Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Queens of the Stone Age are two bands that one might not link aside from their bluesy dips and stabs at menacing riffs that helped define their own musical eras. But for blues rock outfit Butchers of Sky Valley, it’s two of their biggest influences, as these Brooklyn musicians create a gritty bluesy and cinematic scope of what ZZ Top would sound like if fronted by Josh Homme. Cleary, Butchers of Sky Valley have more in common with raw Southern California, Texas and British bands than the sonic experimentalism that so many familiarize with today’s Brooklyn scene.
Butchers of Sky Valley are set to release their self-titled debut album on November 5th. The band originally consisted of vocalist Mike Mokotow and guitarist John Cosenza. Six years in the making, the album is full of songs that tell the stories of their journeys. Although still a part of the studio team, Cosenza stepped down from the band and it now consists of Davis Rowan on drums, Tim Brummer on guitar, and Jeff Knaster on bass.
These guys strut some serious chops form the tingling guitar solo on “Get Loose” to the simple lo fi blues of “Black Magic” which slaps the the Black Keys back to their Rubber Factory days. Lead single “Hold On, Heartbreak” features a roaring riff rising out from a seductive, hazy hook, proving these guys can channel rock’s most blues seductive eras with the best of em. We recently had the chanced to talk to Mokotow just prior to release date of his long awaited debut.
Six years in the making is a lengthy time to put together an album- how do you look at these songs differently from when you first started on them to where they are now?
Might sound strange but I actually get to enjoy listening to them now. As you’re writing you’re kind of living in it, excited about driving an idea out. Then after recording you’re still fresh with everything that went into the recording, the gear you used, the pedal settings etc. the part you cut out to put another part in, visually see it in your head. So listening back around the time you finished a song it’s sometimes hard to forget those intricacies and just let it be a song. After a couple of drinks I was able to listen more objectively, now I don’t need to be drunk.
What type of record would you describe Butchers of Sky Valley as? What records from your listening past would you also categorize in a similar way and what do you hope the listener to get out of this record?
Not really sure to be honest. There were a lot of influences that were chased during the making of this record, and I’m not really good at chasing after people or things. So it ended up being the game of listening to the random hallucinatory shit in your head and wanting to get it out, hopefully setting them next to some of your favorite records. You eventually end up bastardizing any influences anyway, so you aren’t like any of those guys from your favorite records. You’ll end up pushing out similar ideas differently. But I guess that’s how you make something your own, making your best effort in fucking up imitation.
As for a past record, not so much style wise but maybe feel wise, I’d say Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Then Play On. damn that is a good record. The thing about that record is it shows you the many faces of that band, the balls out, the emotive, soulful and theatrical that makes it that good. I guess that’s what I wanted for this record, the first record, that kind of foundation when starting on some larger picture. Actually what would be awesome is if someone who’s grabbing the album, instead of nitpicking it apart and buying a few tracks, goes ahead and gets the whole damn thing, because they figured it out that’s how it was intended to be listened to.
Can you talk about the songs on the album some? There’s definitely a nice of mix of sounds most noticeably the instrumental “Tatuniu.” I found it interesting you choose ten songs which is kind of a classic album way of presenting – how many songs did you consider and why these ten?
So much happened over those years that it ended up becoming a stop and go kind of situation. But that also gave you the ability to pick and choose as you go, drop or set aside a song temporarily, almost curate as you move along song by song, brick by brick. Halfway through, it was feeling like it was growing towards that classic record feel you mentioned, where it could be a rollercoaster of a solid nine or ten tracks. Life did keep getting in the way, but it also made the record. At times it was suffocating and it made me manic at times, in a good way. Especially in 2010 for some reason, I kind of went off and opened up, wrote more than I ever had before. I wrote and recorded a lot of other stuff in that one year but the songs on this record were really what documented that time for us. In the middle of making the album John’s father died. One of the first pieces of music we bonded over was the instrumental he had for what would become “Tatuniu”. It was just so beautiful and it immediately made me think of my father who died years ago and without even talking we agreed to not touch that song until we were finishing the record. We added more to it, some cinematic elements, just enough to make the closing statement the record was asking for. It’s a soft spot and I love it for that. The title by the way is an endearing way of saying ‘father’ in Polish.
How did you choose “Hold On Heartbreak” as the lead single?
I always felt that song was battling it out with the others for attention. It was the last one we recorded, a last minute song I started writing in order to fill out the spectrum of the record. There was an eleventh song but we didn’t like how it came out, it was the only other one we recorded in another studio other than our own. It was one of those things where you stand back and say, these are the ten, it feels right, why muddle it up with anything else.
For people not familiar with your music, how would you describe what the band goes for creatively lyrically verse musically? Do you find lyrics to be at the forefront of your sound or most serving as another sound in itself kind of complementing the energy of your urgent sound?
