Butch Walker - 11.07.08

Interviewed by
Butch Walker - 11.07.08AP.net: What can fans expect from your new album, Sycamore Meadows in relation to your previous albums?

Butch: A lot separates it from the last record, because there was a big setup pretense for the last record; I wanted it to be this party record with a party band, and a celebratory fictional tale of debauchery and fun, because that was pretty much what my life the last couple years was, up to that point. I was living very successfully and feeling like the journey had reached the destination, I suppose. And thatís also bad, because when I was writing Sycamore Meadows, I couldnít write, I had nothing to say.

I was complacent and kind of bummed out that I had, finally, after working my ass off for years and having everything to show for it--I just went mental and bought everything I wanted as a kid, and lived the rock Ďní roll pipe dream you have when youíre a young, broke, aspiring musician of having the Keith & Mick French chateau, with motorcycles and the shoeless, beach lifestyle, and thatís what I had. I got it. And I lived it for a year and couldnít write a fucking thing. And when I wrote a few songs for the record, I just was clogged up, so I ended up, after the fires, really becoming kind of cleansed and clear about everything, and had a lot of perspective about things. It allowed me to write from the heart again--I was worried I couldnít write anything else from the heart, I felt like I was kind of done.

AP.net: In other interviews Iíve read, you mentioned that after the wildfires your writerís block was cured, but I wanted to ask what else you think changed about yourself after you lost almost everything everything?

Butch: I learned to travel light [laughs]. Because I came back from New York with two suitcases to my name, and that was it. I felt like there had been times leading up to the fire where I thought, ďMan, I just have too much stuff. I donít know why I have all this shit. I donít need all this.Ē And that is where I feel like Iíve learned my biggest lesson, is to just be careful: to be more selective and choose things more wisely, and maybe have just a few good things instead of a bunch of useless garbage. It helped a lot.

AP.net: If there is one thing you couldíve saved from your house, what would it have been?

Butch: Thereís so much, itís hard to pinpoint just one thing. I would have to say, probably, if I couldíve saved anything, it wouldnít have been anything musically related, because nothing compared to what was lost otherwise. My girlís late parents, she had all of their family heirlooms and pictures from when they were kids, and her dad was a big war hero, and had his burial flag, his medals, and his dog tags and things like that in our house. Miraculously, a friend of mine, Ryan, who goes to Pepperdine and rides motorcycles with me out there, he went to the house after it happened while we were still stuck in New York, and found her dadís dog tags and medals, just burned all to hell, and charred, but still in tact. So that was pretty cool.

AP.net: You said in a recent interview that you re-recorded Sycamore Meadows twice. What was wrong with the first two versions?

Butch: I think I was just being very precious about it. I didnít want this one to just be thrown together like I had done in the past with some records. Making my own records always annoyed me; I like doing it for other people, but when I do it myself, Iím very impatient and just want to get it done and go, or Iíll toil over it and ruin it [laughs]. And on this one I was just being very precious, I didnít want there to be a misinterpretation of all these lyrics and experiences and emotions I was singing about, because I had never sung about them before, because I was too scared to.

AP.net: So, the record business is fucked. How will your approach to radio/distribution/marketing change as opposed to your previous albums?

Butch: Well I think on this one, weíre doing it all in-house, which is what makes it so special. It is fucked when I say that the old regime is screwed. The way it used to be done. But thatís a good thing. Iím not saying it in some jaded way, ďIím not on the radio. Itís fucked.Ē Iím not being whiny, Iím being honest, and itís actually great, because we needed something for that old regime and that old model to crumble, because it was never in favor of the artist, ever. The way the deals were structured, it was such a careless and reckless way of fucking with peopleís careers and their lives that they put on tape. They just whistle, walk away and twiddle their fingers when it fails right out of the box.

I think the way it is right now, weíre definitely in a situation where artists are at the peak of their power. And Iíve been practicing that for years. Even though Iíve been on labels, I did all the work. Iím not scared to admit it, and Iíll contest anyone that says differently. I built my own fanbase, my own tours, and always did it as DIY as possible and just used the label for distribution. A lot of times they would just get in the way of the creative process. It already has changed, and thatís great.

AP.net: Youíve seen a lot of sides of the music industry and been a part of it for a long timeóI believe youíve been playing in bands since 1985óknowing what you know now, what would you have done differently with your career if you could go back in time, if anything?

