Interview: Butch Walker

posted September 18, 2002

by Corinne

Where'd the title "Left of Self-Centered" come from?

It came from me being left-handed and self-centered (in a good way) and it meant that it was gonna be the first time that I was ever gonna make a solo record. So I had to come to terms with everything about me, and not about my band. So it was kind of a light-hearted approach to calling myself out for being a self-centered prick, y'know? For going solo, so to speak. I thought it was clever, some people don't.

Were all the songs on the new album written specifically for it?

Yeah they were, and a bunch more. I just recorded a bunch when I got off the whole Marvelous 3 trip. I spent a lot of time in the studio just writing, and writing, and writing, and writing, and recording and travelling and writing. Cause I don't really write that well in the studio just for recording, I think, for me. So I had to do, y'know... it sounds cliché, but I had to do a lot of searching and a lot of mental cleansing to get out of my system playing in a band with my best friends since I was 15 years old, spending everyday with them. It was a divorce so I had to get over it and it wasn't easy. Y'know, you become attached at the hip and so a lot of those things - management break-ups, record company break-ups - all that, I had to just cleanse my palate. So, I think that's why I was able to get a lot out on paper of my feelings. And also, after the tragedy that happened last year, I was able to not really become gratuitously patriotic, but be able to just reflect more on my childhood and think about how I could incorporate that in a positive angle in my music and my lyrics and stuff, and not be so worried to be introspective.

You didn't really make a secret of the problems you had with Elektra, did you feel apprehensive about signing with another major label?

No, I love the label I'm with now. I think that the best thing about where I'm at now is that I didn't really want to sign another major label deal, but I was fortunate, I guess if you want to call it fortunate, or maybe they were just stupid, labels started calling me and wanting me to come and be at their label after they found out I was off of Elektra. Most people run the other way when a band get off their label, but for some reason, I guess I just started building some respect out of the places where Elektra just showed nothing but disrespect. So I think I went to the right place because I just said, "Wherever I go it's just gonna have to be somewhere that the company's led by an artist and musicians themselves, and understands where I'm coming from about developing my own career, and not someone doing it for me, because I've been doing it enough that I know what I'm doing" and I found that in LA Reid. He was like, "I get it; I know what you do. I love your production work, I love your writing, your showmanship – do what you want." I was like, "that's good." 'Cause once again, that goes back to the thing about being kind of a control freak. I want to make sure that no one tries to stifle that.

Is this your first headlining tour solo?
Well, this is part of many tours we're doing right now, but it's still in the early stages. I went out and did a tour with Lit for about 6 weeks, or a month, or something - and that was the first official tour I've done. And that was before the record even came out. So I guess this is the first tour since the record has come out that I've done.

How is it going touring solo?

It's going great except for the last 3 days have been - or the last whole week has been - kind of a nightmare. I've got to find out who's going to Hell in my band, besides me, because the karma machine is on full throttle right now. We went through 2 buses in 24 hours, the first 24 hours of the tour, and then got hit by 2 semis the next day and totaled my brand new trailer and wrecked a lot of our gear. So all within the first 3 days it was not fun.

Was everybody ok?

But everybody's fine so that's why I'm laughing about it. Yeah, like I said, if that's the worst it gets...

Have your former band mates heard the album?

Oh yeah, I mean, my drummer played on the record and my bass player was over at the house a lot when I was recording it.

Do they like it?

They love it. At least, they tell me that to my face.

Marvelous 3 had a decent sized fan-base, has there been any carry-over that you've noticed?

I think it's been beautiful to see the amount of commitment that friends and fans have had as opposed to worrying about, "Well, is this record gonna be huge? Or is it gonna get airplay or MTV? Because if not I don't really care about it anymore." Regardless of that, they've been coming to the shows, people have been coming to the shows and showing their support. And getting into it from what I see from the stage. Then again, my perception is very distorted when I'm up there, but it looks like everybody's getting into it. I think it's great and, therefore, that's what keeps me going and keeps me doing it, the ability to play for the people that care about what I have to say. Cause, everybody just wants to hear you and everybody wants to be heard. So as long as my songs are getting heard, then I appreciate that.