Lyrically I’d say that’s one half of the whole thing. Lyrics are that little mysterious creamy center that you don’t pay attention to and shouldn’t until you’ve listened to something a few times. Then as you dig a little deeper and get into the lyrics you start connecting even more. And you’re right it does have that potential to even push whatever energy, feeling further. Two of my favorites are “Mayday Revival” and “Black Magic” for that reason. Actually buying music digitally these days, streaming, you miss that whole experience of going through a gatefold jacket or booklet as you listen to music. We setup a part of the website to have all the extended credits and lyrics so you can look them over as you listen. The way I see it it’s half of the whole thing and should be there for anyone who’s curious to take it in more.
I hear a lot of Queens of the Stone Age in your sound, how much of an influence are they for modern bands? Who are your primary influences for legacy acts? What other bands and sounds have you been enjoying these days?
MM: I think they’re a big influence to most bands even if they wouldn’t like to admit it. They don’t give a shit, won’t compromise their creativity, and yet somehow sit on that boundary of the mainstream and nonmainstream. It’s something that should be admired even if you’re not into their music. As for legacy artists I’d say the first few records from ZZ Top, pre-Eliminator. Those records have so much swing and grit to them. I wish more people knew about them from that period. “Enjoy and Get It On” is probably one of my top twenty jams especially off of bar jukeboxes.
Another band that had a great part of its awesomeness overlooked is Fleetwood, the Peter Green era. It blows my mind that most people think “Black Magic Woman” is a Santana song. Not sure why that happened, if its peoples lack of curiosity or attention to dig or if it was because he had that bad acid trip that killed the whole thing and threw it into obscurity and then overshadowed by the band going into its pop successes.
But people have a tendency to latch onto the worst pieces of music in a band’s legacy. There’s a reason no one knows who Free is, but somehow when they hear “All Right Now” they go, ‘oh hey I know that song’ but if you ask them who that band is they couldn’t tell you. Lately I’ve been listening to Father John Misty, Mark. Lanegan, Los Growlers, Chelsea Wolfe’s acoustic record, Joe Henry and have been enjoying some of the production on Tame Impala’s stuff. Curious on what they’re next record is going to be like.
Have you guys been playing live as Butchers of Sky Valley often and how has your live show grown from its beginnings to what you have gong now? What are some of your more memorable live performances to date?
Ever since becoming a four piece we’ve been playing out. It’s been real rewarding, kind of reawakening in some ways. There’s something going on under the hood that’s really exciting but we’re just letting it run its course naturally, granola oatmeal cookie style. By far the most memorable was our first show. It was that contact high we had that night with each other and the crowd, who wasn’t too familiar with us initially.
Would you describe Butchers of Sky Valley in any way as a NYC band? Do you feel connected to a scene there or play any type of venue regularly?
I guess you could say so since we all work, play and drink here. If anything I’d say the venues that feel the most comfortable are the scene. Last show we did at Coco66 in Greenpoint had such a good vibe. The place recently reopened the back section to do shows regularly. Space definitely is inviting and makes us feel like we want to be part of that place more often, know what I mean? To me that kind of is how it works these days, because there’s no focal location for any scene anymore. It’s about finding good little homes here and there to revisit because usually the people will follow suit in spaces like that. Most of the people that are there also feel whatever vibe and want to be there for it.
What challenges are there in putting energy into a band right now just releasing their debut album?
Even before putting an album together, you go and build a studio because so many are overpriced or have their own agenda, you are now your own producer, engineer, mixer, booking agent, lawyer, royalty guy, designer, overall architect and even after all that is said and done and you have a worthy piece of music in your hand, you are still at the mercy of all of that being thrown into this endless sea of noise. There is just so much fucking music, so many bands, new industry politics, and so much shit out there that it is overwhelming. It’s so hard to find anything that excites you, and when you do, it takes loyalty and patience to not move onto something else. You have to give a shit. There arejust too many options, too much oversaturation and quite honestly just crap. Yet in a way it forces you to do it for the right reasons, to make the best and most honest music you can. Because why dick around with anything else? So in a way, yeah, you have to go all out, put your everything in it, there’s no room for bullshit. If you’re bullshitting yourself in any way then why even do it all? And if you are happy with what you are doing, what you’re creating, then ultimately who gives a shit what anyone else has to say?
On a lighter note – what are some interesting happenings that occurred in the six years of making this album that you can look back at and laugh?
Hah, I think the one of the things that John and I did more than music was laugh. You have to. One time that comes to mind was when we were recording “Get Loose” at Studio G, we had the realization that there was no paper in the Star Wars universe. There was no mention of paper, any use of it, nothing. So what in the hell do they wipe with? And it better not be that shells bullshit from Demolition Man.