Chris Butler's GOT IT TOGEHTER!, The Songwriter and the Songs
For Fans of artists such as Courtney Barnett, Death Cab for Cutie, Tame Impala, the Waitresses, Tin Huey….
Chris Butler’s new album GOT IT TOGEHTER! is a picturesque collection by an older, wiser, and wry guy with humble and thoughtful Midwestern values. Using visual descriptions and incidental dialogue, there's an ironically amused observer that includes equal parts of a perplexed and rock-loving H. L. Mencken, Tom Wolfe, Lenny Bruce, Gary Snyder, Norman Rockwell, and Howard Zim! He sees a range of qualities in a variety of folks: up-and-coming musicians, upbeat people, inconsiderate souls, people in his dreams….
Chris Butler… You may not know this guy, but you might know what he’s been involved with as an artist, from his days as a student at Kent State, being in a 1970s "art rock for laughs" rock band (Tin Huey) signed by Warner Bros. Records, and the founder/songwriter/producer/guitarist of the Waitresses, who—in the 1980s— had the hits (“I Know What Boys Like”, the “Square Pegs” TV show theme and “Christmas Wrapping”). He spent the rest of that decade producing (Freedy Johnston, Scruffy The Cat, Joan Osborne) & writing songs in hard-won obscurity, playing drums and doing freelance writing for tech and music mags. In 1996, released “The Devil Glitch”, a 69-minute song with over 500 verses (listed in the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records “World’s Longest Pop Song”! Now online and over four hours long at http://www.infiniteglitch.net. In 1997, released “I Feel A Bit Normal Today” - a CD of bent pop. He played drums with Richard Lloyd (from Television) 1995-2000. In 2001, released “Un Petit Goûter - The Best of Kilopop!” - a fake ‘Best of’ from a non-existent Euro-pop band. In 2002, released “The Museum of Me” - a collection of 10-years-worth of audio experiments using antique and obsolete recording gear. In 2014, released “Easy Life” (plus alt.easylife.cd - an outtake CD) - a song cycle based on witnessing the murder of four students at Kent State University in 1970. In 2018, Chris Butler collaborated with Ralph Carney (Tin Huey, Tom Waits, B-52s) on “Songs For Unsung Holidays” (Smog Veil), a recording of tunes celebrating offbeat holidays like Gorilla Suit Day and Salami Appreciation Day. Recent projects include writing and producing two short films.
Chris’s new CD is entitled GOT IT TOGEHTER! The title is intentionally misspelled.
The hook that Chris sings in the song, “Physics” is “Reality never applied to me.” Indeed he shares assorted ways he’s an exception to the rule, from selling out to refusing to compromise. "I am my own man. Excluded from mainstream culture and job possibilities. I will have to make my own way...always. So whatever is conventional wisdom, common sense, etc. just never works for me. My alienation is complete." Almost three minutes into the song, at a break we hear mystical sounding Farfisa organ that he turns on-and-off. “This whole album,” Chris says, “has an assortment of odd instruments. There’s a Stylophone (an oddball keyboard, hand-held synthesizer that uses a stylus to make contact with a metal keyboard. David Bowie used one on "Space Oddity".) I also used a deluxe version with two styli and an optical sensor that If you put your hand over it, you can get a wah-wah effect."
SONGS FOR GUYS:
"I spend a lot of time on the lyrics. I'm inspired by Becker and Fagan (pre-smooth jazz Steely Dan), David Byrne, Tom Lehrer, Andy Partridge (XTC), Randy Newman, Lowell George (Little Feat), people with an edge, they tell a story, are tongue and cheek, snotty! My songwriting mentor Bob Kidney, who I played with in The Numbers Band (15-60-75), now in their 48th year, is a master lyricist, and drilled it into me that “words count! Say something and say it right. Say it in a witty, intense, human and strategic manner. In SONGS FOR GUYS, Chris sings about a fixation on a passionate female rocker that sings feminist/female-centric songs, who “scratches my head from the inside."
