Betwee a rousing mid-afternoon performance on the opening day of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago, last week and an equally fiery set the following night at the Cubby Bear by Wrigley Field, super-producer extraordinaire and (fingers crossed) soon-to-be wildly successful solo artist Butch Walker sat down with Sputnikmusic’s Dave de Sylvia for a chat about music, industry ethics and the his brand new solo record.
Walker received a warm reception from the Lolla crowd on a scorching Friday afternoon, choosing to showcase a selection of brand new tracks to an audience who, by his own admission, “have no idea who I am anyway.” Like 2004’s Letters, the precursor to 2006’s glam rock opus The Rise And Fall of Butch Walker And The Let’s Go Out Tonites, the material set to appear on Walker’s fourth studio outing Sycamore Meadows is light on the raucous rock and heavy on world-weary sentiment, lamenting failed relationships, life in Brooklyn and the destruction of his house and property in the famed Malibu bushfires last November. Yes, the very same fires Axl Rose single-handedly fought with a garden hose.
As Walker has tended to do with his previous records, the majority of Sycamore Meadows has already been performed in front of his dedicated fan base on the road and in his adopted home, Atlanta. There are hints of 1970s folk-rock movement in the new songs- typified by a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ with Canadian chanteuse Marnie Herald, performed at both dates- as well as the more cosmopolitan Saddle Creek indie rock sound, but most of all the songs sound at home in Butch Walker’s increasingly eclectic set. For the Chicago crowds, he chose not to pull out all of his aces, limiting each set to just four or five new songs, and cherry-picked from his extensive solo repetoire to wow the curious onlookers. At Lollapalooza, he opened his set alone, using a loop pedal a la KT Tunstall to assemble a makeshift digital band to rap over. His enforced absence from the live circuit (he cancelled a recent tour in order to re-record the album) meant both the singer’s songs and his vocal chords were equally fresh, and he scarcely missed a note either day.
Butch’s patience was tested on numerous occasions at the Bud Light-sponsored aftershow (the taps were stripped, naturally, and the sizeable crowd was forced to choose between reasonably-priced spirit combos and outrageously overpriced, dirt-coloured water-based beverages in 12-oz. cans) as a group of disinterested blow-ins, whose presence at the event was related more to the fact it was a bar without a cover charge than any real interest in a musical performance, threatened to drown the early numbers- and those of opening performer Serena Ryder- with incessent chatter. Walker almost lost it on a couple of occasions, but he maintained his composure, and soon the six-piece band blew everybody’s ears off for an hour-and-a-half whether they chose to listen or not. True to form, he closed out the stirring closer ‘Best Thing You Never Had’ by jumping off the stage and climbing up on the bar, eating some poor person’s potato chips in the process.
So, without further ado... introducing Butch Walker.
Sputnikmusic: What's the status of the new record? Is it due to come out anytime soon?
Butch Walker: The status is... I gotta go home after this show and actually finish it. So I’ve got a lot of work to do but I’m getting there. I’m getting it done... I wanna get it done by August, the middle of August.
Tell us a little about the direction you took.
I don’t know what it is, it’s just, it’s definitely a little bit more organic, I think. It’s just a lyrical record instead of it being about a feel or whatever, so it kind of is all over the place feel-wise but mostly, more importantly, it’s the lyrics that are at the forefront.
It seems to have a ‘70s singer-songwriter vibe off it...
There’s a little bit of that in there for sure, definitely. I think it’s a little more Dylan and a little more early Springsteen, if you ask me.
It reminds me a bit of Letters.
How much of the music was written or re-written after the Malibu fire?
I’d say most of it was written after. I didn’t have any songs really written before this happened. I was kind of in a slump and it just, like, opened up the floodgates after that happened, just really tapped into a lot of emotions for me.
Of the demos posted to MySpace earlier this year, the one that caught our attention most was ‘Vessels.’
