By Jared Newman
AT 6:30 ON A MONDAY MORNING, MATT BUTLER has been awake for about an hour and a half. He's got two young kids and two cats, and when they start running around the house around 7:30 a.m., free time is hard to find, so Butler often wakes up at 5 a.m. and either hikes in the woods outside his home in Eugene, Oregon or spends time in his recording studio. "Matt loves coffee!" says Julie van Amerongen, Butler's wife and publicist, who set up the interview.
Butler is a producer and a songwriter, but his main focus these days is The Everyone Orchestra, a band that has no permanent members — not even Butler. The lineup is always changing; there were over thirty performers at the band's two shows at Jam Cruise in January, and only four of them played both occasions.
Butler is the founder and organizer of The Everyone Orchestra, which he thinks of as a concept more than a band. Its maxim, as it appears on its website, is "Music: Activism: Improvisation." It's Butler's job to make sure all of those things happen at each show.
Initially, there's the task of getting artists together, which Butler achieves by calling or emailing musicians and their agents. The musician usually responds with ideas to bring to the jam — Jon Fishman, for example, brings some of Phish's old exercises — and the agent dictates whether or not the musician is available. If all goes well, the musician might even bring along some fellow players.
J. Fishman & A. Schnier - Everyone Orchestra
snoe.down 2006 by Robert Chapman
"It's a little bit random," Butler says. "A lot of it comes from how I just happen to know a whole slew of musicians these days, and agents, actually. I kind of dance that role of being an agent and being a musician at the same time."
Butler also has to make sure that the stage isn't filled with Everyone Orchestra virgins, and he also has to avoid unbalanced lineups (like six guitarists and a violinist). "Sometimes it comes together really easy, sometimes it's kind of a bear to get a rounded lineup that I feel confident in," explains Butler.
To ensure that he can communicate effectively with the players, Butler builds each session around a few core bands: members of his old group, Jambay, Scott Law's band, and most or all of Animal Liberation Orchestra.
Scott Law - Everyone Orchestra
By Josh Miller
Once a lineup is solidified, Butler uses some basic guidelines to get everyone on the same page. "I hate to call them rules. They're more like agreements so we can manipulate the controlled chaos." Basically, he explains the kinds of conducting signals he will use and how the musicians should respond to them.
Butler also tries to instigate dialogue between the musicians. Some of the musicians at last weekend's snoe.down festival - among them Fishman, Steve Kimock, and Jamie Masefield - had a long talk about politics. Butler has found that the jams are better when people get to know each other beforehand.
"In an Everyone Orchestra event, I'm producing the flow so everybody's comfortable on stage. Everybody knows everybody or has been introduced, and everybody has an idea what the game is," says Butler. "From a production standpoint, I'm just trying to facilitate and create songs in the moment."
Butler used to play drums or sit out for Everyone Orchestra shows, leaving the conducting duties to others, but for a little over a year, he's been doing most of the conducting himself. "I realized that it was a very natural extension of what I was doing in just facilitating and getting everybody on the same page and getting everyone up on stage. I'm really digging it, actually."
The Everyone Orchestra
He uses giant cue cards as well as traditional hand and wand gestures to direct the band as well as the audience. Some of it is typical stuff — give someone a solo, have the horns punch in, play louder, softer, faster, or slower — but it gets wackier when the audience gets involved.
Butler can get the crowd chanting if he hums for long enough, and a cue card with the word "AAH!" incites the crowd to scream. Butler might take that card and alternate between showing it to the musicians and to the audience so they scream at each other. At Jam Cruise in January, Karl Denson traded licks with the audience, juxtaposing his precise blasts against a wall of noise from the crowd's disorganized be-bop.