Matt Butler Hits The Hot Buttered Rum

Change is a necessary component to life, and the same holds true to the evolution of a band. Hot Buttered Rum has gone through some dramatic changes in the last few months, specifically relating to the announcement in November that one of the original musical conspirators, Zac Matthews, would be leaving the band.

Yet with change comes the development of fresh ideas and music. Hot Buttered Rum has always been innovative in their pursuit of pushing their own musical evolution, and since the break up they have added Everyone Orchestra Drummer/ Conductor Matt Butler to sit in as another piece to their dynamic musical puzzle.

Hot Buttered Rum, or for this run as announced from the stage in Seattle, Hot Butlered Rum, brought along a strong cast of musicians for their trip to their home away from home here in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone Orchestra opened for H.B.R for all but one of the nights, where Matt Butler’s Small Ensemble Experiment (S.E.E.) held down opening duties.

H. B. R. had double duty for these shows as they not only headlined but were also key members in the ever changing E.O. lineup. Each night of music seemed like one big interwoven jam of all of the musicians. This particular E.O. lineup also brought along for the ride special guests; String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang, ALO’s David Brogan, and Portland’s own keyboardist Asher Fulero. This ensemble cast of truly talented musicians headed north to showcase their new sound to their dedicated fans.

As a Butter fan I was initially skeptical as to the effect the addition of drums would have to their bluegrassy sound, yet within a song or two my doubts were completely erased as it all flowed so well together. I am convinced that this is a combination that works, and that they are creating something new and exciting right in front of our eyes. It isn’t too often that one gets to see a band that is both new and familiar. Yet this collaboration seemed to be able to tap into both worlds seamlessly and simultaneously.

Before this run of shows, I had the opportunity to talk to Matt Butler about the challenges and joys of stepping into a band that was in the process of redefining their sound, as well as the difficulties of continuing on with his own projects of the Everyone Orchestra and his Small Ensemble Experiment while touring with the Butter boys.

I just want to start with your overall thoughts on Hot Buttered Rum’s sound and why you are so excited to be playing with them.

 Hot Buttered Rum sounds great.  I’ve loved sitting in with them for years now.  Whenever I listened to them play I heard drum parts. So, it’s a natural fit to my ear now. . It’s a big experiment we are conducting right now and I really think the Butter thing is juicy. I really believe in their songs. They are classic and unique hooky tunes that grow on you, and they are just real. It is music that you can share with a lot of different people and the new record (that is probably coming out in June) is kind of like that too. But it’s not Bluegrass like you’ve known from butter, it’s more rock grass.

Lets talk about your experience of stepping into a band that is going through transition as well as addition. Did you feel a musical responsibility as the new guy with the new sound?

 They were planning on having me play on their next album project and once Zac left the idea of adding me to their live show as well fell into place. That was in December…It’s been quite a ride since then. And I am the new guy who is bearing the KICK and SNARE…which IS integral to their new sound.

How has the welcome been from the more traditional bluegrass fans?

MB So far it has been great. The band is so happy, on stage especially, and it is so obvious that this fresh thing is happening, that no matter what you are expecting, or are missing without Zac, you are going to feel it. I’m trying to educate myself in the bluegrass forms so that I can support that when we get into those modes. In a way it is different from bluegrass, but it is so good that lots the bluegrass people are like, “hey, I like that.” But I must admit there are some bluegrass traditionalists that aren’t pleased with the addition of drums. I look at the new Butter sound as fully bluegrass informed folk rock super jam.

Is the Butter gig officially on the table right now?

 More or less. They’ve asked me to commit for a year or so and I’ve agreed. We’re both into it. There are some realities of me not wanting to be away from my family as much as they might want to play out, but I have faith that we will find a new balance. And so far it is working out well.  
What is it like moving from the front man of your own band to stepping into a supportive role with an established musical entity?

Butter is an extremely democratic band, and everyone is a leader in their own way, and I get treated like a leader and supported to do that. They have invited me and everything that I do into their band whether it is conducting, doing my own songs, doing their tunes, or a whole bunch of covers, they are open to it all right now, and that is great.

JG Is it tricky collaborating with all of them with you living in Oregon, and them living in the Bay Area?

We do feel that right now. This is the longest period since we’ve been playing together that we didn’t have gigs or rehearsals (pre-northwest run). But we do have shows coming up in Arcata, Ashland, Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Olympia, Sacramento, and Reno Tahoe. We are committing to each other and we are learning how to commit.

How many songs in the Butter catalogue do you now know, and do you have a favorite?

I’m going as fast as I can. They will say a name of a song and count it off, and until I hear the first note I’m not really sure what’s coming. I am a really good faker. I’ve learned about 60 songs so far, and have got another 17 or 18 for this next run. My new favorite one is Crest. It has this wicked 5/4 section in it

I have a question about Everyone Orchestra. When you are conducting do you have a plan ahead of time?

I have somewhat of a plan. My biggest intention is intuition and to be present with everyone. I don’t come in with a manifesto of what I want it to sound like. I’m there to usher out and message the group musical experience. There will sometimes be some songs to go back to sometimes not. I strive to know all the players and what they offer so I can make intelligent musical requests from them.

How do you envision your pairing with the Butter boys effecting your playing with the Everyone Orchestra

Everyone Orchestra has always gone in cycles and evolved and changed. It is healthy for me to be involved in something different and focus on song form because I’ve gone pretty far out with this conducting thing. I’m definitely continuing E. O. but my time with Butter so far has been musically rejuvenating. I sense something bigger than both Butter and EO evolving.
How is the summer shaping up for you?

We have a few invitations. 10,000 lakes is a confirmed gig. Butter will be going back to Colorado a couple of times. I will be touring in the Mid-west with another E.O. line up and we will be collaborating with a band called Fat Maw Rooney I’m bringing in Dan Leibowitz (A.L.O), Trevor Garrod (Tea Leaf Green), and Futureman (Flecktones) for the EO, Fat Maw is doing an opening set, then we are doing one big EO set with Fat Maw and the special guest and a few others. I hope to do more short tours like this with other bands

Who is Fat Maw Rooney?

They are a 6 piece who are slamming. They have great harmonies, percussion, and a big fat sound that is tight and on the spot. They are young and green.

When you are constructing an E.O. lineup what sorts of things come into consideration?

Where the gig is located, and who is near by, and with those people will there be some interesting chemistry, and let’s see where it goes from there. Sometimes I just try to think of any interesting contrast to offer a festival. A lot of time I just want to be inclusive to opportunity that is out there. I think I must have played with over 250 players last year.

That’s got to be the coolest part of your gig

It is wild. It is exhausting, but it is also a blessing.

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