That was just about being kind of, uh, being at the end of your.. wit’s end at a relationship and not really knowing what to do. It’s basically just a recollection of what it was like to fall in love in the first place and be in love with somebody and have sex on carhoods and be adventurous and things and then sometimes the fire just leaves, you know.
You spent 10 years on major labels with limited commercial success. Now, months after moving out on your own, you’re playing on the biggest stages at Lollapalooza. How does that feel?
It’s ironic. It’s great though, it just lets you know that it has nothing to do with the label, really. They might be able to help if an artist is doing well, but I always felt better taking matters into my own hands. It’s just nice to get recognised every once in a while, you know? It feels good.
Is it a coincidence that Radiohead, Saul Williams, Nine Inch Nails and Butch Walker- the “free” music scene artists- are all here at Lollapalooza?
Yeah, there’s a lot of DIY bands here. I like it. I mean, they didn’t start off that way, and neither did I. And I’m a much smaller artist than those are, they have much bigger fanbases, but at the same time we follow the same ethics I believe.
You think that was part of the reason you got asked?
I believe so. I’m sure it was.
Do you plan to stay all three days at Lollapalooza?
I’m only here ‘til Saturday night. Today, I’m looking forward to seeing Cat Power, she’s from Atlanta. The Black Lips were good, they were from Atlanta. Duffy, we’re missing right now- it sounds great, sounds just like the record. And I’m looking forward to... I’d like to see a little bit of CSS, just for fun. And more importantly, the Raconteurs just rock- they’re amazing- I wanna go see them. So I’ll watch them and maybe catch a little Radiohead if I can get to the end.
No Gogol Bordello?
Oh, absolutely! I think I’ve got something I’ve gotta do during their set but they rip my face off. You gotta check it out.
[Interviewer is sufficiently impressed at this point.]
Is the band still called the Let’s Go Out Tonites?
Yeah, I’ll call them the Let’s Go Out Tonites as long as it’s the same dudes.
You have a couple of new members.
Um, right now, the only new member is... I got a guitar player filling in right now called Devin [Bronson, formerly of the Avril Lavigne band]. A friend of mine from L.A.I think I’ll always have these guys around me. They’re fun to be around, that’s the main part.
[American Hi-Fi guitarist Jamie Arentzen has been filling the second guitar spot in place of departure of Michael Guy Chislett, who left the band last year to join The Academy Is... Chislett is also the force behind Walker’s indie rock side-project 1969, which also includes Let’s Go Out Tonites drummer Darren Dodd.]
Speaking of “fun to be around,” will we ever see a 1969 tour?
I don’t think so, ha ha. Uh, you know, I guess if anything ever happens with the record, if it takes off, we would probably end up touring or maybe playing one show. But right now we have no plans.
The fire in Malibu, which you claim destroyed all of your old master tapes, does it mean we’ll never be treated to the Marvelous 3 demos and rarities?
Probably not. But a lot of the stuff is already out there; it’s in the digital world.
Some of it is awfully bad quality, though.
Ha ha, I know. But I guess if people want to hear it, a song’s a song, you know? Songs can be re-recorded.
So no chance of a reunion then?
It’s too early for that!
What does Butch Walker do in his spare time outside of music?
Wow. I don’t really do... anything else.
I surf- I’m learning to surf now and that’s helping me along. That’s getting my craziness out. I think I tend to... like most musicians, I tend to party a lot. That’s been a good deterrant for me to get my head together.
Final question: have you any plans to return to Europe following your brief stint at London’s V Festival?
I would love it. I’m hoping I can go back to Europe some time, maybe, for my 12 fans. Maybe go back and play over there after we do the tour here in Fall. I would love it, man. My goal is just to get over there and travel around and play acoustic, you know? I’m gonna do it!
What a nice fellow.
Sycamore Meadows is due for release sometime in November.
nice dude, I will have Friday recap up by tomorrow (night most likely) if it's cool. I will link this at the top of my feature and the other two days that I post. I have been toying around up with a lot of my feature, trying to fit everything so it makes some kind of sense.