in a low, raspy tone, his fingers playing with his dreads, and only buttons his shirt once in the middle, revealing a black and white matrix tattoo spread across his chest. And across from Lucchessi is Szwec, in a white T-shirt and socks and green basketball shorts. He sports an earring as bright as his smile as he begins to reminisce.
“Well, James and I have jammed together for a while, but the idea of a band came up a few months ago,” he says. “I wanted to convert from playing the drums to guitar – I suck at explaining things and I get nervous when other people are playing a part I wrote. So, I said to myself, ‘I gotta be a guitarist.’
“Right now, personally, I feel like I don’t even know how to play the guitar,” Szwec adds, holding his instrument in his lap. He lets his fingers slide across the neck. “To be able to look at this and to know every possible thing you can do…” he drifts off. “I need to learn theory. That’s what always gets me – the best guitarists have all been taught.”
“Well, what is ‘best’?” Santaniello says, challenging Szwec. “It’s all taste. I tried to take lessons at Norwalk Music in the fifth grade but my guitar teacher told me I’d never be able to play the guitar. I broke my wrist, which fucked up my hand and left a lot of nerve damage.”
Santaniello forms a circle around his left wrist with his right thumb and middle finger.
“So I just started teaching myself,” he continues. “I can’t play certain things, but I can play things that other people can’t play. Will’s solo at the end of ‘The Happy Won’? – I couldn’t do that. But the lead part, I can do. We look at our guitars differently.”
“He’s right,” says Szwec. “Chris and I will sit here and argue about which guitarist we like better in a band. But it works. We’re not both overloading our guitars with the same influences. We’re like two different instruments in the band.”
Santaniello adds, “I think that’s the best thing about this band; we all have completely different musical tastes.”
He pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “But collectively, we all like The Strokes?” he asks his bandmates. They nod in agreement.
Santaniello named the band; inspired by both the “Saturday Night Live” “Coffee Talk” skit in which Mike Myers repeatedly exclaims, “spreads like buttah,” and by a kid he once knew that referred to “Buddhists” as “Buhh-dists.”
“I always wanted to use it for a band name, but it took weeks for me to push it on them,” says Santaniello.
“It had to settle,” interjects Szwec. “But then it was like, okay, the first album can be ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butta,’ and the second album can be ‘Margarine’,” he says with a laugh.
Because “Spreads like Buddha” collectively respects Szwec’s newly tapped wellspring of talent as the core of their identity, the band’s name and all other creative attributes have to earn Szwec’s approval. Yet, each member also acknowledges the opposite undeniable truth – that the collaboration of ideas in every stage of composition is vital to the band’s existence. It is here, riding this string of constant tension between individuality and community, where “Spreads like Buddha” thrives.
“I’ll start by coming up with a riff, bring it to them, and Jon will add rhythm to it. You feel the vibe of the riff, and if the lyrics don’t match the riff, we can all tell,” says Szwec. He takes a sip of wine. “But when it works, we all say – yeah, that works. It’s a slow collaboration.”
“It just seems to materialize,” says Brown.
“I never want to play what he’s playing,” says Santaniello, pointing to Szwec. “You find your place within the gaps, and leave enough space for other people to play, or for James to sing.” He wipes his forehead. “Guys, it is so hot in here.”
The bandmates concur. As Lucchessi stands from his chair to turn on the air conditioner, his foot knocks over his bottle of Dogfish Head Namaste. Light brown foam spills across the dark brown taxidermy carpet, ending at the back of the screaming bear’s head. He and his friends chuckle at his clumsiness. He walks around the spill, points a remote towards the AC, turns and walks to the kitchen, brings back a towel and places it on top of the beer. He takes his seat once more and looks up.
“The lyrics depend on the vibe of the song,” he says. “The goal is to make the song the song.”
“Because that’s what feels most comfortable,” adds Szwec, “when the song is the song.”
“The Happy Won”, their only released material, purely illustrates the band’s unique method of songwriting in which the lyrics come last – it is a feel good, easy listening track that emits an emotion rather than reciting a specific story. Amid the solid bass, the rich rhythm guitar, the quick, subtle percussion, and the dirty, velvety vocals, Szwec’s guitar soars in the background, singing an ode to happiness and the overwhelming, winning feeling it brings.
“We referred to it as ‘the happy one’,” explains Szwec. “We wanted to set a triumphant tone.” He smiles. “We’ve got something good here, we have chemistry – I wanna see how far we can get with this.”
“The dream is to get a living wage from making music,” says Lucchessi.
“I just don’t really want to do anything else,” admits Szwec. “There’s gonna come a point where I’ll go back to school, but until then, I want to milk this as long as it’s worth. We all get together, and we’ll speak nothing, but we get each other. It’s not just a band at this point…”
“It’s a life!” answers Santaniello. They all laugh.
The wine drains, as does the collective conversation. Szwec shakes his head at Lucchessi’s bright red burned palm, a cooking battle scar. Santaniello and Brown reflect on the earlier hailstorm. They wonder aloud if the rain has ceased, prompting Lucchessi’s suggestion to go out for a cigarette.
In the next few months, “Spreads like Buddha” hopes to hire a bassist (right now, Santiniello separately records the bass parts), drop an EP, and book a live show. They triumphantly anticipate the future and the powerful potential they know they possess. And while Szwec’s guitar parts will always remain an integral voice in composition, the band also remains open minded, continuously inspired by both each individual member and by the band as a whole, because that’s what’s most comfortable – when the band is the band.
Once outside, the boys are loose. They speak in their own language, brainstorming possible song ideas beget by mutual ridiculousness, until the chilly breeze forces them back inside the warm living room.
“So basically, Will’s the main composer and arranger. He brings it to us and we play it; it starts with Will,” says Santaniello, swinging his car key chain around his finger as he speaks. “But, it is changing. We’re all starting to contribute more.”