Interview | Brock Butler
Less than a week before the announcement, Butler was on board Jam Cruise 11, performing sunrise sets on the pool deck featuring various covers and originals that were visibly therapeutic for the singer/songwriter. While on the ship, Butler spoke to JamBase about his recent struggles, his hopes for the New Year, and the news he was on the verge of breaking to his fans.
JamBase: What was 2012 like for you and what do you want to do with 2013?
Brock Butler: 2012, for me personally, was a ball-buster of a year. I had unbelievably bad luck, one thing after another. Wrecked my car, things like that. [I had] a lot of positive life changes too, but I’m hoping that 2013 will see the lessons I learned in 2012 manifested and put into action.
Did any of that bad luck make for good creative output?
Oh yeah, yeah. Some of the greatest songs [of all time] are break up songs. For some reason, I express my feelings about [heartache] through song. I guess for some reason when I write music and lyrics, it puts a final stamp on it. It’s that catharsis to get it all out there. It’s a “this house is clear” kind of thing. It exorcises the demons.
by Andrew Bruss
Not really. In a way, I kind of like it because you play a song… I’ve been doing this for 12 years and songs like “Three weeks,” it takes me back to that time in my life, but then I think about where I was then and where I am now and it’s kind of a feeling of optimism about how much has changed since then.
Is that something you care to elaborate on?
I was dating a girl in college and up until that point in my life, everything had gone according to plan. I got into the college I wanted to go to and the girl I saw the day I moved into the dorms, we got together. In my head I had it worked out that you go to college and meet your sweetheart, and she was the one for me.
She knew better, and had a better idea of what she wanted out of her life, and it was obvious what my life would be in music and traveling, and she said we’re not meant to continue. It rocked my whole world. I was devastated by it. I started acting out kind of. [I was] drinking more, and [had a mindset like], “I might as well try this now, might as well, all is lost.” So the song “Three Weeks” is about diving into wild abandon as a result of things not going the way I anticipated them to. The first time that happens for anybody, it’s a profound lesson.
Nothing can compare you for your first heartbreak.
Oh, not at all. There was another relationship [I think about], when I play those songs. That’s a new thing, I listen to my songs as a timeline of my life and you can tell the points where I’m falling in love and where it’s ending and the second relationship I got out of and when I play those songs, I think about where I was then and thank god I made it out alive.
by Andrew Bruss
Yeah, and in my own writing and my cover songs, there’s probably something that I really like to get out of music. Some people would often believe that you’re in a band that’s relatively successful and people think, “Man what a life. That must be great.” But nobody is immune from those things in life like loss and grieving, and if you’re lucky, the redemption part. I try to express that in my songs and I know that I have because people will send me messages on Facebook and say something as simple as, “I had a shitty day at work and in my car, PGroove was playing on the radio and I felt better.” On the other end I’ve heard heavier things like someone told me they decided not to commit suicide because of a song of mine and that’s heavy stuff.
I was going to ask about the response you get to your music…
What’s interesting sometimes is when I get to feeling lonely or in the process of grieving and sometimes I wonder, “How am I able to write these lyrics that have a profound effect on people and help them when I can’t get through it myself.” Sometimes it does speak to me, listening to my own advice or my own words.
Obviously you play a lot of tunes that come from a place of personal meaning. Growing up, maybe before you got your hands on the guitar, was there ever any act that did that for you, and made you feel like the world wasn’t going to end, that pulled you up when you were down?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 8 years old and have two older sisters. My older sister had tapes of bands like Guns N’ Roses and Beastie Boys and I would snag those tapes. She enjoyed them. For her it was about what was popular at the time, but for me I was deeply committed. I remember hearing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” for the first time in 3rd grade when my mom drove us to school, and my sister put that in the cassette player and it was so amazing. Just hearing Slash’s tone and [seeing the music] video. I’ve played Gibson guitars for the longest time and I’m sure it’s because the video starts with him plugging in the Les Paul.
at Jam Cruise 11 by Andrew Bruss
I strived to be, and I think that’s part of what I’m trying to get out of 2013. In 2012, there was all this heaviness.