“I can smell your anger.” The is the type of person that says, “I’ve got all the friends I need. I could use a new enemy, though!” A little baiting of the other political side, of an uptight, passive person just for the hell of it, but also relevant to extremism where people fight for the sake of fighting. “Black Butterfly” in the song is about volcanic anger. The unusual instruments include 8-string bass and 12-string guitars, wobbly reverb, and a broken Vox Tape Delay.
“The significance of the title SUMMER MONEY, literally, is it's a lovely summer, and then you get an unexpected check in the mail. Poetically, just a phrase for maximum goodness. Two good things stuck together.” The simple life in his backyard all summer long, but with a dose of dread seeing that first leaf fall.
“The summer sun is my only church.
And from this pew, I pray for better flowers!”
Chris uses an acoustic and 12-string guitar. The inspiration for the “wash of a guitar” sound is from 10cc’s “I’m Not In love.” That came from an effect called a Rainbow Machine put out by a local Akron company, Earthquaker.
LATE FOR WORK
Chris wants to stay home and make love with his divine lady, but he’s got a job that he has to go to! The hook lyric is “I ran after you like a man late for work!” He says the second verse is “the best thing I’ve ever written.”
“Look at you! You make the morning sunrise jealous
Standing by the kitchen stove.
With your low-slung gunfighter coffee cup
Daring the day to make one false move.
Girly girl-itous girl-itude.
A mountain of girly-osity.
What's it like to wake up each day and be that lovely?”
“It's an adult love song, rare for me. I write about predicaments and small things. Leave the lovey-dovey stuff to those better at it.”
With electric, and acoustic 12-string guitars as the driving opening riff, DROMOMANIA is about an old pro nomad making fun of a tourist (a “novice castaway” trying to go native.) The tourist has no idea what one gives up to truly be in perpetual motion. They will go back to civilization, but not this guy. He's stuck in high gear. Inspired by the book SONG LINES by Bruce Chatwin. "Some people need to be in constant motion."
Some women and men get mad at this song. "Family-centric people are insulted by it. But I’m not, by nature, a paternal cat. I never understood why anybody would want to get pregnant and have children. This is from my history. My mother was not a good mother. Her message was that children ruin your life. "I was a problem, just 'cause I was there." The Universe had another idea for me, however. I have a son, and he's great." In recording MOMMY GLOW, Chris used one guitar, multi-mic-ed for stereo with lots of compression to make the guitar sound huge.
Written for a reformed Tin Huey, inspired by the music of Albert Ayler, NICOTINE WEATHER might also be compared to some of the word salad of Captain Beefheart. Chris loves to spew “beatnik poetry” on top of “clutter.” The musical theme of the song is a Salvation Army marching band kind of riff. The lyrics are how crazy one gets when trying to quit smoking. My bass solo is in the style of Tin Huey’s Mark Price - explosive, ferocious, intense, noisy.
“This song is another of my patent one-sided conversations, a lyrical structure I used a lot in Waitresses songs. I have been told I am every girl's best girlfriend and easy to talk to. A wrong-righter. Good in terms of female friendships, not good if you just want to get laid!” Chris says, “At my age, we’re all going to funerals and memorials. The most punk thing you can do is play rock and roll after you’re 65. I've been to shows here in Akron where the lead guitarists are all on chemo. But they still want to play, and thankfully there is an audience here that still goes out to see live music. Emphasis on the word ‘live’” AWAKE shows what people say to each other at wakes; conflicting things include: “I can tell him anything—absolutely anything!” He sang, “Vegetarians should be shot” in reference to what to bring and not bring, and then was told she was vegan! The song ends with a ghost story/dream sequence.
