Interview with Jason Aalon Butler of letlive. “I was taught that vulnerability was not allowed”
letlive. ignited the underground punk scene with 2010’s ‘Fake History’ album and have garnered universal critical acclaim with their incendiary live show. With their latest album, ‘The Blackest Beautiful’, the LA punks are trying something a little different. Remfry Dedman sits down with frontman Jason Aalon Butler.
The Blackest Beautiful has been out since July and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. You must be pleased?
Yeah, I really am, it’s a very interesting thing to observe your own work from an outside perspective. You invest so much of yourself into a record and then you have to take a step back and observe it like anyone else would, like if you were a critic or a listener. I’ve really tried to listen to it with objective ears and I think it’s a pretty cool record.
It’s quite different to 2010’s Fake History, an album which has been received by many as a modern classic. Did you make a conscious decision to step away from the sound of that album?
Yeah, there were a lot of deliberate moves made with The Blackest Beautiful. It took about six months to record, we did four different sessions of drums alone which is very unorthodox but somehow it culminated positively and so from that we kind of felt that we should just keep going, putting more ideas into it. It’s very similar, sonically to how it sounded when we recorded it. We did very minimal sound replacing; it was as close to a live record as we could get without doing it like Led Zeppelin or something.
Is that the intention, to try to re-create your live show on record?
We’re trying. Yeah because with Fake History I think the biggest qualm that we had was it didn’t sound live. It didn’t have that feel that encapsulates a listener when you’re like “Oh, I feel like this is being played right in front of me!”, so we tried to focus on that. And, you know, some people will disagree which is inevitable. There will always be naysayers, but there’s no room for us to apologise for the record we wrote, we wrote it with intent and we accomplished that intent. I think if anything we’re just trying to represent ourselves as honestly and authentically as possible. And I think we did that most effectively on this record.
How important is it to you that listeners understand the actual meaning behind each song?
I lend these songs ambiguity for a reason because I think that I put some pretty specific things in there, you can’t really circumvent the issue of what I’m trying to talk about. But within that it can be dressed differently for different people. You take a subject and you observe it and now you have a choice to be for or against it, you have a choice to pick the parts that pertain to you, or pertain to others, what you want to take from it and what you want to leave. So I’m literally just trying to facilitate an idea, and cauterise a thought but I’ve never really wanted to directly frame someone’s mind in any specific way. I just want them to think something, to feel something. I think that’s the beginning of every great spark, every revolution or even just a change of direction when you’re walking down the street, it’s literally just giving them the option, giving them the opportunity.
There’s so much going on in the songs on the album. How do you create that sense of chaos in the controlled environs of the recording studio?
I’ve never really pre-emptively struck, I just go in, and I just think to myself “here’s your moment.” I ask only a couple of things of the engineer, like I ask them not to be there or I’ll ask if we can turn the lights off, because it is a very raw, vulnerable state that it puts me in and I’m still human and I’m still very much concerned about my image in that sense sometimes, because I was taught that vulnerability was not allowed, that it was something that would actually hurt you, beyond just being sad, vulnerability was certainly condemned. So that festers in someone for long enough and then finally you’re able to switch on to thinking it’s okay in this setting to be that vulnerable.
When you’re trying to feign it in the studio, it’s contrived. Every human being possesses that feeling where your hairs stand on end, or you feel like your heart is racing or palpitating. That is an inherent piece of us and luckily letlive. has been able to strike that feeling within some people. I know that when I’m recording, my vulnerability is being pulled and yanked and completely exploited. I just turned 28, and I am now just realising that I’ve never really been in love and I’ve been saying I have been for years, and I’m just realising all of the reasons why I was such an angry young man. All I want to do is be a good person, yet there’s this hindrance which is my volatile nature that I’ve had to work on. I’m doing that now it’s just taken a long time.
letlive. are one of a wave of bands emerging who mix so many different styles into their music they become almost genre-less. Do you think that’s due to the demise of the major record labels, which in turn is giving bands more control over their own music?
Yeah I think it’s an occurrence that is holistic. One couldn’t have happened without the other. I think artists have realised that the idea of independence is very real, very tangible, particularly now. So we’ve accepted it and we’re harnessing it and we’re developing it, not only in a way that benefits us but the listeners, the patrons, the fans, the friends. We don’t think about record labels anymore, why would we, when we can do this on our own? We didn’t start playing music to get money; we started playing music, evolutionarily, to procreate. In evolutionary psychology they talk about men being the primary music makers because they were trying to have the brightest feather in the flock, you know, they were trying to be the guy that the girl wanted. So they’d make music, they’d do these rhythms, they’d do these dances, they’d make these songs. And the best song, best dance, best rhythm, beyond their physical attributes, whether they were short, tall, stocky, strong, weak, beyond that was music. That obviously transcends, because that’s not why I personally make music, but I’m sure there’s some part in all of us, men and women. But somewhere along the line there was a monetization strategy and a model and someone saw it and took advantage. I’m not sure when that happened exactly but it was around the early 50s when records started being sold for money as opposed to promoting an artist so that they could make money out of touring.
Well I guess it was the Rock ‘n’ Roll explosion and Elvis.
Yeah it was a huge boom a real big boom. Mind you, Elvis was literally stealing… and don’t get me wrong, I love Elvis…but he took music that was so earnest and so risqué which was made and played by a certain culture. He took it and made himself wealthy. But that wasn’t his plan that was the record companies plan. To put out a white guy shaking his hips, being edgy and singing black music. Because (at the time) no-one’s going to watch a black guy do it. That’s far too out of the box, so they get a white guy, good looking, put him in movies. He can sing like a brother, so they put him on stage, let him do his thing. And like I said, I do appreciate Elvis, I do but there’s a lot more to that whole story that people don’t ever acknowledge. Music initially was made to connect. I’d like to recant my statement where I said it was made to have sex with chicks [laughs]. I just got a little crass there.
No, but I see what you’re saying, most bands are formed by young hormonal teenagers, and that’s primarily what’s on their minds
[Laughs] Exactly! But music on a very primitive level is made to connect and as it was developed it was used for so many things, whether it be an advertisement, whether it be a chain gang sending messages down the chain to tell them that their master’s coming. The most primitive form of music is there to make you feel something, not to make you money.
Some bands are able to make money without compromising their ideals though, right?
Oh it’s very possible. There are the unsung heroes, yes, like… one that always comes to mind for me is like Refused. That band was like too good, and so far ahead of their time, but they were able to take part in different endeavours and they came back and they got what they deserved, not only monetarily but in respect. There were thousands upon thousands of people going to those shows.
Do you think letlive. do some things esoterically on purpose?
Yes. [Laughs] Yeah, I think right now we make it very obvious that letlive. is a forum and (we want to be) accessible as a band. Anyone who wants to be a part of that can be a part of it. But, we’re very particular in how we do what we do, because this is how we feel we want to do it. The esoteric element is by no means to ostracise or to deter or deflect anyone. There are things that we want to deflect, a lot of bulls**t, and I think the esoteric vibe is to make sure we can elude that bulls**t.
I feel like letlive. is an autonomous vessel. It’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. letlive. is there for everyone and on a humanistic level, it’s just something you try to feel, so whoever wants to try and feel it, go ahead.Tagged in: Elvis, Fake History, Jason Aalon Butler, Led Zeppelin, Letlive, The Blackest Beautiful
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