Did you feel it difficult to separate yourself from Marvelous 3?

Mm hmm... I think I didn't want to. I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel and I wasn't trying to – "ok, I'm going to go in a completely different direction, y'know completely different than everything I've ever done". That wouldn't be me. I mean, I wanted to still tell stories in my lyrics and have sort of, like I said, an introspective twist to the songs. But musically and production-wise, I didn't want to feel like I had to be pigeon-holed because I wasn't really doing something where I had to worry about a specific band sound because there was no band anymore. So it kind of allowed me to run in all different directions of all my influences, and kind of put all that together on a record that is hopefully something that is fresh and new - as opposed to all sounding like one regurgitated sound over and over again, y'know? You grow up with 2 older sisters in a small town and you're kind of a product of their record collection. So that can be anything. I kind of wanted to be able to have this green light for me to not have to worry about being shoved into a category and filed under something. That's a blessing and a curse, cause the people who sell the most records tend to be more genre specific, I think, and consistent in their songs. But I care less about selling that many records and more about being happy listening to my record 10 years from now, not bored.

You did some producing and co-writing with Lit, Injected and SR-71. Is sort of out of the limelight type work what you want to do? Writing for other bands and producing for them?

I'm not good at giving someone else the microphone. I'm a ham, y'know? And I like the spotlight. I think that's why I do what I do and act like an idiot up there - because I revel in it, the hour I'm up on stage every night. But the one thing that does ground me is getting behind the console and producing or pen and paper and helping write for someone else, just because it's very gratifying, the whole give and receive thing, y'know? You need that balance in life to keep your feet on the ground. It feels really good to have someone else get to a certain level where they actually come to you and say, "Hey, man, thanks for helping me create this. Thanks for helping me get to that point." And it's happened a couple of times in my life already, and I'm very fortunate for that to happen. As opposed to it always be about me being the guy out there, so it's really cool. I like it. I think also, I can't count on my legs to always be there, y'know, 20 years from now I might be too old to be rocking and I'll have to be sitting behind the producer console making records. That's fun to me; I love it. But I always gotta perform.

I think it'll be a little bit more than 20 years.

I hope so.

Ok, so what are your favorite albums?

Oh God, I buy music constantly. I buy it, I download it – I do everything. I mean, I'm like a junkie for new music and old music. I have such a big catalogue of old songs that it's hard for me to balance out what's my favorite records now and what's my favorite records growing up. I have to say, new records, though, I still love the new Phantom Planet record, I've been listening to that ever since it came out, I love it. The... …I don't know where to start. The Vines is pretty good, all the "the" bands – y'know, The White Stripes, overrated; The Hives, awesome. This is me being opinionated. I love, love the new Flaming Lips record. Love it. I don't listen to much stuff that's on the radio everyday, so maybe that's a bad thing that I say that, cause I would love for my shit to be on the radio, but I'd rather listen to The Flaming Lips because it's interesting. But there's a lot of good stuff out there that's on the radio, too. I just don't know where to start because my changer is constantly…I'm pulling stuff in and out of it all the time. The new Cee-Lo record rules. I'm a big fan of Outkast. I'm a closet white-bred rap lover and all the best ones are from my hometown so I feel good about that cause Ludacris and Outkast and Cee-Lo and Goodie Mob and all those guys are great. But I could never do it, I'm way too white.

Name an underrated band.

How much room do you have on [the recorder]? Got a lot of room?

I've got paper, too.

Yeah, underrated. There's a lot, trying to sum it up with one right now.

It's sort of the focus of the site the interview is for.

Yeah? God, there's so many that are underrated. And I was just talking about this the other day, let me think of a good one cause I think there are so many that are underrated.

