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Interview: Butch Walker

| September 30, 2011 | 0 Comments

Ghost Writer

It should come as no surprise that Butch Walker loved Taylor Swift’s megahit, “You Belong With Me,” nor should it be surprising that, in a couple of hours, he recorded his own version of the song – one that did it huge heaping piles more justice. It might have been a little surprising – especially to Walker himself – that Ms. Swift was so tickled with his version (made popular by Walker’s own YouTube video) that he was invited to perform with her and Stevie Nicks at the Grammys last year. It was an apropos moment for this extremely talented – and surprisingly affable – musician/songwriter/producer.

Appearing: 10/13 at Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee) in Chicago with Shovels & Rope.

The thing that has always been apparent and something Walker’s only continued to get better at is his almost scary adeptness at writing a “hook.” Where most songwriters struggle (and few succeed) to write songs that are sticky, memorable, and powerful, Walker almost seems unable not to write one.

“I think I just try to accentuate what I grew up listening to, which was mostly AM radio and pop music when I was really young,” he says. “I don’t know that it was the coolest music in the world, but when you’re from a small town growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, music is what it is. There weren’t a lot of outlets, there was no Internet or MTV until 1980, but even in 1980 when MTV came along it was still very pop-driven. I guess I just really lived and breathed all of that music and all of those melodies and song structures and things, that when they seep into your brain they’re stuck there.”

If you’re old enough and were into that kind of thing, you may vaguely recall Walker’s ’80s hair-metal band Southgang. A handful of you were probably fans of his pop-rock ’90s band The Marvelous 3. And hopefully by now most of you have heard his solo stuff. If you haven’t, well, his new record The Spade (Dangerbird) is a fine place for you to get acquainted.

His sixth solo LP is perhaps the ultimate specimen of all that Walker was, all that he is, and all that he has yet to become as an artist. On it you hear the foundations of his songwriting style, but with the transformation that comes with years of writing and recording for yourself and others. Gone are the metal-ballad vocal affectations, replaced by the voice of a man who embraces who he is and knows he doesn’t have to try as hard. What is also different is that he collaborated with the Black Widows (Fran Capitanelli, Chris Unck, Jake Sinclair) and his longtime friend, Michael Trent.

“On this new record there was a lot of co-writing internally with the band and also with my buddy, Mike Trent, who is a singer/songwriter as well who has contributed lyrically to the last couple of records,” he explains. “[Mike and I] are kind of almost an extension of each other’s arms when it comes to writing; we’re very similar. We felt we had a lot of success [writing together] with the last record, so we did it again on this one, and there were a lot of ideas brought in by the guys in the band, and it made for a pretty quick record.

“The thing we wanted to do mainly, though, was make sure that it was a record we could play front to back without losing a single song live, so that no one would fall asleep or take a pee break during something. We wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll record.” Check and check.

Starting off with the joyful pop-rock opener, “Bodegas And Blood,” the record rolls smoothly like a set of new tires down the desert road, with the windows down and the wind and sun on your face. Next is the sing-along-worthy “Every Single Body Else,” then the ’80s paean “Summer Of ’89” (for which they made an equally reminiscent, tongue-in-cheek video with cameo by Seymour Cassel), on to the groovy Stones-esque “Sweethearts.” Once past the sentimental rocker “Day Drunk” and the bouncy, Dexy’s Midnight Runners-esque “Synthesizers,” exhilaration takes hold. “Dublin Crow” comes in like a surprise bonus mid-record, an Irish folk-influenced beauty and perhaps one of the most perfect songs Walker has produced to date. From there, Walker truly embraces his Southern roots on the country crooner “Closest Thing To You I’m Gonna Find.” The trip comes to a crescendo with two outright fun and ballsy rockers, “Bullet Belt” and “Suckerpunch.” It’s over before you realize, and you’re ready to start the car, turn up the stereo, and repeat.

Lyrically, Walker has increasingly turned to nostalgia over the years, alongside the usual suspects like heartbreak and the trifecta: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He chalks it up to getting older.

– Penelope Biver

For the full story, grab the October issue of Illinois Entertainer, free throughout Chicagoland, or click the issue’s cover from our homepage.

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Category: Featured, Features, Monthly

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