I can't believe I haven't written about this, actually.
If you know me, you know how much I adore Butch Walker. Seems I've listened to him since I knew what Rock and Roll was, and had my own set of speakers to listen to him through.
Since working at Inked Magazine, every time there was an opportunity to feature a musician, I would (try not to shout) "BUTCH WALKER". When our Pin Up themed issue came up this year... My editor in chief took me up on this... and... well... I got to interview the dude.
Funny thing was, I just went to his show in NYC a couple of weeks prior. So, his talent and ability to perform was fresh in the heart.
After a lot of thought, and me bouncing back and fourth with the idea of me flying my own ass out there to photograph him - I decided to pass the job along to the wonderful Jeff Forney. He's a gem of a man, and a wickedly awesome photographer. and well... He did a damn good job.
To read what I wrote... yup, I got to write the damn article... Keep on keepin' on.
“If you ever stop being inspired or stop being taught, you die,” Butch Walker says. “I am constantly grateful that I’m being inspired all the time.”
If you don’t know Walker’s solo project, you probably heard his music in one way or another, whether it’s from one of his past bands (he was the lead guitarist of SouthGang and the front man of Marvelous 3 with the Top 40 hit “Freak of the Week”) or if it’s in his producing career, with his collection of artists including Katy Perry, Gavin DeGraw, P!nk, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. If you do know him, you are probably one of those die-hard fans that has all of his records, read his book, seen his film, know and adore his son, mourned his father’s death and danced your face off at his show—face-to-face with him as he routinely jumps into the crowd.
In 2015, Walker released Afraid of Ghosts, a year after his father had passed from pancreatic cancer. The album was a necessary tribute to his dad and gave the songwriter a way to mourn. Walker wrote the album in a New York City hotel room by himself, and while out wandering the town, he serendipitously ran into lifelong friend Ryan Adams. Before he knew it, Walker sat in front of him playing as Adams critiqued— tearing songs apart and being the voice of detached reason for Walker, unwittingly serving as his producer. When Walker boarded a plane to return home, a simple text confirmed that Adams would officially produce the album. This relationship was a first for Walker since his hands were always on the producer dials, yet it was crucial, as he was too close to the content. Walker was clear that he didn’t want to overthink or sugarcoat it and needed someone who is how he is when producing: Opinionated, direct and without a filter. “It’s poisonous to have someone around to pump the ego,” Walker says. “Truth creates a space to feel smaller, yet important.” Four days later... they had a record. A barebones, one-man band who crooned under his breath and danced with his demons.
Walker then toured, with his latest and, what he says, his last and most important tattoo to him: a naval anchor with his father’s name, Willard, on top of his hand. The tattoo served as a reminder that his father is always there. The tour, the repetition of performing the songs while connecting to the loving energy of crowds in different towns, served as his catharsis. After he went around the country and rinsed his heart out, he took but barely a moment to throw himself back into the studio.
Walker then released Stay Gold back in August, an album that consists of what seemed to be a natural next step: a collection of nostalgic emotions, moments and memories. There were still a lot of emotions flying around, and now he saw he was starting to deal with them in different way. As he explained himself on his blog, “This is an album for the misfits that got made fun of in school for being a little different. For the ones that couldn’t wait to get out of their small towns, and the ones who happily settled down in them after the wonder years. It’s about love. Hate. Death. Birth. Boredom. Goals. All of that shit.”
Walker builds his albums. “Call me a hopeless romantic, nostalgic person—but I can’t think of it as ‘this song will make a great digital download’, it’s not in my nature to think that way,” he says. “Records matter. Side A and Side B matter. The last song on Side A matters, the first song on Side B matters.”
The bow tied around the album is the final song “Record Store,” which was written when he woke in the middle of the night with an “oh shit!” moment. Realizing that he didn’t have what he considered the last song on the record, he wrote as the sun rose. Then in the morning he recorded the track with friend Susan Chase, who sang as well as played the fiddle. The two of them went down the memory lane, reminding us what it is like to be the youth in a small town of the romantic art form of making, buying and listening to records. It brings us back to current day, where we are at now musically and in the music industry… and sadly, how the easy, carefree days, much like our childhood, is in the past.
As Walker speaks about inspiration and his muses, you hear family, mentors and band mates, as well as the good ole rock ‘n’ roll. He brings up Elvis Costello, with one of his pieces of tattoo advice: Don’t get a portrait of someone you consider an idol who is still alive. He explains, “I’m not one of those people who is cool around someone I admire… I start freaking out.” Over a decade ago, Walker was on an elevator at the Chateau Marmont with a liquid brain and a slurring tongue. Suddenly, he was joined by Costello. Walker could do nothing more but point to the tattoo of him on his wrist and drunkenly shouted at him, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Costello did what any person would do, and started pressing the Next Floor button repeatedly as Walker screamed on.
His other advice? Wait until you are 30 years old to get a tattoo. “You don’t know who the fuck you are until then,” jokes the man who has a tattoo of his ex-wife (whoops).
When asking Walker what’s next, he pulls a photo of a quote that he read that morning in The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: “I just really only want to work when I want to work. Life is really hard and it’s the only one you have. I mean, I like what I do and I know I’m supposed to do it, but I have nothing to bring to it, if I don’t live my life.”
The man who has had his music all over the record store—in bins labeled “Hair Metal,” “Pop,” “Top 40” and “Folk”—and who’s produced albums that both your niece and the cool kid next store loves, one can never know what his sound will reveal, nor who he will be collaborating with. What stays consistent is Walker’s skills in storytelling, and that he will have a hook or five that will reel you in and hold on tight.
You should listen to him... now....