An Interview With Butch Walker

Butch Walker knows a good hook when he hears one. He’s recently become a highly-sought-after rock and pop producer and collaborator, toughening and tightening up the sound of artists such as Pink, Avril Lavigne and Hot Hot Heat. Walker also rocks pretty hard on his own, and he’s got a new album out, The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites! Walker will be at the 9:30 Club with his band on Monday, July 24th, and I recently got a chance to speak to him as he waited to catch a flight out of Atlanta…

So you’ve got a new album out, and it’s got a concept feel to it – can you give me a little summary of the idea behind it?

It was just time to make a record that was something that you’d want to put on before going on stage to pump you up or to go out at night driving down the road. That was the kind of record I wanted…I just had a great year, and I think the lyrics and everything else reflect that.

Any particular favorite tracks off the new record?

I’m really proud of the way “When Canyons Ruled the City” and “Dominoes” came out. I love playing “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites.” That’s a really fun song for us to play live…everything’s got a really cool swagger to it.

Last time you came to DC you had a pretty rocking band. Are the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites a new band, or just a new name for the same faces?

It’s the same band, with a couple extra people thrown into the mix [two back-up singers] and a certified band name…they helped me record the album. It was very much a band effort and a collaborative process. It doesn’t sound like a solo artist’s record, and it obviously wasn’t.

Moving on to songwriting - You’ve been collaborating a lot recently with artists like Pink – How do these opportunities pop up? Is it a case of people getting writer’s block and then calling Butch Walker in to save the day?

A lot of it’s based on writer’s block, or just wanting to stretch out and try something different. Right now I’m working on Avril Lavigne’s record, and we’re a good little pop writing team together.

Do you find it odd hearing other people sing your songs?

No. It’s usually songs I wouldn’t sing myself. I write stuff all the time and think, “Oh, this definitely is not for me.” And once you learn to let go of it and not…market it, promote it, [and] manage it, and let somebody else do all that, it’s kind of nice to sit back and watch somebody else make it happen and then still get that big fat check in the mail.

So is that the direction you want to go in the future – doing more behind-the-scenes work, like writing and producing, and not having to tour?

Not at all. I’ve been an artist my entire life, and that’s always my main thing. It just hasn’t been as commercially successful as my producing. It’s interesting, funny, and ironic that I started producing records about fifteen years ago – I’d been doing it for a long time, but I just started getting known for it…But that’s just my day job.

Your production skills are pretty in-demand right now. In your words, how would you describe the Butch Walker “sound?”

I just think that melodies are everything, so I base a lot on melody and lyrics. With pop stuff, it has to be a little bit more direct, so Joe Nebraska out there can really digest it, instead of having it be a heady, deep lyrical mess, which I tend to like for myself. So I think having the balance of the two [lyrics and melody] is good.

And you’re producing the new record for Rock Star: Supernova, too, right?

Yeah, I helped Tommy [Lee] out with that a little bit. He’s a friend of mine and a nice guy, and we pounded out some songs together.

Any predictions?

Hell no, man! I went on for the first episode, and the TV people edited me so bad I said I would never come back and do it again. I spoke my mind, and they just cut it all out. That was my one chance to let people know how I feel, and I guess they didn’t like it.

I had read that you write most of your stuff on the piano. Do you still do that?

Not on this new record. I actually came in with some lyrics written down and some melodies, and we [the band] sat there and went nuts. And the band actually came up with the music.

You’ve got a lot of edgy material. Do you prefer to base your songs on things going on around you, or do you like to live vicariously through your writing?

It’s usually very much autobiographical. That being said, I always try to keep it interesting. I’ve really enjoyed…the last few years because I’ve gotten to live and learn and do so much, and it’s come with a lot of interesting things to write about. And I always want to be sincere, so I want [my songs] at least to be about something that a lot of other people can relate to.

Any particular bands you’re liking right now?

Yeah, my iPod is full right now. I love the new [Flaming] Lips record, it’s awesome. The Keane record’s great. I’m getting into the new Raconteurs, too.

And when you’re out on tour, what keeps you going?

My iPod, my wireless Internet card, my Mac laptop, my Blackberry – that’s pretty much my life. And my motorcycle.

-Listen to “Bethamphetamine (Pretty, Pretty),”the first single from the The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites! below…
*MP3: Bethamphetamine (Pretty, Pretty)
Butch Walker
*Watch the video for “Bethamphetamine (Pretty, Pretty)” w/ Avril Lavigne
*Butch Walker's Official Site and MySpace