Butch: I think thereís a lot I wouldnít have done, but itís really hard to regret things youíve done as opposed to things you havenít done. I never wanted to be the guy that was the ďWhat if?Ē guy. Iím proud that Iíve done a lot of things, and some of those things have helped me and some of those things have hurt me, but Iím still here, still making music, and thereís enough people out there that care, so that makes me happy, and I feel like I mightíve done it right up to this point. But no oneís perfect, and Iíve definitely written a stinker or two in my day [laughs], and Iíve definitely worn some stupid clothes. I probably still do now, and Iíll know 10 years from now looking back on it if it is, but you never feel like it at the time, right? [laughs]

AP.net: An AP.net reader asks, ďGiven the current landscape of the music business, what traits do you believe a band must have to be remembered as a relevant musical group 20 years down the road?Ē

Butch: I have to say that, aesthetically, itís always nice to have a band that looks like a band, or an artist that looks like an artist, but thereís so much all-looks no-hooks now, and thereís so many people that just donít care enough about the song and writing a great song. And I think what makes a band relevant is, they have to write songs that people relate to and can grab onto. Thatís why The Boss and U2 are still relevant today, and as big as they ever were, because theyíre always saying something that people can believe in and relate to.

I mean, yeah, The Boss didnít make it by his fashion sense, nor did Bono with his hair, but the fact is that they are enigmatic frontmen. Thatís something too. When theyíre singing those songs that they wrote that are so good, theyíre not just going through the motions. A lot of the hipster bands are apingóto a Tótheir stage moves from The [Rolling] Stones from the 60s, but thatís not very genuine and itís too forced that way. It comes off as very lifeless and calculated. It took me a while to find myself too, my identity, and my comfortability on stage as well, but Iíve always been attracted by somebody who can be a presence and be in my face.

AP.net: Another reader question: ďWhat advice do you have for those who are trying to get into the music industry, whether it be as an artist or on the business side. What are the new rules of the game? How can one succeed in this new business?Ē

Butch: Well I would have to say that you know that making records is not gonna really be as profitable anymore as it was, because people will always find a way to get music for free now, which I totally couldnít give a shit about. I have a line in a new song that says, ďThe record business is fucked / But itíll separate a boy from a man / You can buy every copy of your record with your money / But youíd be your only fan.Ē And thatís pretty much the truth. You canít buy your success, you canít buy popularity, you canít buy getting into peopleís hearts and heads. And you also wonít lose that if youíre good. Youíll have a fanbase. You gotta go play for people, and thatís the hardest part. Anybody can make a record with GarageBand now, you can make a record for free and sell it. But if you canít sell it live, I donít know how long youíll be around. And donít count on ever making money off of selling records these days unless youíre Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey or something. Thatís a fanbase that still buys records.

AP.net: I grew up in Atlanta, I was a huge Marvelous 3 fan. Are there any plans for a full reunion or making another Marvelous 3 record?

Butch: No, weíre still the best of friends, and to come out of that whole thing like we did, seeing the world as much as we did, seeing so many trials and tribulations growing up and playing music together, to walk away from that as friends is unheard of. I think when we were playing together in the band we were way more miserable than we are now as friends, so I donít think that would be a good thing.

And we werenít the Beatles or the Police, so itís not like it would be that profitable if we got back together and did it. It would just be for a laugh. But we do that enough as it is when I play shows in Atlanta, they come out to the shows and sit in on a couple songs, and thatís a blast. And that to me is fun and it should always be that. It should never be some sort of forced tour or idea, but I donít know, I donít want to speak too soon. At this point though, thereís no reason for us to do that.

AP.net: Whatís the most fulfilling part of your job: writing, producing, or performing?

Butch: Performing is such a great, weird, massive dynamic, because you can really fall flat on your face and suck, and you can totally kill it, in a good way. You can really deliver. And that mystery to me is exciting. Iím hard on myself, and thereís plenty of shows where I get off stage almost in tears because I feel like it was the worst show Iíve ever done. Other times Iíll come off stage in tears because I thought it was the best show Iíve ever done, and thatís an addiction. It feels good. And Iíd say 90% of it is based on the song. Did the song really sell itself? Did people connect with what I was saying? When they do, it feels real good.

I played in San Francisco and Seattle last week, I did acoustic shows, both shows were cool, the crowd was cool, but certain songs for some reason grabbed one audience better than it did the other, and I sang and did them the same way, I thought. But it was really cool when some of the new stuff I was playing, I could really feel it hitting people. Itís a horrible thing when it doesnít. But thatís the beauty of it.

