P!nk & Taylor Swift Collaborator Butch Walker Talks Ditching Booze, Going Healthy Ahead of New Album
Butch Walker juggles tour prep, songwriting for the stars, an avid motorcycle habit, and a challenging new diet as he prepares for the release of a new album, Stay Gold, which he answers a few questions about below.
One week with Butch Walker:
My family was still out of town visiting relatives, so I was sleeping at my studio a lot to be able to stay close to work. I went to the DMV to get registration on my '84 Porsche 911. I started gathering all my guitars for the tour, getting my "guitar-senal" together. I'm taking out a good bit of shit this year, probably about 20 guitars. My last tour was just me with a guitar and a kick drum — now it's five band members. Then I went with my photographer – he shot my last couple of albums, makes me a lot cooler than I actually am – to a photo gallery showing.
Last week I decided to go on a no sugar, no alcohol diet for a month — I don't think I've had no sugar my entire life, and I don't think I've had no alcohol since I was 15. so it's a real shock to my system.
I'm going out and drinking a lot of sparkling water, which is something I never liked, but now I can't stop drinking it – my body is craving all things bad. That put a different slant on going to shows. I went to see my friend play a sold out show at the Troubadour. They were incredible and it was jammed wall to wall. But usually I go in and head straight to the bar and get something to meditate a little bit with, because I'm not good standing in crowds. I sure like playing to 'em, but I don't like being in 'em. Every single person wanted to walk by and put not one but both hands on you when they move by you. I started getting anxiety attacks so I had to split. I think that's a result of everyone there being drunk except for me.
On the weekend I don't think about music at all. I can't stand taking my work with me when I want to go play. I need that playtime. That for me is getting out there and doing nothing but talk about broken motorcycles, replacing parts, and customizing. Anything but music.
On the weekends, if I have don't have any fun, what good is any of this shit? Theres's a funny story about how Christopher Walken couldn't be found on set – he skipped out 'cause it was a Sunday. He went sunbathing in a river. They called him like, "where the hell are you? You're supposed to be here filming." He said, "today, I'm an alligator. Tomorrow, I'm an actor." I think that's my spirit animal and my motto for life. You gotta learn which days you're going to be an alligator and which days you're going to be a professional.
I didn't think I could make it through the weekend --- my ritual is go out with my buds on Harleys and hit bars around the canyons. I don't ride around with musicians. A lot of these people don't even know that I'm a musician. It's cool to ride with your biker circle because they don't talk shop. They don't know what you do, and they don't care. That's my favorite. I had a good little ride.
I didn't think I go could a whole weekend without some tequila or beer during the day. Big steps for Baby Butch. I made it through and came out the other side with a sparkling water in my hand.
I went and picked up some tailoring. Everything I pick up off the shelf to wear fits me like an anaconda that swallowed a baby goat. I can't wear anything off the rack 'cause I have a strange body. I go to my Czechoslovakian tailor over in Santa Monica; he dials me for tour so I have some shit to wear that makes me look like I don't give a fuck – but I really do. I went and picked up stuff to wear on stage, pretty much denim jackets.
I produce a lot for other people and I'm trying to finish all that stuff up so everyone will leave me the fuck alone when I go on tour. I got back into the studio and finished up a couple singles for Gavin DeGraw's new record. I love him; he's a great singer and a great artist. He can be a bit maniacal as far his perfection – he's never quite satisfied, so there's a lot of fixing and recalling of things that I don't hear as being messed up. But I appreciate and commend him for that. Finished those in the nick of the time.
I worked with this girl Liz Huett who is on Interscope records. Working on developing her for her first record. I'm helping her to figure out what her record's going to sound like. We worked on some of that and wrote a new song.
I went in with Gnash, who has been blowing up. He's a rapper/singer kid, really good. We worked on a new song for his upcoming record, which is really going to be super cool. It's very ambitious. He's one of the sharpest 23 year-old I've ever met to be honest. Knows what the hell he wants and what he's doing. At the same time he's very grounded, very family oriented, which I love. Real close with his parents.
Went out to dinner and enjoyed some no sugar and no alcohol. Came back to the studio and watched a bunch of documentaries. That's one of the things I like to catch up whenever I get a chance to be alone. I love being alone. I watched the new Jaco Pastorius documentary that Robert Trujillo from Metallica did. It's amazing. I was a weird metal kid who also was very into jazz and fusion. Jaco was one of the most insane bass players of the last three decades.
