The first time we met up with Detroit up-and-comers Nina & the Buffalo Riders was at a small daylong festival in Clarkston. Their thick blues riffs broke the stagnant barn air, making way for those unmistakably soulful power-pipes of lead singer Nina Ledesma. Fascination with the band's smooth classic rock prowess set in, but it wasn't until later that night that Nina and her acoustic guitar enraptured us as we sat around the campfire, beer in hand.
Since that summer night, the band has played a show nearly every weekend at local music houses like PJ's Lager House and Ann Arbor's Blind Pig. In light of their upcoming EP, we traveled over to southwest Detroit's culture-soaked Delray neighborhood to talk with Ledesma (vocals), Adam "A.J." Jezewski (drums), Adam Enriquez (guitar), Ramiro Romero (bass), Ryan Meadows (guitars and things), and Mike Fritz (keys). After burritos from the local taco truck, we gathered on the front porch, with an overly trusting stray cat we dubbed Cheddar, to discuss Detroit music and sticking to the roots.
Metro Times: Where did Buffalo Riders come from?
Ryan Meadows: It came from a really absurd movie from the '70s called Buffalo Rider. It's about a guy literally riding around on a buffalo and he's saving babies and fighting cougars. It's absurd. Adam and I — for years, because we couldn't find the rest of the band — were just the Buffalo Riders because it was funny.
MT: How'd you guys come together to form this current group?
Nina Ledesma: I was playing an acoustic show at this bar in Dearborn. It was just a hole in the wall. Adam kept coming up asking me to jam. And then one week he brought Ryan. I wasn't expecting anything, really. I was blown away. And then, I've known Mike — me and Mike used to be in a band in high school. And Adam's dad just found Ramiro somewhere.
Ramiro Romero: I was a stray.
Ledesma: Yeah, he was. He was found in a garbage can somewhere.
MT: So do you all write collectively?
Romero: Someone will bring in an idea, and we all chameleon to whatever it is.
Mike Fritz: And just magically, the song gets written – within a couple minutes. And that's the greatest joy of being in this kind of band. It doesn't take three weeks to write a song.
Adam Jezewski: Well, that's the thing, too, is that it's not one person's vision. We're all collectively putting in input, which is nice. It gives us a lot more of a thick, full sound, I feel like, as opposed to just one person coming in with a full arrangement.
MT: Sometimes you guys play acoustic sets in the audience. How does that interaction differ from being onstage?
Jezewski: We like that. I mean, ideally, if we could set up on the floor around everybody we would every time.
Ledesma: Yeah, definitely. I feel like we should get a box, a percussion, and just hand it out to audience members. What better people to have play music with you than the people that really enjoy what you're doing?
Jezewski: Well, we have a lot of fun, too, which we feel like is infectious.
MT: Yeah, the first time we saw you play, Ramiro was in his underwear.
Ledesma: Yeah! [everyone laughs]
Meadows: And that's the beauty of it. He's like a caricature. He's perfect. He could not play a single note on the bass and still be fun to watch. That's a performance!
MT: At the PJ's show, Nina, you said you wrote one of the songs when you were 14.
Ledesma: Yeah, "City." I've been singing forever. My dad pushed me to go to open-mics and stuff. It would be a Monday night and we're going to Simon's in Allen Park, and I'm there 'til 2 in the morning and I'd have to get up at 7 to go to school. I have books and books of lyrics.
MT: Do you feel your songwriting has evolved over the years?
Ledesma: I would say so, definitely. I feel like the songs I wrote when I was younger were simpler and to the point. Now, I like to write in metaphors. Music, for me, has been a consistent thing in my life — before people, even. I feel like when listening to music, you really need the lyrics. You need them.
Meadows: I don't even know if we can keep up with Nina. You know what I mean? That's why it's Nina & the Buffalo Riders. You know, you go around the table and everyone is so fuckin' good and it's really inspiring, and it really makes you bring your fucking game every time you show up. And if you can't bring your game musically, then you better fuckin' move. You better swing your hair or drop some sweat because you have to bring something to the fucking table or else you're not going to make it.
MT: So the new album is coming up?
Meadows: It's a concept thing. I don't know if anyone has ever done it. But we wanted to do five songs — four or five EP's of five songs each every six months — and just continuously release music.
Jezewski: It keeps us in the studio, too, and keeps us from getting stale. Practice, play shows, get in the studio, work.
MT: Most memorable moment playing in Detroit so far?
Romero: Lager House for me.
Meadows: Lager House but, I gotta say Flint. It was A.J., actually. You'll see this, and I hear this over and over from people that watch us play. Their favorite thing is that A.J. stands up when he plays drums.
Jezewski: Well, because I gotta fuckin' sit. It gets boring.
Meadows: Mid-show, he'll just stand up and play for a second. Sit down, stand up. And he's done it for years. We played in Flint, and we were playing a newer song. We're going and we're all just kind of in that moment. I look over at the end of the song, and A.J. fuckin' throws his drumsticks, stands up, knocks his stool over and walks out. Leaves the fuckin' building. We're still playing. And I thought that maybe I played so bad that A.J. quit the band. Like, he's had it, he's done. Then he comes back, and he kisses me on the forehead and, like, pats me, then sits back down at the drums and does the finish. That was really nice. It was a nice little connection between me and one of my best friends for a decade.
Romero: My favorite thing about playing with these guys is the overall energy, and my absolute favorite thing is Nina when she starts getting crazy and starts dancing.
Ledesma: I loved the Lager House show because I feel like we were at our most natural.
Meadows: It was the closest to how we are in practice. — mt
Nina and the boys are heading back to the Lager House to headline PJ's 100-Year Anniversary Show. They'll be playing alongside Red Sneakers, from Japan, Montreal's Hydrothermal Vents, and the Witches. Music starts at 9 p.m. Oct. 11, at PJ's Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668.