11 Questions: Lee Huffman
interview by Brent Cole
Lee Huffman, one of the three owners of the Wild Buffalo, has a lot going on. Truly hard working and inspiring, Lee is juggling a regular job, three businesses, property, and more. He is someone who is always on the go, always pushing and, quite often, doing something very cool that has an impact on the Bellingham music scene.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lee Huffman.
Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is J Leland Huffman but everyone knows me as Lee Huffman. I work remotely as an engineer for GitHub out of San Francisco – building out their data centers and the computers that live in them, have a couple properties that I’m pretty consistently hitting with a hammer in hopes of bettering them, and am one of the three owners at the Wild Buffalo House of Music.
I spent a chunk of time in Bellingham previously and am currently living out my second run. I dropped out of high school my sophomore year and essentially jumped right into working full time and living on my own, so when my good friends from back home were up here heading into their senior year at WWU, I decided I wanted to experience some of the “college” life while I could and nabbed one of the rooms in their house. That kept me here just shy of 2 years. I’ve since returned after some time in a couple other cities and am sitting around the 4.5 year mark on round 2. I’m pretty certain I’m here for good at this point.
I was born in Seattle, WA and raised up north in the Shoreline/Lake Forest Park area. I have three other siblings – my older brother Kirk, younger sister Lizzie, and younger brother James – and two parents who were brave enough to raise us all (and aren’t really on talking terms as a result.) My mom studied opera in college (she has this ridiculous voice but I haven’t heard it in years) and played a bit of guitar. My dad was just really into records and always had something playing. Lizzie dropped a couple of singer-songwriter projects over the years, one of which she did with Kirk and his crew writing, producing, and playing backing band on it; it’s a pretty dope album and I still put it on from time to time. Kirk has always been a musician (Gatsbys American Dream, Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground, Wild Orchid Children, Real Don Music) and was a big part of me getting involved in live and local music at a young age.
Do you remember the first time you connected with music as a child? What was the music and how did it affect you?
As I mentioned previously there was always music in our home, so it’s hard to pick apart all those years, but I think I can pinpoint when I experienced a true personal “connection” to music.
My mother worked retail for a number of years while my dad was finishing his masters and starting his career; she was a regional manager and had hit some kind of goal at the company for the quarter or year or something. She got this big JBL stereo as the reward and we set it up in our living room. It included a CD player (this was right around the time everything was being reissued on compact disc and record sales were through the roof) and my dad was going ape shit at Tower Records (RIP) every weekend.
I remember he purchased Michael Jackson’s Bad and we listened to it constantly. I think that was the first album that I knew front-to-back and was the first time I can remember consuming music and really engaging with it. Shout out Quincy Jones one time!
Where did the initial idea of Milk + Honey come from? How do you feel the collective has impacted the local electronic scene?
Milk + Honey was born out of a couple components. One was me coming onboard at the Wild Buffalo and having the ability to work directly with Craig Jewell, my business partner and lead talent buyer at the venue, and having dates in a room to fill. The second was my love for producers and my desire to book the ones I was fucking with in Bellingham. The sounds I was digging into at the time had little to no history in Bellingham, which drove me to thinking pretty heavily on how I could go about throwing these shows without burning through money, and I came to the conclusion that a strong brand would be the way to go.
My brother Kirk actually came up with the name a number of years ago – he just shot me a text one day along the lines of “Milk & Honey would be a dope promoter entity name” – and I always had it in the back of my mind. It just so happened that the biblical reference fit well with what I was attempting to kick off here in Bellingham. I sent Bradley Lockhart the name and a loose description of what I was envisioning and he came back a few days later with what you see today – I didn’t have him change a single pixel.
Our first “official” national touring act booking was Sango of Soulection. I had heard he was back in Seattle after finishing up his degree and, since he was just beginning what turned out to be a pretty rapid ascent and was a quick hour and a half drive away, we were able to do that show for a $6 ticket. We sold out a few hours after doors opened that night and the rest has just kind of progressed from there.
There were a number of people throwing and booking electronic shows up here before us – Austin Santiago, Trevor Weidenbacher, Craig Jewell, and I’m sure more I don’t even know – so I can’t claim it like we kicked this whole thing off. I do think we’ve provided an amazing platform for young, regional, and local talent in our pocket to showcase their work in real venues at well produced events.
As a collective we do a lot of digging and networking to find these artists, build relationships with them, and eventually place them in situations where their work is well received and they see exposure they might not have yet. That’s the nice thing about having a brand that’s targeting a specific sound and scene; you really get to focus in on your niche and drive at your core competencies. It allows us to put together extremely high quality shows.
What country have you always dreamed of visiting but haven’t yet? What attracts you to the area?
Japan. The history, the food, the nightlife, the DJ culture, the fashion – everything I read about and see out of there looks super dope.
Who wins in a wrestling match? Joey or Craig (the other owners of the Buffalo)?
What kind of wrestling match are we talking here? Joey is the clear choice. However, if this is some backyard-esque, nothing-is-off-limits type of situation, I think Craig could get creative and surprise everyone.
Of all the shows you’ve booked at the Buffalo, which has been your favorite?
As of this moment in time it’d have to be KITTENS of Fool’s Gold/Athletixx. We had an amazing all-female bill coupled with great attendance.
What are your top five all time favorite records? Tell us a little about each.
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall. No explanation needed.
Saves The Day – Stay What You Are. This record is responsible for pushing a number of my best friends to start exploring and taking music seriously. One of those friends had a good national run in a Seattle band, toured the entire world, and now makes a living producing and engineering records out of a studio he owns and operates.
The Blood Brothers – …Burn, Piano Island, Burn. I was a huge Blood Brothers fan but this record put my fandom over the top. If I recall correctly, the homie Sol’s older brother did the album art and the cursive on it was written by my brother Kirk.
Dr. Dre – 2001. This album still gets played out in the club consistently and people still lose their minds every time. Every track is ridiculous. We’re never getting Detox (the theory is he won’t release it because he can’t top this) so 2001 it is.
Clipse – Lord Willin’. This was the height of The Neptunes reign over the charts for damn near an entire decade. Clipse is one of the best rap duos to ever do it. Who can argue with a combination like that?
Tell us something about yourself that even some of your closest friends might not know.
I know this is supposed to be the fun one but I don’t know what to put down. I’m pretty open about myself and my story. Here’s some quick fun ones even though it doesn’t really fit: I grew up in the LDS church, I dropped out of high school sophomore year, and I worked asphalt, flooring, and sheet metal out the gate – a lot of people assume I immediately landed in the tech world and everything was cherry from the jump.
Why, in your estimation, has the Lake Forest Park area been the home town to so many musical badasses (HAHAHAHA)?
The arts programs in the area are really solid. It’s predominantly upper middle class so kids have access to instruments, teachers, and programs. Big shout out to Steve Smith and the Seattle Drum School. If you want to have your mind blown go dig into the history of that place and the musicians that have come out of it. It’s absolutely insane. (Editor’s note: Lee and I grew up a couple miles from each other, though I was gone by the time he had moved to the area).
Where do you see yourself in 10 years, as you turn 40?
On my back deck overlooking Lake Whatcom, drinking my morning coffee, attempting to decide what I want to build or tinker with in the shop that day.
Any last thoughts?
Just want to say thank you to the entire community up here. I spent years jumping city to city trying to find my home and I think I’ve finally landed.