Quick chat: Butch Walker on avoiding rock ‘n’ roll ‘comfort food’
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Songwriter and producer Butch Walker, who recently came out with the new book ‘Drinking With Strangers: Music Lessons From a Teenage Bullet Belt,’ reflects on his aesthetic.
This post has been updated. See below for details.
Artistically, there are few things that Butch Walker hasn’t done. He’s written hit songs for himself (Marvelous 3’s “Freak of the Week”), and co-written or produced hits for plenty of others, including Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Pink and SR-71.
Now in his early 40s, Walker has added author to his résumé, releasing a book late last year, “Drinking With Strangers: Music Lessons From a Teenage Bullet Belt,” written with music journalist and Times contributor Matt Diehl.
On the lessons he hopes the book imparts: “I’ve done a lot. I’ve tried a lot. I’ve done too much. So many people want things to happen overnight. They have an idea of the ultimate life and lifestyle, and they want that before they’re 20. I can honestly say that it rarely works out like that, and if you’re in that position when you’re 20, you won’t be when you’re 40.”
On how meeting Avril Lavigne helped Walker act his age: “When I met her, she was very sincere in acting her age. Yet here I was in my 30s, and saw then that there are a lot of people at that point who can be phoning it in or trying too hard to hang onto their youth. When I let go of all that, my music got better. I was no longer so nervous about my next move.”
On being told in the late ‘90s to re-create “Freak of the Week” for other artists: “It’s like comfort food, I suppose, to say that a song will fit nicely alongside Rihanna and Beyoncé or whomever. Every six months, there’s a new sound or hook or cadence that’s dominating every single song on pop radio. It’s in rock too. When the Strokes came out, all of a sudden it was single-note, angular, rigid guitar lines for all things rock. Same goes for the butt rock on the rock radio stations. Nickelback has a formula. You can put every one of their songs together … and they sound the same. You have to figure out how to skate the line when you do production and writing for people.”
On skating that line: “I would hear people say, ‘Man, what an idiot. That guy gives away his best songs to other people.’ With all due respect to the other artists, there’s a big difference between a good song and a hit song. I wasn’t interested in writing hit songs for myself. I didn’t want to limit myself. I wanted to explore less fashionable musical styles and textures. You learn not to shoot yourself in your foot with your clever gun. Some people want the path of least resistance when listening to music. Those are the music listeners of the world, and not the music lovers. There’s a hell of a lot more listeners than lovers.” ALSO:
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For the record, 1:41 p.m. Jan. 25: Due to incorrect information given to Pop & Hiss, a previous version of this post credited the above photo to Adam C. Blake. It was taken by Taylor Boylston.