Currently out on tour with American Hi Fi and Val Emmich, Butch Walker brings his new album Letters (In stores August 24th) to the stage with a unique blend of raw emotion, rockin good times, and intimate crowd singalongs. Who knew you could get all of that in one show! His set consists mostly of songs from the new album, a few from his first solo release “Left of Self-Centered”, a fun cover with shared vocals, and he even pulls a few Marvelous 3 songs out of the vault. (One being my all time favorite Cigarette Lighter Love Song.) I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about American Hi Fi backing Butch as his band since I’m also a huge Hi Fi fan but it was such a natural chemistry and worked better than I ever could have dreamed. It was nice to see Stacy back on drums again too. I hadn’t even thought about that little bonus.
Before the show Butch took some time out of his hectic day to sit down with me and answer a few questions. Big thanks to him! He was very sincere and as always – hilarious. it was an honor and a privilege.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | August 2004
Your last tour was acoustic and sort of a stripped down “intimate night with Butch” kind of vibe. This tour you have American Hi Fi opening for you as well as playing as your band during your set.. What brought that about other than having worked with them in the past?
It was cool, actually, I was out in L.A. doing the new American Hi Fi record with them, producing it. We got along so well and we wanted to do the record. We wanted to have fun and get a new record out for those guys because they have a large following in Japan and a record deal on Universal Japan so I went in the studio with them and we banged out a bunch of songs that sounded great. One night Stacy and I were out having drinks at a bar and we were planning a tour together in the States, like a band tour where he and I would go out together with our bands. I didn’t have a band put together because I did the whole record mostly by myself or with friends back home in Atlanta that were already in bands so Stacy was just like (he might have had a little bit of a buzz) “Well we’ll back you up” and I was like I’m gonna write that down so that when you’re sober tomorrow you know that you said it. So I held them to it, and that’s why they have to play two sets in one night.
Butch Live, August 2005 – Photo by Mary
I know you have only played a few dates on this tour so far but I keep hearing a lot of talk about the “campfire” concept. Can you give me a little more insight into what that’s all about?
Well, it doesn’t always work everywhere because I don’t know if there’s going to be a lot of fans to make it happen but a lot of times at the end of the night I play this one song unplugged (literally) and I do it out in the crowd with everyone. It’s a personal song and it just ends up being something that I feel better singing with everybody instead of up on the mic. It feels too cheesy doing it up on the mic even though it might seem cheesy doing it in the crowd. It just feels more personal and I like to have that little connection with them.
Are you going to be doing it tonight?
I have to feel it out. Sometimes I don’t play it at all.
Well I hope it feels good tonight!
Yeah me too!
Butch kickin it on the tour bus – Boston, MA
(Photo by Mary)
How would you describe the transition from Left of Self-Centered to Letters – if any? To me Letters seems to be a bit more gut punchy, more visceral, more emotionally charged-is this by design?
I agree. Well I really really wanted it to be a more emotive record. I didn’t want it to be so tongue in cheek and ironic because I feel like I kind of wore that out. I just feel like I might have gotten burned on that aspect, everything being so cynical and not ever necessarily saying things from the heart but from the head. I always feel like I felt it. Maybe when I was being cynical or ironic or sarcastic or whatever you may call it (or mad or sad or glad) I just maybe pushed it hard. On this record I feel that the way I did it was just a little bit more natural. I just sat around and wrote these songs and wanted to record them mostly live. I don’t know why, I just feel that these are more personal songs. I know that’s a cliché but that’s probably the best way that I can describe it is the record is just less gimmick and it is more personal.
I read somewhere that you wrote over 45 songs for Left of Self-Centered. Obviously they didn’t all make it. Did any of them make it on to Letters? If not, any chance we ever get to hear any of them via other avenues?
I did have a song called Best Thing You Never Had and that ended up making the new record. I never recorded it worth a damn so I ended up getting it right and putting it on this new record because it goes over live so well.
I think you’re a master storyteller. There are very few songwriters who paint as vivid a picture as you do with your lyrics and can make it sound so beautiful. Tell me about your method for lyric writing?
I don’t know, I’m a little frightened because I haven’t been able to write a song in a long time. I think I’ve actually forgotten how to do it because I’ve drained the well.
Don’t say that!
No no, it’ll come back..it just comes and goes. The thing is, when I end up doing a record I get in a mode where somehow this creative portal opens up and I’m able to do it. It’s unpredictable as to when it might happen so I have to have a guitar or a piano close by at all times. Lots of times it just comes from a melody. I don’t sit around and say “I want to write a song about this scenario”. For some reason a guitar progression or a piano progression or a chorus idea or a melody just sparks something that becomes a catalyst for a memory or a feeling about something that you’ve gone through or that someone’s going through – it’s really strange how that works. It’s a bizarre science meets art thing.
Can I ask you about some of the songs on the new album?
Is there a real Joan?
Well, there is a real Joan. It’s based on a true story but it’s probably based on a lot of people’s story. I try to keep it more open than that. I left it open for a lot of people because a lot of times people come up to me after the shows or a woman will come up to me after a show and will be like “I was that girl” or “My mom was that girl” and that’s pretty heavy.
My favorites off of the new cd are So At Last, Don’t Move, Mixtape and Race Cars and Goth Rock…all very different feels. Do you have personal favorites on the album or songs that you prefer to play live?
Oh I do! All the ones you mentioned are my favorites – the whole record’s my favorite! (jokingly) I like playing so many of them live. Joan is a favorite but I don’t necessarily play it live because it has to be the right audience. Sometimes I will play it, sometimes I won’t. I really like Best Thing You Never Had but there’s a lot of songs that I’m into.
You are really proactive in keeping your fans on the front page of everything you do. You released a video for Mixtape on your webpage, you keep an online diary, support teams, myspace teams, and are always fan accessible after your live shows. How do you find the time and how much of a priority is that to you?
Yeah it’s very important. I’ve been on enough labels to not be selfish and realize that they don’t always do everything and have your fans in mind at all. I think it takes at least to have been through a couple of bad record deals to realize that sometimes the fans are all that you have at the end of the day so I want to respect them and respect what they want.
I read an interview where you were talking about your fans and their loyalty..sort of like once they are in, they’re in for good. I’ve met enough of them to know how true that is. It’s like a happy little BW cult!
Yeah we have the lifers!
You’ve worked with so many different acts and have been given credit for even getting certain bands their record deals. It’s kind of neat to see the broad spectrum of musicians you’ve worked with from Avril Lavigne to Sevendust. Do they seek you out personally or how do you end up hooking up with them?
It mostly just happened by them liking the stuff I had done for my own group. I didn’t have the reputation for producing any big records. People just called and said “Hey we like the stuff you did for Marvelous 3” or whatever. Some people just wanted the songwriting help from just liking my songwriting, so I thought that was kind of nice. I won’t do it if I don’t like the people. If they’re not cool and they’re not friends that I can hang out with and talk regular shit with.
Is there anyone out there right now you’d like to work with?
There’s so many. One of these days, before I die I need to do an Elvis Costello record because I’ve got him tattooed on my arm. It’s the least I can do. I’ll probably spazz out and be a total geek.
How do you balance it all out. Solo career, producing, songwriting…is there some sort of road map for the future? Do you ever see yourself doing one without the others?
No never. That’s why I got into this in the first place was to give me a balance from touring because I toured so much growing up that I burned myself out. I felt like, I’m not going to quit, I just need a break from it. What am I going do in the meantime and producing was just something that sort of came to me naturally.
So you think you’ll be able to continue to find time for both?
I think I have to find time for both. It’s the only balance that’s ever made me happy for a chemically imbalanced person.