With their sophomore album Salvation is a Deep Dark Well, a headlining tour and frequent festival appearances, The Builders and the Butchers are getting their sound around. Originally formed in Alaska, the band started with the idea of playing "death themed songs" on the streets of Portland, Oregon to gain a following. Though they still keep their dark nature, they have certainly moved on to bigger venues and larger shows. Glide recently talked to front man Ryan Sollee about his peculiar creative endeavor.
So how did The Builders and Butchers originally get together?
The band originally formed in fall of 2005. I had an idea with a friend of mine to make a band that was, well that it would be a band that would march around Portland and just play kind of like death themed songs and be really morbid and morose. Portland’s a great place to do that, there’s lots of street musicians and stuff like that. So, that was kind of our idea from the get-go and we did that a few times, then we started playing house parties, and then we started playing real shows, so it was kind of a slow progression.
So, is that how you ended up in Portland, because you saw that kind of environment? I believe you’re originally from Alaska?
Well, yeah, Portland is a really awesome town to play music in because it is very cheap to live, and there’s so many good musicians who live here. Also, the weather is so rainy in the winter that you end up having a lot of time inside to be creative. So, all those things have it going for it. But, being from Alaska, there’s this huge network of Alaskans, believe it or not, that have moved down to Portland, so you have an automatic group of friends and a lot of those musicians, so you all end up playing together, so it’s kind of fun that way.
Your band is well known for putting on an electrifying and passionate live show, how do you manage to keep your energy levels so high?
Well, really it has a lot to do with audience, you know. If the audience is into it and is giving energy back then it’s like really easy. A lot of the shows, especially at the end of our tour we were exhausted and, you know, just been hitting it hard a month and were just toasted but some of those last shows were the best. The audience basically just lifted us up on their shoulders and carried us through the shows and it was really really awesome.
I noticed when I saw you live at Lollapalooza that you utilize two drummers. How did that idea come about?
Really, it was never really talked about. When we first started the band one of the guys hadn’t worked out any parts on any other instruments so he decided to take the bass drum and play that way and it was really pretty cool the stuff he was coming up with, so we kind of just kept doing it. I like it because I think it’s interesting to watch but also it’s like two guys playing basically one drum. It limits what you can do, as far as it’s a lot more limiting than playing a drum kit but also you can come up with some really cool beats that way.
How was Lollapalooza? Your performance was great, do you think you succeeded in gaining more fans?
It was definitely our favorite festival experience. It was really really fun to play and it was really fortunate that the one day it rained we were playing on a stage that had some tree covering for the audience, so it was like people were happier to be there, so that was really fun. We had a great time.
While you were at Lollapalooza did you get a chance to check out any other bands?
It’s funny, we didn’t get to see as many bands as I thought we would. I saw parts of the Decemberists set, parts of Andrew Bird’s set, and there’s a local guy from Chicago, his name is Joe Pug, he played the same stage we played but on the next day and I thought he was just amazing. I saw a lot of the Depeche Mode set and was really impressed that those older guys can still do it. It was such a huge festival and it was hot, it’s funny how at festivals how quickly your energy level goes bad, or at least mine, I can’t do it all day long like some people.
You also make sure that the audience is completely involved in your performance by throwing out percussion instruments; do you find that their involvement gets the excitement levels up and makes your performance stronger?
Definitely. Like I was saying before, we can get something back from the audience and a lot of times it will take a little coaxing or whatever, but it is always better for us and therefore it keeps our energy level really high.
You are from Alaska but your music seems to be influenced strongly by southern kind of twangy sounds, where do you get your sound inspiration from?
When I moved to Portland I started listening to a ton of pre-1950s old American music and it really resonated with me. To me, it has the same energy and the same feeling I would get when I would listen to punk rock and stuff. It’s very simple and really easy to get into, so that’s probably where that influence came from.
A lot of your lyrics tend to be strongly story driven, what is your song writing process like?
Well, I was writing, before the band, a lot of personal songs and I didn’t feel like they really resonated or were even very good, most of them. So then I started writing story songs and just kind of thought about stories I would read or things I would hear about or little phrases that I thought were captivating and would build a song around that. But for Builders and the Butchers, there’s usually like three of four kind of settings or scenarios where the songs kind of come from. It’s better for me to write that way because if I just sit there and say "I’m going to write a song now," I just can’t do it because there’s too much to draw from, so I need to limit myself to be able to say "I’m going to go for this".
Besides your upcoming tour, what is in the future for the band?
Well, we’ll definitely be working on a new record this upcoming winter. We’re in the process of writing it now, slower than we want it to be. We’ll probably be doing another headlining tour in January or February and just kind of go from there. But you never really know, bands are always sort of a mystery.