NEVER BEEN OLD BEFORE
Chris proclaims, “If you say you’re bored, then you’re not paying attention.” He got that from a bumper sticker. And the hook, “whatever I do with you for the first time, could be the last time for me” is the realization that time rolls by so fast, and he doesn’t want his kid to be blasé about life. NEVER BEEN OLD BEFORE compares grownups and childhood, and encourages kids to put down their cellphones and to look at the world around them. The goal is to show the wonderful riches of the world, and “mock the negativity.” Part of the song he’s reminiscing about growing up, and seeing The Who on the television show Shindig that changed his life!
The entertaining BITCH BOX is a song with dialog, in which Chris lets out his grumpy side, and sings along with himself in hi-fi harmonic choruses that mock him with taunts of “WAH WAH WAH,” and being told to shut up in his own song! Great lines like “half of the half-filled glass is missing,” “I have a bad story about everybody,” “But somehow the fault’s always mine, repeating patterns that fail since 1949”, and “Bitch Box, that’s my name, I do the world a service by taking all the blame,” “You’ve got a right to be silent, I got a right to complain.”
Musically, Chris was inspired by the blues lick that Tom Verlaine used on Television’s “The Grip of Love.”
BETTER THAN I EVER WAS
Chris loves Muscle Shoals Stax-Volt soul, and wrote a song inspired by Dan Penn (who wrote “I’m Your Puppet”). A funky, geezer anthem with powerful horns by Marc Paige that elevate Chris’ proclaiming his survival after all these years. Chris sings about the messes he made, but they all worked out, “All the BS that I took on faith, it’s kind of amazing it didn’t get in my way….and damn here I am, better than I ever was!…It’s a victory to get up each day.” “I pinched the idea from working with Richard Lloyd, who was brilliant and crazy. I loved his autobiography, telling stories of his self-abuse and shooting up with Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg. I was inspired by his great attitude - “Wow, I can’t believe I’m still here!”
After the album, GOT IT TOGEHTER!, Chris includes bonus songs—demos, some that made the album, some that didn’t.
THE WHIRLAWAY (demo)
This is a four-track demo of an unrecorded Waitresses song about living on borrowed time, and how that debt will be eventually called in. But not today.
BETTER THAN I EVER WAS (demo)
Guitars instead of saxes. Key of A instead of G on the final version. But you still feel that old school soul influence! 12-string guitar distorted, which is unusual for that instrument.
TOUCH OF GRAY (demo)
Another in a long line of commissioned songs that never got used. Chris initially wrote the song in the female gender about his grandmother for "A...My Name Is Alice" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A..._My_Name_Is_Alice”). The demo shows an imaginary conversation with a child, and how the grandparent immigrated here in 1894, starting thinking in English to help himself become a citizen. So much of his life including living 50 years with one woman, and 25 alone, burying their heroes, but outliving their enemies. The character believes his children can do better than he did, that thought bringing contentment.
CURIOUS GIRLS—BIG HIT SINGLE (demo)
"My attempt at writing a big synth-based hit song. The protagonist in the song is a pompous male chauvinist. I needed a strong masculine voice to fit the character, so vocals are by my friend George Gilmore from The Tall Lonesome Pines.” A break-up song turned inside out - a “full of himself male” that would forgive his ex after she is disappointed in all her new prospects. “It’s a cold cruel world, and it’s always the meanest to curious girls.” He may be smugly confident that she will return to him, but in reality, he hasn't a clue.
Whatever age Chris writes from, the yearnings for connection are still the same. He says, “Youthful passions really don't age out. That's a lie that too many fall prey to. Fight it. You have to be really courageous...or rather, just plain stubborn to keep developing, stay curious and/or stay true to wanting to live a vital, exciting life. Entropy will take its toll, but it doesn't matter if you still burn to be creative.”
Chris Butler’s creativity as a song craftsman with an observational sense of kindness, irony, and humor make GOT IT TOGEHTER! a captivating listen. Pay attention.
Chris Butler: http://www.futurefossilmusic.com/
GOT IT TOGEHTER!: Distributed by Smog Veil Records https://www.smogveil.com/
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