Musicians, now and again, will speak to the life-affirming qualities of music, but in John Dufilho’s case, it’s less theory than reality.
Two years ago, Dufilho nearly died. A routine check-up at the doctor spiraled into unexpected heart bypass surgery (which had to be repeated, due to some internal bleeding), which left Dufilho, reeling from the impact of the pandemic upon live music, staring down a long road to recovery.
“I knew while I was recovering that it was going to be pretty necessary for my sanity, to be able to be creating,” Dufilho said during a recent conversation. “I’m not really good at sitting still.”
Even if he hadn’t said as much, the prolific Dufilho’s resume would have shown as much. The San Antonio native, who’s called Dallas home for the better part of the last two decades, is a singer-songwriter, engineer and producer who has had a creative hand in a multitude of beloved North Texas acts: The Deathray Davies, CLIFFFS, I Love Math and John Singer Sergeant. That doesn’t include drumming for Denver’s Apples in Stereo, or his multiple collaborations with Ben Kweller or Rhett Miller.
Yet, for all of his considerable musical output, his latest project, a solo record released under yet another musical moniker — John Buffalo — is a departure for Dufilho. Some of that shift stems from the conditions of his recovery: He was unable to lift anything heavier than five pounds, so he pivoted from guitar and drums to a synthesizer and drum machine.
Trading warmth for digital chilliness, Dufilho also lays bare his anxieties: “Woke up with a house on fire/Hallelujah sang the choir,” he intones on the sinister opener “I Got This Now.”
“Here and there, I’d had songs along the way where I kind of just said, ‘Here’s how I feel,’” Dufilho said. “But it’s a surprise to me after 20-plus records that I’ve made that I hadn’t really [been so direct], and maybe it’s because it’s harder to do, to be more personal or more truthful. … It also surprised me how, for lack of a better word, how rewarding it actually is to just kind of say what you’re thinking through a song.”
It’s not all looming shadows — Dufilho finds the absurdity in the frailty of the human body in “Accidents,” which KXT premiered last month — and his album release performance, set for Friday at the Kessler Theater, will doubtless be a joyful affair as well.
“It’s been fun to play the record for people,” Dufilho said. “It’s been fun to play for people because most people — at least when I either send it to them, or play it for them in person, their first reaction is: ‘This is you?! What is that?’ … This is a complete redo. I didn’t expect it. You know, I didn’t ask for it. … But at the very base level, I feel nothing but grateful.”
John Buffalo (John Dufilho) at Kessler Theater, Dallas. 7:45 p.m. Nov. 10. Tickets are $18.
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.