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Butch Walker interview 

Butch Walker
Submitted by Peter Fenn on 2010-05-24
Even if you think you don't know Butch Walker's music, you probably do. He's written and produced songs for Avril Lavigne, NeverShoutNever!, Weezer, Dashboard Confessional, All Time Low, Default, Katy Perry, Pete Yorn, The Academy Is…, Sevendust, Tommy Lee, Quietdrive, SR-71, Saosin, Bowling For Soup, Injected, The Donnas, Hot Hot Heat, The Cab, and many, many others. His production credits read like a Top 40 chart. Aside from being a mega-producer, Butch has put out some of the best solo records of the past decade, several of which have flown completely under the radar of the mainstream music scene. Take one listen to his 2004 masterpiece 'Letters' and you'll understand. He's scored record deals in two different bands and as a solo artist, subsequently ditched the record deal and flew solo, then put out two of the best albums of the past few years. His last effort, 'Sycamore Meadows', was widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2008. Alongside his new backing band The Black Widows, Butch has released his new album, entitled 'I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart'. No musician in the music industry today can command more respect when they walk into a room, and for good reason. recently had the chance to go one-on-one with Butch backstage before a show in Cleveland, OH.
Peter: This is your first set of gigs in a while. How's this tour going for you so far? Butch: Good, real good! I guess we've already been out for a couple of months now, so we've been really hitting a good, steady pace. It's going well and everyone is having a good time. Peter: First of all, for those who still haven't picked up your new album, what can they expect? It's very different, but how would you describe it, in a few words? Butch: I don't know. Romantic? It's pretty fun. It's very, very fun to play live. We recorded it live, pretty much. So, I guess it translates pretty well into a live show, whereas a lot of records I've done, that's not always the case. We went very classic on it, whatever people want to call that --- retro, classic, throwback. Peter: What kind of recording equipment did you use while recording it? It sounds very retro, did you stay true to that when recording it? Butch: Yeah, I collect a bunch of old, vintage gear. Old amps, compressors, microphones, and stuff like that. We recorded it all staying pretty faithful to how you would have in the 1960's or 70's. We adapted some of the modern technology at the end, obviously. When records get mixed, they always end up getting switched to digital somehow, but we kept it as honest-sounding as possible. Peter: Describe how your music has changed in the past few years. What has sparked the recent change in your sound? Butch: Well, to me it still feels and sounds the same, but I guess other people besides me notice changes. To me, it's all pop music, you know? I guess you can't take my voice out. Once my voice is on it, it just sounds like something I would do. It definitely is different from where I was at ten years ago, where I liked making "excited" records, as opposed to "exciting" records. I'm not knocking where I was, it's just that I kinda grew up, I guess. I'm 40 now, and I wanted to age gracefully from a musical standpoint, and not feel like I'm having a mid-life crisis by getting out there and shredding and doing guitar solos every five seconds, with flamethrowers onstage and such. It's just gotten comfortable, I think. In a good way. Not complacent, it just feels more comfortable --- what I do. Peter: The live shows are still very energetic though. That's always been something people look for from you. How do you maintain such a level of energy every single night of a tour, sometimes touring for months at a time? Butch: Without falling over dead? I don't really know! I drink a lot of water. Peter: Red Bull? Butch: Nah, I can't stand the stuff. I can't do anything that makes my heart beat faster than it already beats. I drink a lot of water because I like to drink alcohol, and playing rock and roll music goes hand-in-hand with drinking whiskey. I think it's an extension of going out with my friends at night, except I'm going to get up onstage and play. So I'm probably going to have about the same amount of drinks and get up and act a fool. It's just hard not to get up there and get excited about playing music, so I tend to sweat a lot and maybe overdo it a bit. I like treating going onstage like I would any other night out. Those guys up onstage are my best drinking buddies. We try not to go too overboard to the point where the show sucks. It's gotten bad before, and it's an ugly sight… Peter: What's your favorite song to play live? Well, to simplify the question, what's your favorite song to play off the new album? Butch: Well it would go hand-in-hand with that, because I think most people are going to pick something new, fresh, and exciting to them, as opposed to something they've been playing for ten years. I can't honestly say that I would get as excited about playing something that's I've been playing for ten years, or five years even. I like playing "Pretty Melody", that's a fun song to play live. I like playing "They Don't Know What We Know" and "Trash Day", those are fun songs to play live. Peter: I've also noticed through the years that you like to play a lot of cover songs live. Do you change it up every night with