Q&A: Ari Pluznik

I chatted with local musician Ari Pluznik about ALL of his bands and his thoughts on the importance of Arts in Baltimore.

Talk about your childhood, where you’re from, etc

I grew up in Columbia and Ellicott City, some classic suburbs of Baltimore. I was raised in a Jewish household of a deaf Israeli immigrant father and an American mother. I went to St. Mary’s College of Maryland for undergrad where I studied Biology and Spanish and minored in Music, and then served in Peace Corps Mozambique for two years as an Education Volunteer! I was fortunate to play a lot of music while in Mozambique, including at a big music festival called Zalala Music Festival, and my keystone project involved the recording of “Somos Todos Iguais”, a Mozambican American cross cultural collaboration album dedicated to Mozambican youth! Check it out on Spotify or iTunes.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

It’s tough to pinpoint a specific moment! I was fortunate to grow up exposed to a lot of music through my jazz trained uncle who was a huge musical mentor for me. I remember a specific moment in Central Park where I saw a jazz trio playing outside — I was so drawn to the upright bass and sort of conjured up the dream of me learning, but it felt unrealistic at the time. In the meantime I joined classic middle school rock bands and gained my chops in bass guitar and later normal guitar. It wasn’t until college though that I felt like this was something I really wanted to be doing. I had a range of beautiful experiences involving travel and music as an expression of a sense of place and time. My first year I was fortunate to be a part of Alba Music Festival in Northern Italy, where I met the illustrious Gino Hannah and the Silberschlag family, and we made some truly multi-genre music, from 16th century compositions to bluegrass covers of Modest Mouse. Later, I studied abroad in Spain and had the pleasure to study flamenco guitar. As my school years went on, I had the opportunity to take lessons in upright bass and got closer and closer to that dream I had that day in Central Park, and was consistently getting involved in musical projects and really enjoying it. Somewhere along the line I realized: “This is something that I find important and cathartic— so I want to keep doing it.” Since that moment I’ve had some incredible musical experiences.

If you could perform with any musician living or dead, who would it be and why?

As many musicians can tell you, we’re the direct result of the mixing of our various influences and musical heroes. Either consciously or not, our own music takes form as a manifestation of all the music we’ve heard and taken to throughout our lives. So that being said, it would be a dream for me to play with really any of my musical influences over the years: Paul Simon, Jim Croce, John Coltrane, Esperanza Spaulding, Jaco Pastorious, Elton John, Billy Joel. Rush, Paco de Lucía, Camarón de la Isla, Antonio Jobim, the Beatles, Randy Newman… the list goes on and on. The beauty is that each of these artists speaks to a different part of me, over space and time. It’d be almost an introspective experience to play with them because I’d be instantly connected to that moment in my life when they affected me most. At the same time, I’d hear my own voice among theirs — teacher and student, connected but still unique. 

What is your favorite song to perform and why?

Impossible question! Each song speaks to a unique mood or feeling, even a unique philosophy. I love to perform songs that are  meditative — ones where I enter a flow state and my whole experience is just moment of producing the song. These moments feel very powerful, especially when I’m performing songs I’ve written as a singer-songwriter. When I play upright bass, it’s a little different. The meditative flow state is still there, but it’s also a mode of communication between myself, the other musicians, and the song. Those are the types of connections that keep me playing music.

How did Ari And The Buffalo Kings form?

I play in a lot of projects in town, mostly with my electric upright. I’m in a local math rock band called Tidal Shifts, which I highly recommend everyone to check out on Facebook and Instagram. I also accompany several other local and DMV projects such as Conjunto Bruja and Ken Wheaton and the Silver Springers with my dear uncle. None of those projects however, involve my own compositions and songs, and I’m always writing and wrote extensively while in Peace Corps. So when I came back to Baltimore, I decided I want to try out playing solo. I put myself out there and really enjoyed connecting with audiences. I’m fortunate to be a part of the Strange Family, an artist collective led by local psychedelic prog rock band Strange Attractor (definitely check them out!), of which my good friend Gino Hannah is a part. We got to jamming, and in the meantime I accompanied Danielle Williams along with Jim Hannah a true Baltimore percussion master, on some of her great solo stuff — at Zissimos! We had great chemistry, so I asked them if they would be willing to play along with me on my solo project. Thankfully they agreed, and the illustrious Zen joined us along the way with their beautiful voice and wood flute. It’s basically a love story about the Baltimore music scene.

What is your favorite part of performing live?

I love the feeling of getting into flow states while playing — emotion and communication in the moment through sound. Afterwards, it’s always cool to hear when audience members tuned into and were moved by the band’s collective emotion and vibe. 

In your opinion, why are the Arts essential to City life?

Arts are critical in saying who we are and what we have experienced! They are also pivotal examples of public spaces, where people can get together and have common experiences that build community. As Baltimore artist Minas Konsolas recently told me, “Artists are the glue that keeps this city together.”

Are you excited about your show at Zissimo’s this week?

I am STOKED! We will play my original compositions plus a few by Danielle Williams and a Gino Hannah. Complimentary steel and wood flutes, nylon and steel string guitars, percussions of all sorts — it will be quite the experience. Plus we are fortunate to share the bill with some incredible local artists, including Brooks Long, Leena from Little Lungs, and Revolver. 

Ari and The Buffalo Kings play this Wednesday at Zissimo’s! Tickets are available upon entry.