Butch Walker; if you haven’t heard the name, I have no doubt that you have probably heard, sang along with and even danced to songs he’s written or produced.
He’s worked as a producer/songwriter for artists as diverse as Pink, The Automatic, Weezer, Katy Perry, Fall Out Boy, Avril Lavigne, Sevendust, Bowling for Soup, Dashboard Confessional and Saosin to name but a few. He also wrote and produced the theme song for the ‘Open Happiness’ Coca Cola ad campaign, but Butch is so, so much more than a go-to writer and producer. He’s had a long and varied career in the music business, first as Guitarist in late eighties metal band Southgang. ‘Freak Of The Week’ was a hit song with his band Marvelous 3 in 1999. He released his first solo record, “Left Of Self- Centered” in 2002, which is also about when his producing and songwriting career took off, but Butch’s solo records is where he feels most at home and they are much loved and cherished by his army of fans.
Having just released his latest record “I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart”, Butch has spent a lot of time touring, first with the band Train and a headline run in the US. Now he’s the opening act and slaying crowds all over Europe on Pink’s Stadium tour.
I’ve been a huge fan of Butch’s for years so it was a big deal that I was lucky enough to catch up with him while he was in the middle of two UK club shows he was doing in-between the Pink gigs.
Hi Butch, Can we start by asking how was the London show last night?
BW: It was really great.
You’ve just played your first ever shows in mainland Europe, how were they?
BW: Incredible, it’s going great. I couldn’t have ask for a better first taste of Germany and other parts of the UK I’ve never been to. It’s pretty awesome to see people really get into it at such an early time slot like I’ve got onstage. I only get about a half hour so I’ve got to really rip it up, you know.
From what I’ve heard the reactions have been amazing. Do you ever get surprised at the crowds reactions to you?
BW: I do I guess. I worry until after the first song and then when the first song is over I kind of have a gauge and feel like I know whats going to happen or not, and then I either start worrying or stop worrying at that point.
You’re playing some club shows as well. Do you approach them differently to the stadium shows?
BW: Yeah definitely. I mean the stadium shows we are doing where we only have 30 minutes, it’s going so quick and it’s also a different kind of audience, like a pop audience so I don’t want to bore them with things. They don’t know who we are so they just want familiarity or to just be entertained. I can’t provide them with familiarity, they don’t know the songs, so I’ve gotta give them our most entertaining numbers, so we just give them 30 minutes of pure entertaining and fun. Then when you come see the headlining shows, which is mainly fans, we play for 2 hours every night. It’s a lot of material and it’s a lot of lower key stuff that you really wouldn’t be able to keep the attention of a stadium that doesn’t know who you are. I wouldn’t want to be that self-involved on a stadium show, it’s more about them. If I can get them, then it totally is about me, which is nice.
Ever thought of doing a full UK tour?
BW: Yeah, I’d love to. I think and hoping that after this month I’ll be able to come back and hit more than just London. I mean I’ve never played Manchester in my life and I think we will probably either come close or sell it out tonight, which is great. When we went to Germany some of the clubs were this capacity and there would be 50 tickets sold and never sold out. Here it’s great, The Garage was packed last night, and then here I think it’s going to be pretty wall to wall too, so I believe it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Last night was amazing, one of the best shows I’ve seen and you always seem surprised people know the songs and sing along?
BW: I guess I was, I didn’t really understand why, I guess the internet and the power of people finding things out for themselves is great.
BW: I hope so, I’d like to. I think we had such a good run with this record and good results from recording it as a band. We’ll probably want to do it again, plus we had the worlds largest backdrop just made for this tour and we didn’t get to use till starting last week so just to use it more we will probably do another record. Just because I don’t want to waste it, it’s like 30 x 30 feet, it’s huge! I can’t use it at any clubs, I guess I just dream big.
Your last 3 albums have been available on vinyl, is that important to you?
BW: Very much. I’m a big vinyl listener, I’m a big audiophile. I have a really nice stereo set up at home with a hi-fi and really nice turntable and it’s a big deal to me to listen to music in it’s purest form like that. I’m not stupid, I realise selling it is not as important as it used to be that way, I think it’s more important to get your music out there and if people want to hear it an mp3 form or whatever I’m fine with that, I just don’t enjoy the sound of it at home for personal taste.
Putting on background music for a party, I mean fuck it, I don’t want to get up every 20 minutes and turn the disc over. It’s kind of nice to have a laptop running through your stereo system for that kind of thing but when I want to sit down with a full bottle of wine and my kids asleep, I have a couch that’s the most comfortable couch in the world in my room and I sit on there with some wine and listen to records and I get up every 20 minutes and put on a new record and I like it.
What are the chances of a new 1969 record? (1969 are a side project comprising of Butch, Michael Guy Chislett from The Academy Is… and Darren Dodd from The Black Widows who released an album in 2008).