You donít necessarily feel this massive emotional butterfly feeling when youíre writing a song, youíre kind of in a pensive state, youíre very poised and youíre just going through this process, almost like a term paper. Youíre really focused, and not Ďtil you step back from it and play it for people on a stage, do you realize whether it was worth doing or not.

AP.net: What's your take on producing?

Butch: That is a conquest over years Iíve always struggled over. I admire producers and engineers so much and the recording aesthetic, sounds, and how people achieved these things on record. Itís been a personal conquest of mine to be able to say, ďWow, I actually know how to do that, I know how to get that sound. I know how to put these parts together and make this perfect pop song to sell for someone,Ē or, ďI can sit here and make this really sparse song with a toy piano and a vocal and itís awesome, recorded with one microphone.Ē Thereís just all ends of the spectrum.

AP.net: What are some of your favorite albums/songs production-wise?

Butch: That goes deep. I love everything from this band called Jellyfish who did a record called Spilt Milk back in the early 90s. It was unbelievable, like a cracked-out, steroidal version of The Beach Boys and Queen and all those records. Itís super sugary pop, but itís straight up quirky, and lyrically just out of this world.

Actually, the guy who played keyboards on a lot of my record is the guy who was the co-singer/co-songwriter/keyboard player in the band, and one of my favorites of all time, Roger Manning, who went on to play keyboards in Beckís band and just a ton of bands, really cool shit. So that record was a big influence on me for sure. And then on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of the old punk records like The Clash really blew my mind, the ones that wereóI can remember just listening to those records for days, and not ever getting tired of them. Theyíre very sparse, and for the most part, recorded live, and listening to the fire and the emotion thatís on those records is incredible. Itís not necessarily the most insane sounding snare drum or the best bass tone ever, but whatever it is, it works, and it gels, itís glue. And I remember those records being a big part of my upbringing.

AP.net: I feel like a lot of records sound too perfect these days; thereís not as much magic.

Butch: Yeah, it sucks. Iím a victim of it too, where I have to do a record for someone else and you end up homogenizing it for their benefit and for their taste, more so than yours. A lot of times people are so insecure they want their vocals tuned perfect because they canít sing in perfect pitch and they want the drums to be completely straightened out timing wise because they canít play perfect. It sounds very mechanical. Thatís why I was proud of Santi [The Academy Is' sophomore full length], because I thought that record had such an organic feel Ė they were a real band on that record, thereís hardly any edits done to that record whatsoever.

The pop world Ė itís gotta be perfect. The label wonít accept it if itís not. People that listen to pop radio have their ears tuned a certain way now, so to speak, so if they donít hear it perfect, somethingís ďwrong.Ē

AP.net: We had some people wondering if you could give advice on how to write a ďhit song.Ē

Butch: People can sit there and diagnose pop songs pretty quickly and say, ďThe basic pop structure is short intro / verse / prechorus / chorus / verse / prechorus / chorus / bridge / chorus / outĒ Ė thatís a structure Iíve used, many people have used millions of times over, but that doesnít make it a hit, and that doesnít make it great. It just makes it comfortable to listen to, and predictable to listen to so that you feel like, ďOK, thatís right. 3:15? Iím not bored with it, itís over, just in the right amount of time.Ē I think a lot of it has to be lyrically too, you gotta relate to people in a big way.

I went through this the first time I wrote with Avril, because I was this person that was veryóI didnít know that world. I knew pop songs, I knew pop writing, but I didnít know about working in that world, and I kind of just got thrown into it. She asked me out of the blue to work with her, I wasnít soliciting myself as this pop producer/writer guy. I was making my own records for my own shit, or the occasional metal record or punk-pop record for other people, but I wasnít looking to do that. And when I got asked to do it, I said,ĒIíll give it a shot. Why not? Letís see what happens.Ē

And so I remember the first time we sat down, we wrote a song which was a #1 hitóand it was my first #1 hitóit was ďMy Happy Ending.Ē The structure was all there, everything was there. I already had the song idea from the get-go, I had the verses written, and I had a chorus idea as well. It was something I actually had been working on for myself, but it didnít sound anything like that song. It was more stoic, more Tom Waits-ish almost, it was very piano-based, sad, had a super low vocal, but I ended up re-tweaking it and lyrically it worked right for her until I got to the chorus. And I remember doing the chorusóin my stuff, I tend to be wordy, quirky, and a little bit ďoff the gridĒ when it comes to lyrics, and I like that, and that works for me and I wouldnít want to change it because it keeps it personal to me. But you canít write stuff like that for someone whoís gonna try to sell it to 10 million soccer moms and their kids. Itís a different story.

