THE MAESTRO: MATT BUTLER

By Jared Newman


Matt Butler
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.


J. Fishman & A. Schnier - Everyone Orchestra
snoe.down 2006 by Robert Chapman
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.

"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.


Scott Law - Everyone Orchestra
By Josh Miller
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.

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."


The Everyone Orchestra
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."

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.

 
The conducting is just a little bit more blatant, and I feel like we're just scraping the beginning of the possibilities of where we can take this, as far as really integrating the audience.

-Matt Butler

 
Photo by Robert Chapman

Butler admits that he's not the first one to conduct a band and its audience. "In a lot of respects, tons of bands do this" says Butler. "Michael Franti gets the audience to say words, to clap, and to do all sorts of different things. The conducting is just a little bit more blatant, and I feel like we're just scraping the beginning of the possibilities of where we can take this, as far as really integrating the audience." Butler plans to use projections to conduct larger audiences and to demonstrate very specific actions. Perhaps, for example, he can get the entire crowd to slap their cheeks or click the back of their tongues against the roofs of their mouths, creating a thunderous unison of strange noises.


The Everyone Orchestra - Portland, OR :: By Josh Miller
Butler likes being the liaison between band members, but he also enjoys connecting the band with the audience. He considers conducting to be an instrument, and he's not the only one who thinks so. At a recent New Monsoon and Hot Buttered Rum concert, Butler was invited to conduct the encore, audience participation and all. "I basically showed up at this gig with my dry erase board, and for 15 minutes, it was an Everyone Orchestra show."

As a result of that performance, New Monsoon has invited Butler to open future concerts with a solo performance and to conduct the band for encores. "It's just kind of a little interesting offshoot, in that I'm being asked to do some of the things that I do within Everyone Orchestra, but I'm not necessarily putting the whole show together." It's those kinds of instances where Everyone Orchestra becomes the concept that Butler describes, rather than a simple amalgamation of star players.

Activism is the final piece of Butler's vision. Painters sell visual interpretations of the music and split the profits with charity. Some shows hold a charity raffle for a chance to guest conduct the band, and donation money is often scooped out of ticket sales, except when the band is playing at festivals. Butler is also trying to come up with some other sources of revenue, like CD sales, that can be utilized at any show.


The Everyone Orchestra - Portland, OR :: By Josh Miller
Money isn't the only thing, though. "There's a lot of awareness and stuff that we can generate that's above and beyond fundraising and that is just as valid within a lot of these festival environments," Butler says confidently. There's also the ability to hypnotize the audience with a message set to music. Butler has invited activists like Rock the Earth founder Marc Ross and Circle of Life founder Julia Butterfly Hill to preach spoken word over a groove.

Still, Everyone Orchestra's benefit concerts remain their most significant events. The third-annual Pangaea Project benefit is set for April 14th and 15th at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. The Pangaea Project is a non-profit group that sends low-income students around the world to volunteer for community-based projects. After the project was founded in 2003, director Deb Delman asked Butler if he'd like to put together a benefit show and suggested that her friend Jon Fishman would be available to play the drums. "That really opened up a bunch of doors and got a bunch of dialogue started," Butler explains. "That was my introduction to Fishman, and in a sense, that was a point in my life that helped jump start me from where I was at."

Among the musicians for this year's Pangaea benefit are Fishman, Jason Hann from String Cheese Incident, Jamie Masefield of Jazz Mandolin Project, Kai Eckhardt from Garaj Mahal, and Reggie Watts from Maktub and Soulive. "It's two shows, it's a huge, great venue, and we have all weekend," Butler says. "It's kind of our prototype, in some respects, of how I would like our shows to go."

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Comments

messick starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/6/2006 09:58PM
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messick

The Everyone Orchestra is such an amazing concept... and such a perfect fit for the jam scene. I'm glad I live in Oregon and get to see them next weekend!

RAMBLER114 starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/7/2006 01:14PM
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the everyone orchestra is amazing.jam criuse was blessed with two shows and it was amazing...although i only saw one...it got CRAZY. i hope to see a nationwide tour soon with all our favorite artists. keep rockin matt butler and friends.

chris starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/7/2006 03:13PM
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chris

Excellent story. Glad to see JamBase cover this much-deserving musician and activist! There are few artists who give as much back to the community as Matt does. EO shows are always fun and unique, & I check them out every chance I get.

rtprudden Sat 4/8/2006 02:14PM
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i had no idea what this band was about, and i must say this is genius

bjnove Mon 4/10/2006 04:33PM
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Delta Nove has had the honor of being a part of the Everyone Orchestra last year at 10,000 Lakes Festival, Xingolati Cruise, and are excited be involved at this years Whole Earth Festival in Davis, CA taking place on May 13. Thanks Matt Butler and Jamie Janover for the opportunities to be in something so fun and great!

larry starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/11/2006 02:34PM
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larry

This was a major highlight last year at 10kl for me. It was great to be a part of all that energy. Then I got a chance to catch them up in Oregon after that fest was canceled at the last second. They came through and put on a great show for all of us that came into to town. Thanks Guys! I can't wait to do it again this year in MN!

wmnrsmrtr starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/18/2006 12:41PM
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Yeah! Matt Butler is a brother of mine from way back in the Jambay days. I am so happy to hear that things are going well for him and the Everyone Orchestra! Improvising is what music is all about. This is an idea whose time has come. Can't wait to catch their next show in SF! xo whitney :-)