I remember growing up around cassettes and listening to that first tune that hit me, it made me go out and start learning to play guitar so I could do for myself what that tape did for me. I think that’s how a lot of people get into playing music. But all the artists I liked came from these places of deep pain, guys like John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, and when I got writing, I was worried about, “What if I’m not damaged enough to be an artist.” This might be a weird question, but as someone who’s career depends on creative output, have you felt grateful for the pain you’ve had?
I do actually and I have an appreciation for it. It’s the duality of life. You can’t know joy or a real high without knowing the opposite low, and if you try and numb yourself out and not cope with those things, you get lost. I don’t know if you have to be damaged or in pain to make certain kinds of music… Adam, our bassist, and I were having a conversation. He said some of my lyrics used to be about shining and had more hope and less sadness. He said, “Lets try and get to some of that feel-good stuff.” I told him I’d give it a shot, but they say write what you know, and I can’t help it if what I currently know isn’t sunshine daydreams.
Around the time he started getting big, I did one of these interviews for JamBase with Justin Vernon [Bon Iver]. It was before the big band or the Grammy, but it was after “Skinny Love” got huge…
I loved his acceptance speech from the Grammys. He just said, “I don’t think this means anything.” While I know where that’s coming from, it’s dismissive and insulting to the people who put him there. But Vernon took it to this place where he said, “I don’t know what to make of this but I want to accept this on behalf of all the people you’ll never hear, [and] who wont get in the Grammy pipeline, people who won’t get huge recognition.
Well I wanted to ask you about something he said. [Vernon] was saying that he gets these same messages from fans about the way his music has hit them and made an impact on their lives, and that because the music is so personal they feel like they know him. He said he’s glad that people feel that way and is grateful and all, but people don’t know him by knowing his music. Do you feel like people can know you through your music, or do you agree with [Vernon’s] sentiment?
People can know a good deal about parts of you, but also the way I interact with the audience, the line between fan and friend is a slim one. It all depends on the time I’ve been afforded to spend with the person, and they switch from fan to friend. I feel in some cases, especially in internet message boards, they have a sense of entitlement and some people come to talk to me, and I understand why they feel they know me because I have put so much out there. I try to make a rule not to hold things back. I want to be honest and sincere, but sometimes I try to word my sentiments in a way that’s not too specific. It could mean something different to whoever is listening to it. It’s just open-ended enough to be open to interpretation.
Yeah, but that’s stuff that… Well, even in this interview talking with you, talking about 2012 and numbing yourself out, I’ve spent several years of poor choices and self-medicating, and I’m trying to work my way back from that, because I’ve changed and I can hear it in my lyrics. I think that’s part of what Adam and I were talking about. Phil Anselmo, the singer for Pantera, talked about it. He had a nasty heroin addiction and he talked about how his lyrics changed. He became isolated from everyone. His earlier songs had a new level of confidence and power, and his later works, [he sang] “I’m broken. Can you look at me now? I’m a shell of a man.”
Do you fear getting too adjusted?
No. I think that I remember being in those moments, and when I play those songs it brings me back to that point. So far I’ve never had any problem connecting with a song I wrote ten years ago or five years ago.
We’ve touched on some dense stuff. I appreciate your opening up and I wanted to see if there’s anything you wanted to talk about that you wanted readers to know about or expect from you.
Expect a solo album from me because I have enough material to make one right now. It’s the soundtrack to my life.
Anything else you want to let JamBase Nation know?
If you like our music, pass the word, because in this day and age, the music industry is so different. It’s all about spreading the word, and increasing the turnout helps the bands longevity because without it we won’t [last]. It would be a shame.
I’ve always felt where PGroove is concerned, we’d never break up due to artistic differences but we’d just go out of business. Our overhead is more than we can afford to live. Two of the guys have kids at home. As we get older our standards of living are different. I’m no longer happy sleeping on an air mattress floor. It’s what I did. I didn’t own a bed.
So are we not going to hear from PGroove?
Oh, no no no. You will. We’ve got shows booked until April, and at that time I’m going to take some time, at least six months, to go to Virginia and see my family. When I say I’m going to make these changes, I can’t make them touring on the road because that’s where all the triggers are for anxiety and stress, which is what I was trying to cope with initially. I need to go home and get healthy and let Nana make me some milk shakes. I need to eat well, live well and be well.
JamBase | Brock Butler
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