the cover songs, or do you pick from a few? And how hard is it to get the band ready for those songs? Butch: We change the setup of original music from night to night, usually alternate every other night with stuff, just so that we're not playing the same show every night. The covers we usually keep one per tour. We'll do one cover on an entire tour, then when it's time to go out for another tour, we'll work up something else. We're doing a Hall & Oates one this time, called "Rich Girl". It's really fun. Peter: You're opening up for Pink in Europe this summer. First of all, are you excited for that? How does it feel opening up for someone again? Butch: Yeah, I don't open for many people. Avril Lavigne, Train, that's it recently. I rarely open for people. When I do, it's interesting, because it's definitely outside of my comfort zone when I'm playing to people who don't know who I am. I have to try to almost act more like a salesman than I do playing my normal show, just to make sure that you can get a lot of close-minded, pop-radio-listening people to understand what I'm doing without getting confused. I've heard them say it. They come up to me after the show and say, "I usually don't care about opening bands because I've never heard of them", which is such a horrible thing to hear someone say, but I guess there are just people who don't listen to music unless it's on the radio or being forced down their throat. But it's usually nice to hear them say, "…but I love you guys, and I'm gonna buy your record!" That's the reason I do it, to go out and play in front of someone else's audience, and maybe see if I can fool them into liking what I do. You never know, you might make a music lover out of somebody, and maybe make them get more educated on music as a whole. Peter: Are you going to be playing mostly songs from the new album when you're out with Pink, or will you be mixing it up from all of your albums? Butch: It's a mix of everything. It's a little bit of each record. I would never want to do just the entire new record, because I know that I would probably be the only person in the room excited about that. It's sort of selfish if you don't think about other people that are coming to see you. Peter: Through the years you've become sort of a super-producer. What upcoming albums can we expect to see your production credits on? Butch: Well I just worked with this girl named Ida Maria from Norway on her new album, which should be coming out soon. I didn't really work on a whole lot of records this past year, because I was working a lot on putting out my own record, so I probably won't be doing anything until I go back home in the summer. That's when I'll probably get back in the studio and work on some things. I've got some interesting prospects, I'll just put it that way. Peter: That sort of brings me to my next question. Does it feel as good to have a song that you wrote or produced hit number one than it does to have your own song up there? Butch: Well, I'm lucky if I ever get one that goes to number one, but even if it just charts at all and does well for somebody, it's pretty exciting. I'm excited about that, especially if I'm involved in the writing of it. I'm still going to benefit from it, but I'm not going to have to be in the spotlight, and I kind of don't really like that, so it's great for me. There's a lot of ass-kissing you have to do, and it sort of becomes political. I've never wanted that. Peter: And it pays the bills… Butch: Yeah. I'd much rather be involved in the creative aspect of it. Peter: Your upcoming tour with Pink goes into late June. What are your touring plans for the rest of the year? Butch: I'm going to be touring until probably July, when we get back from Europe. I'm gonna spend the summer on the beach with my kid, then I'm gonna go back out in the fall, and I've got a project that I'm lining up with a couple of buddies of mine, that we may try and go out and tour on it this fall, just for fun. Peter: Any hints on what that project is? Butch: All I can say is it involves me and Jake, my bass player from the Black Widows, and a couple of my buddies from the Raconteurs, and then we're gonna do a record, I think. Peter: How many band members did you retain from the Lets Go Out Tonites in the Black Widows? Butch: Actually, only the drummer and keyboard player. Wes and Darren, they've been with me for about six years now. Peter: Speaking of your projects, whatever happened to 1969? Butch: We just did a record, never planned on doing it live or touring or anything. It was just two weeks of getting in the studio and making a record. Peter: It was such a great record… Butch: Thanks! It was fun to make. When you go in with something like that and you don't have any expectations for it, it's kind of nice. We didn't have to have the pressures of whether we were going to tour, we just did it to make good music. Peter: In closing, how would you describe how you feel about how the music industry has changed over the last decade or so? Butch: Well that's a whole different interview probably, because I could go on forever. I think just to sum it up, it's a more exciting time than ever. I'm able to find out through the internet and technology a lot more stuff that I want to find, as opposed to what's pushed down my throat. That I love, about the fact that they're not in control anymore. Peter: Well said. Thank you so much for sitting down with us. It's been a pleasure talking to you! Butch: Anytime, man. It's been great.