Keep it under 100.

Oh God, I don't know if I could. Pretty much every artist that I just mentioned is probably underrated on a commercial level but that's just cause I know that they'll never be a band that will sell millions of records cause I think they're too good; that's cool, whatever. I think Jellyfish is one of the all time underrated bands and very... highly influential. The Refused: heavily influential band that the agro-indie-emo thing going on now, 5 years ago they hung it up and kind of self-destructed before their time; they were kind of like a Jane's Addiction of that sound from, y'know, 5 years ago, I think. And, there's a lot. I think Robbie Williams is underrated for a pop guy. He was in this boy band, Take That, which was cheese ball shit but his last couple records were pretty smart and pretty cool so, but he sells a lot of records, though, I don't feel sorry for him.

Yeah, he's huge in England.

That's just it - the big in England thing.

They like their pop music. What music have you been listening to recently?

Well, I guess pretty much everything I just told you, as far as those bands go. Like I said, I don't listen to a lot of rock, unless it's like old classic rock or something like that just for fun. But I'm getting into a lot of the new wave stuff and the Swedish garage thing is pretty cool. I mean, it's clichéd to say that because it's becoming so trendy but ever since the Refused and groups like that kind of led the way and paved the way for a lot of that sound. To me, anything's better than sounding like regurgitated Pearl Jam and fucking Nirvana, because you just can't get any better than they were and I'm tired of hearing it 10 years later so I'm glad there's new stuff blowing people out of the water right now.

Have you heard (International) Noise Conspiracy? That's the guy from Refused...

Oh yeah that's a spin-off band which is very much like one of the first... they're one of the first regurgitated garage bands since this garage revival craze, I think. Cause I got those records like 3 or 4 years ago. Yeah, they're responsible for bringing The Hives over here, y'know, and I love them. Like I said, I'm a music junkie; good music is good music. There's good and bad, there's no categories. It can be as pop as Shakira or as indie as the Conspiracy, I think if it's good it's good, if it's bad it's bad. So, I like those guys.

In the first half of your album, especially, I hear a lot of glam rock. What would you consider your influences are?

Well, I have to admit, I grew up on a lot of glam rock, that's not hard to tell. And I'm proud to admit it, I love it, I think it's great. But my sisters had disco records, they had funk records, they had pop records, they had all the AM cheesy old classics. And my dad was a huge country fan so I had to listen to tons of Hank, Jr. and Hank, Sr. and just stuff like that growing up. But it's interesting, you think then that you're not ingesting any of it but you take it in and it comes out in your music… Roots rock, The Eagles, I mean, pop, The Beatles, all that shit. But my first concert was Kiss when I was 8 years old; that's all it took. To see a show like that and go, "Well, ok, wrestling's not gonna be around for another 10 years so this is good. They're blowing shit up." Nowadays, wrestling is more energetic than rock shows, if you ask me. Except for Slipknot, they're pretty crazy live. But that's kind of an acquired taste, I suppose. Kiss was like wrestling sort of is now back then. Big fat ugly guys in tights and make-up, blowing fire and getting pissed off and screaming and people going nuts and, I guess I hate to say it, but I liked it.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I don't know. I don't really think about it. I always try to live one day at a time. I don't really know. If I tried to plan things out too much I'd be disgruntled if it doesn't happen that way, because I thought I was gonna be a rock star by the time I got out of high school and it's been a few years since then and I'm still working at it. So I think it's safe to say if you don't plan it out and expect the worst, you get something. So I don't really know. I know it'll be this... I know it'll be music because I can't cook worth shit, y'know?

No Martha Stewart?

No, I won't be doing that. I'm not a sharp dresser, so I can't model. I can't add or subtract worth a damn so I can watch my money really well, but I can't add or subtract so I don't think I'll ever get a job in math/science business or anything so I think I'll be making music one way or the other.