When Butch Walker records an album under his own name, it's usually sandwiched between jobs producing for others. His new album, The Spade, his sixth and second with his band the Black Widows, came together after Walker spent the spring in sessions with Gavin DeGraw, Panic! at the Disco and Universal Australia's Gin Wigmore. Dangerbird will release The Spade on Aug. 29.
"[The Black Widows] have become my Wrecking Crew," says Walker, who has taken to using the group as his go-to session band when producing for other artists, just as the Wrecking Crew worked in the '60s on records by the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and others. As a producer, the Georgia-born Walker is a rock specialist in a pop world. His own solo acoustic-based work falls on the harder side of folk-rock's edge, while his work with the Black Widows is rougher than today's top 40 allows and more in line with classic rock influences like early-'70s Rolling Stones. For The Spade, Walker asked the Black Widows to contribute to the songwriting process and the result is an even broader musical palette.
"It's the first time in my career that I have allowed my band to step in and create, bringing in songs and me finishing them with them," Walker says. "It brought out a different flavor. There are a good five songs that have [elements] I would have not tried. Using these ideas from the other guys resulted in a very hook-laden record, which we didn't plan. We just wanted raw and uptempo."
The Spade's leadoff track, "Bodegas & Blood," is built on a year-old lyric from Walker and a melody written by guitarist Fran Capianelli; bassist Jake Sinclair wrote "Synthesizers." Mike Trent, from Sinclair's band the Film, also contributed to the songwriting process, as he had on Walker's first album with the Black Widows, last year's I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, released by One Haven Music. That project topped Billboard's Heatseekers chart.
Before Walker and the band hit the studio, they played unannounced gigs at bars in Venice, Calif., near Walker's studio. "[We] got the songs pretty dialed in, which made the sessions move swiftly," Walker says. "I wanted the record to be a loose, live record. We left in the mistakes mainly to get an emotional connection. You can make the best-sounding record, but it comes down to whether or not you have that emotional connection."
Walker initially intended to have his management firm Crush (Train, Fall Out Boy) release the album. But thinking back to a conversation he had with Dangerbird Records CEO Jeff Castelaz, Walker sent him?and no one else?the finished album.
"When it came time to do the record, I thought it would be good to get his opinion," says Walker, who had reached out to Castelaz after reading about Castelaz's Pablove Foundation, which deals with pediatric cancer issues. "I wasn't expecting too much, and he said he'd love to release it. It was an easy, low-pressure deal."
Walker and the Black Widows will kick off a fall tour Oct. 7 in Atlanta, the city closest to Walker's hometown. But first the band will return to those Venice bars to play more secret shows, get the set list straight and "the axles greased," as Walker puts it.
"I always find that when you go in cold on a tour, the first few shows are not fair to fans?you're still making adjustments," he says. "This is much more about making every show count."••••