So I remember when I sang her the chorus idea for that song, it was super wordy and very heady, kind of Jeff Buckley-ish. The chorus was very verbose, and I remember her kind of cocking her head to the side looking at me like, ďI donít get it.Ē And when she did that, a lightbulb went off in my head because I saw 10 million little girls heads go like that, cocked to the side. And I went, ďI get it.Ē You canít shoot yourself in the foot with the clever gun here, you gotta just keep it simple and broad. Keep the message broad. And it killed me to do that, it killed me to simplify. I didnít know the meaning of simplify.

Itís funny, I just worked with Chris Carrabba for his upcoming record, and we co-wrote some singles together for it. Iím gonna be producing it as well, those songs, and itís so funny, we had the same battle within us of being too verbose, and not to a fault, but if you want to get a song that radio will push and actually make people outside of die-hard fans be able to relate to, you kinda need to give them a simple message, and thatís hard to do. U2ís done it great over the years, itís always been just sort of, simple, broad statements. Thatís a choice though, thereís nothing wrong with both.

AP.net: A lot of people are stunned to find out your solo stuff doesnít sound anything like Avril.

Butch: I donít listen to the radio. A lot of people that donít know me and only know me as a producer are really surprised, because theyíre like, ďOh, you sing too?Ē And yeah, theyíll say stuff like, ďWell, I listened to your record and you donít sound anything like Avril Lavigne.Ē Of course I donít. Why would I, for one, and two, I donít listen to that music. I donít sit around and listen to pop radio or watch TV. I donít even watch TVówell, I watch Bill Maher. I think when you do that, thereís a problem there, and you just end up chasing a sound. I think there are producers out there right now that are so guilty of it, and they end up chasing a sound and not just sticking to what they do best.

AP.net: For your own songs, whatís your writing process like? Story first or music first?

Butch: Most of the time itís lyrics first. I rarely sit down and have a musical idea first. I canít force myself Ė if I psyche myself up to go sit down and write, it wonít happen, I canít do it. Itís very hard to co-write a song with someone else too, because youíre setting up a date, a time, a place, and you gotta go in there and be prepared. Thatís impossible! Most times, 9 times out of 10, we work with an idea that already exists that came from either them or me. Itís impossible, I canít just go like, ďIíll see you guys later, Iím gonna go write.Ē I canít.

Itís always spontaneous Ė if I pick up a guitar in my studio or sit down at my piano, if I start noodling and playing covers, Iím never gonna write a song. But sometimes I throw my hands blindly on the keys or on a guitar capo-ed up somewhere high and just start playing chords, and instantly Iím in the mood to sing and I start singing something and thereís an idea for a song already in placeóI think I did it yesterday sitting in the hotel room in Seattle, and started this really great song Iím excited about. But I donít know why I was in the mood to do it. You canít force it.

AP.net: Youíre producing the new Saosin record in January Ė how do you think youíll approach their album?

Butch: Weíre really excited about working together. Beau and Chris are both very studio-savvy, theyíre very talented, their demos sound great, they sound like a record. So weíll probably approach it on a song by song basis as to whether or not we want to make a change to the demo here and there and make the demo the master, record songs from scratch, or record new songsóthereís plenty of songs that theyíve got starts on that donít need much work at all.

AP.net: Will you be doing any co-writes with them?

Butch: I donít know Ė I never force that on anybody because I think thatís really bully-ish and terrible to just go, ďWell if you work with me Iím going to go ahead and get publishing.Ē I donít do that.

AP.net: What advice do you have for aspiring producers? How should they get started?

Butch: Maybe donít listen to the radio too much, and donít try to just ape what people are already doing, because I donít know that that works very well, and it will definitely guarantee you a limited run of success, because youíre never going to get outside that box.

AP.net: What 3 albums have influenced you the most?

Butch: Thatís so tough. Not in any particularly order, maybe Grace by Jeff Buckley, Spilt Milk by Jellyfish, My Aim is True by Elvis Costello, Spike Ė a bunch of records by that guy. Shit. It goes on. [laughs]

AP.net: Whatís the best mixtape you ever gave/received and why?