BW: I wouldn’t rule anything out. It was such a fun and easy process to make a record with them. I don’t think it would be that hard but I’ve never been one to look back. I always look forward and I’ve got another project that’s already in the works that’s going to be happening in the fall. That’s going to be awesome and I’m more looking forward to trying to do something like that then just re-visit an idea. I’d like it to remain a special place in time.
Tell us more about that project?
BW: It’s a cool motorcycle rock type thing with some very good friends that’ll happen in the fall.
Every BW album has a different feel, is this done on purpose?
BW: It’s just me evolving really. I would never set out to be like ‘oh I can’t do another record just like I did’, that would be stupid because if anything, the last 2 records have been very similar in vibe. But I think that’s also because at 40 I’ve kind of tapered off on my ambition to be different and also I’ve really tapped in and explored and had the joy of trying all the things that I’ve always wanted to try musically and been influenced by.
I don’t think there is anything left where I am wanting to go ‘I really cant wait to do a techno record’, I don’t enjoy that and I don’t listen to it and I wouldn’t do it just to put it out and say that I can do everything, that’s being an asshole. So I would rather just have it be more of the kind of music I personally enjoy. I really enjoy writing lyrics, I enjoy harmonies and I enjoy hearing the organic side of production because I have to do so much non- organic for a living for other artists, it’s just a break for me, for my ears and it confuses people that think my music is supposed to sound like the stuff I do for my day job, but that’s just people that don’t know me.
BW: Yeah definitely. I don’t know if it’s since turning exactly 40, I think it’s in the last few years I’ve eased into it. I think it’s probably safe to say I don’t feel like I have to try as hard. I’ve had so many things I’ve tried to do in music and songs that just for what it’s worth I was just really trying to out-clever myself lyrically or out do myself production wise, that it’s kinda nice to just let a song breathe because some of my favourite songs written by people like Bob Dylan or even U2 are just simple, not necessarily the most verbose songs. I just really am enjoying the simplicity.
I think you’ve proved time and time again you can do that, just your voice and piano or your voice and a guitar.
BW: I guess I was always concerned and for years I got it wrong, thinking that I was always concerned that people would never think my music was interesting or critics and people wouldn’t like it unless it was over ambitious and I realised the minute I stopped trying so hard and just let the song be the song and let the production be the production all of a sudden they all liked it and I’m happy about that. But it’s not like I did it for other people, I did for myself, for self love.
You have a lot of die hard fans, some who travel hundreds of miles to see you live, how does that make you feel?
BW: I’m very blessed in that sense you know, it makes me feel great. I cant complain about that and it surprises the shit out me every day, especially when I come over here and people come in from Scotland and all over.
We travelled up from Wales!
BW: Thank you so much, I think that’s probably why I’m floored and honoured that people would want to travel just to see the show. I’ve never been like a buzz artist, it’s not like I have been this ‘never come to town before and play a sold out theatre show’ based on some blog or buzz or anything and I’ve always kind of had to earn every one of them the hard way and because of that it makes me really appreciate and love my fans more.
You’ve always been really quick to embrace social networking sites and the internet in general, do you like that side of things?
BW: I do, only because I owe a lot of my career to it. It’s how a lot of people discovered me and how a lot of key people that I’ve ended up working with discovered me or vice versa, me discovering other people and artists through that and I like the fact I don’t have to rely on a venue for promotion of the show.
Well the London and Manchester dates were hardly promoted at all.
BW: I’m sure they weren’t. I think a lot of venues feel they don’t have the need to promote something they don’t know about. Maybe they think of it as a filler and all of a sudden all the tickets sales happen because of my online fan base and then they are like ‘we didn’t have to do anything’ and I hate that but that’s the live business.
On a similar subject, the music business is in bit of a mess do you think it can be saved?
BW: A lot of aspects of it will not be saved and rightfully so and they don’t need to be, but we have to just get over the fact that music is eventually going to be free and people don’t have to buy it any more and you shouldn’t have to be able to put a kid on trial for it. I used to tape the radio when my favourite song came on so I could hear it over and over again, now it’s a different story if your re-selling it, but bootlegging has been around for years and those are the assholes that deserve to go to jail. Not a kid who is basically doing the same thing as taping the radio to listen back, it’s about the same sound quality on mp3 sometimes, so I don’t see what the big deal is except for the fact it definitely hurts record sales and will continue to and make them dwindle to nothing.
Lastly, I understand you are writing a book?
BW: Yeah, I got a book coming out. I’m up to chapter 5 right now, it’s pretty fun.
What will it be like?
BW: It’s pretty much everything that’s ever happened to me and happened with me. It’s more like a little bit of a lesson book of what not to do and just funny stories. It’ll be witty and it’ll be interesting and stuff I’ve saved from the press for the book.
You can buy Butch’s album from iTunes and I urge you to do so or head over to his myspace www.myspace.com/butchwalker to check him out. Huge thanks to Butch for taking the time to sit down with me and thank you to Jonathan Daniel, Anton Brookes and Tom Addison for making this happen.
Words: Paul Esp