The more that pop music is dumb, inundated with synth and drum machines and one word sung over and over again, my retaliation and escape is to go back and listen to the music that really challenged me and made me think. I don't play that music for myself, but it's such a nice rediscovery to see these people that really learned how to play a fucking instrument, or multiple instruments, instead of how to program a laptop.
Slept in the studio last night again because I can't get away from work.
How do you see this album in relation to your last album?
I don't see any relation. My last one was written during a pretty sad time, reflecting on my father's passing. I ended up needing to meditate with that record. It was a down record, but one of my favorites I've ever done. I needed to get that out.
You can only cry for so long. It was good for me to go on tour with the last record and process a lot of that with the audience. I've got fans anywhere from 20 to 50. A lot of older fans come up to me relating to the last record more than anything I've ever done. When you grow up and become an adult, all of a sudden people you love start dying. If I had a dime for every conversation I had after the shows with grown men crying on my shoulder about losing their dad or mom – it was very heavy, but necessary. When I finished that tour I felt good, I felt like did something good for people. I came to terms with my father's death.
Stay Gold, every song sounded way more celebratory. It's a lot of nostalgia, which I think was triggered from getting older and my dad passing and having all these memories. It's a celebration of rising up from the ashes without losing sight of what's important: love.
Why did you choose to go back to self-production?
When I did Afraid Of Ghosts, it was perfect timing for Ryan [Adams] and I to work together. He had some time; I had some time; we're both artists and producers. He's one of the more adventurous people out there, he's not scared to produce a producer. I didn't know what I was doing on that record 'cause I was just so emotionally out of it. I needed somebody to guide my hand, take me and say this is the kind of the record you need to make for these lyrics. That was a lyrical record.
With Stay Gold, I had a clear focus and knew exactly what I wanted. When that happens, you gotta get out of my way and let me do my thing. The beauty of it is, Ryan and I were on the same page [Adams is credited as "guitar, piano, vision and overall album concept co-conspirator”]. We thought we would collaborate again, but then he was like, you got this. I just went in and did it. He played on the record and was very big on helping me conceptualize it. Everything is cinematic in his eyes, so I loved conceptualizing this record with him. I suppose it's like executive producing, if there's a need for that term anymore.
Since you write songs for other artists as well, how do you divide up your workflow? Do you carve out blocks of time specifically to write songs for yourself?
I kind of do, but I'm not real good at being put on the spot for writing songs. It doesn't just come from, ok, I command you to write a song today, and it better be good. People that have three writing sessions a day and come up with something good and heartfelt and sincere? I commend those people that have that; I don't have that in me. It just has to hit me when it hits me. I don't know any other way.
You can play a lot of instruments, when do you decide when to bring someone in to lay down a part as opposed to doing it yourself?
That's a blessing and a curse. I'm not a master of any particular thing, just a jack of all trades. I can fake my way through most things, but it doesn't mean that I'm gonna be the best guy for the job. Some mandolin, or some slide guitar work? I'm not the ultimate gunslinger for that. There's better people. I'm the person to put my ego aside when I can't cut it. But it does help to pick up something and get a color or a sound from it that adds something to the song – if it works, it works. I'm a shitty drummer, but I played drums on a couple songs on the last record. I've done that so many times. People go like, who played drums on that? I'll be like, me, believe it or not. I'll fumble through it. Sometimes it's hard to replace a certain feel. If it wasn't Ringo in the Beatles, it was Keith Moon, then it wouldn't have sounded like the Beatles.
How did you connect with Ashley Monroe [Monroe is featured on Stay Gold track “Descending”]?
We've been kind of buds for a while because I produced a Train single called "Bruises" a while ago that was a duet between Pat and her. I loved the Pistol Annies records. We'd see each other every six months in passing and be like, we should do something together! She was coming out to L.A., and she hit me on the plane by text like, I'm gonna be in town, want to write a song together? I said I'd love to. We started catching up – how's family, life, love? It got a little heavy, talking about struggles like anybody has. At some point she said, "we're descending," and I didn't know what she meant by that – your relationship, or the plane? She said, "shit no, the plane." I said, "well, I know what song we're going to write." I sent her the lyrics of the chorus to "Descending" 20 minutes later by text. She finished out the verses; we wrote the song in ten minutes. The demo vocals ended up being the ones on the record.