Butch: Probably received. I never made them, I was very one-sided and selfish. I never made time to make them but I always got them. I got a great, great mixtape from my sister when I moved to LA straight out of high school. I was scared to death, 17 years old, freaking out and leaving home for the first time. I lived at home in Cartersville, Georgia my whole life and then all of a sudden Iím moving with my band to Hollywood Boulevard. Tears, freaking out, very scared. Iím just going out and tackling this world, but I knew if I didnít go out there and try it Iíd regret never going.

I wouldnít be here today talking to you if I hadnít done that because of the chain of events that happened because of that. And she made me just this amazing mix tape of all these songs that were looking after her baby brother, and I would put it on a lot when I would be scared and she put a bunch of really cool, hopeful jams on there to keep my spirits up and make me know that she believed in me.

AP.net: Whatís your all time favorite song?

Butch: It could be something that came up in the last 2 years, but by mechanism Iím going to go back to when I was a kid and first inspired by music. You know, what song probably gets me the most is a song by Colin Hay called ďDonít Think Iíll Ever Get Over You.Ē Itís a pretty brain-melting, sad song.

AP.net: Whatís one question you wish youíve been asked in an interview but havenít, been and whatís your answer?

Butch: I guess itíd be refreshing for someone to askópeople donít really ask about things that are taboo, like socio-political questions, or religion, things like that, which I think would be interesting if somebody at some point was like, ďAre you religious? Whatís your take on it?Ē

AP.net: Are you religious? Whatís your take on it?

Butch: [laughs] I donít know, I donít think so. I grew up in a conservative Bible-belt, self-righteous, preachy Southern Baptist and Methodist church, and by 22 I was touring for 6 weeks on the road in China and seeing the Buddhist temples for the first time and going, ďI have questions. I got questions now.Ē And I think itís definitely made me a better person from having my eyes opened to certain things.

AP.net: That wraps it up Ė anything youíd like to say to the AP.net crowd?

Butch: Thanks for those guys always believing in me and supporting me and spreading the good word. Itís hard out there, itís nice to have a site like that thatís influential where people are nice enough to give me coverage and say kind things. Thanks for all the support, it means the world.
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 42
11:09 AM on 11/07/08
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andrewinnuendo's Avatar
great read.
11:14 AM on 11/07/08
All that wander are not lost
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irthesteve's Avatar
Good interview, very interesting guy
11:16 AM on 11/07/08
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richie's Avatar
My favourite producer!
11:16 AM on 11/07/08
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richie's Avatar
In my dreams everyday I wish I'll work with him someday. Let's just pray I win the lottery so I can afford it.
11:23 AM on 11/07/08
splat out path
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splat out path's Avatar
Next time out, can you ask him if he's sure Bono says things that people can relate to? You know, in light of his ego trip introducing Paul McCartney at the MTV awards.
11:37 AM on 11/07/08
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crit's Avatar
He is a god. Excellent questions, great answers.
11:50 AM on 11/07/08
G apostrophe Ra
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No Avatar Selected
really rad interview. I didn't know too much of him before reading this, but now I'm pretty intrigued and will definitely seek out his work. thanks for this.
11:53 AM on 11/07/08
Oh, but the world is a mess.
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ashiex3's Avatar
great interview.
im always interested in what he has to say
12:00 PM on 11/07/08
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oh my god.

butch and chris carrabba co-writing and butch producing dashboard? i just died and went to heaven.
12:06 PM on 11/07/08
pattern recognition
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No Avatar Selected
Great answers, but what the fuck is up with him dodging the religion question after asking for it?

12:19 PM on 11/07/08
Don't wait too long to come home
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Kill_the_radio's Avatar
Butch <3
interesting read and great interview!
12:30 PM on 11/07/08
Hagysaurus Rex
We yell like hell to the heavens.
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Hagysaurus Rex's Avatar
Amazing read; one of the best I've seen in a while. Good job with the interview.
12:45 PM on 11/07/08
Blake Solomon
every outcome's such a comedown
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Blake Solomon's Avatar
some very forthright answers on this. good stuff.
12:54 PM on 11/07/08
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anamericangod's Avatar
I love him.

And holy fuck, Butch working with Chris Carrabba? Cannot wait for that material.

So pumped to see him in 3 days.

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