INTERVIEW: Brandon Butler on the Past, the Future, and the Post-Human Terminator Landscape!

Pictured above: Six Bells are  in your basement right now. Photo by Rexena Napier

Brandon Butler has a simple goal: to make the music he loves. Honing his talent early on with bands like Boy’s Life, Canyon, or the Farewell Bend, Butler has recently made the move to our fair city, where he joined forces with Ryan Patterson, Keith Bryant, and Forrest Kuhn to start Six Bells, which blends post-punk and americana into a mid-tempo pastiche of midwestern indie. Recently these fellas have been very busy with a string of shows set up this month, and a split seven inch with Empty Flowers due out on Atomic Action Records on the horizon. You can catch them live this month with Wild Honey and Expert Alterations at The New Vintage on January 12th; with Twin Sister Radio, Killii Killii, and The Vibrolas at The New Vintage on January 17th; and with A Lion Named Roar, Discount Guns, Lydia Burrell, and Satellite Twin at Zanzabar January 29th as part of the do502 Free Week. I sat down with Butler to talk about the past, the future, and Terminators.

Never Nervous: How did Six Bells start? What’s the origin story here, and does it involve radioactivity or anything?

Brandon Butler: Six Bells started because Ryan reached out to me to welcome me to Louisville and see if I wanted to get together and play some music. No radioactivity was involved unless you count the amount that passes through a smart phone.

NN: What prompted your move to Louisville? Why here? Why now?

BB: My wife is from Louisville, we were married here, we just had a baby, and DC is so expensive and stressful. More stressful than I can describe, it’s totally insane, I hated living there the last year we were there.

NN: I know your previous bands played here (I was in attendance at least one Farewell Bend show). What was your relationship like to Louisville before moving here? Is there anything that you would say defines our city?

BB: I was in a band in Florida called The Missing Children with Henry Wilson (Dove, Floor), then I had a progish-metal kind of band with John the bass player of Boy’s Life. John sang and I played bass, the other two guys were actual musicians, so that didn’t last, but we played with Bikini Kill twice. For some odd reason they liked us. My next band was Boy’s Life, we were together for about 6 years, made a lot of music and toured incessantly from day one. The Farewell Bend was a one 7 inch, one record band. Short lived, but lots of loud rock fun.

I ended up in DC after the last Farewell Bend tour and started writing my own music that ended up as Canyon as soon as I convinced Joe from Boy’s Life to move to DC. That was the the band that expanded my musical palate more than any band I’d been in. That band was fairly successful for back then. After that I kept doing Canyon, but called it Brandon Butler. ALL of these musical projects came through Louisville starting around 93′ up to 2004. I was pretty good pals with a lot of the Louisville rocker types. This has always been a place I loved and talked about moving to one day. I met my wife in DC, she is a hardcore, punker type too. We ran in the same circles for years, dated, married and she’s from here.

What defines Louisville… It’s a river port city, so it’s got a fair amount of grit and blue collar charm. The people are nice, houses are well built, the music that comes out of here, the stuff I care about, is weird and intense, no matter the genre. Louisville is where I will live until my kid grows up and I retire. Then I will move to the desert in an RV.

NN: Does environment impact your music? Is their any sort of sociological component to writing in Louisville than there is in DC or Kansas City?

BB: My environment has no bearing on my lyrics. I have been preaching the same message in all my music for a while now no matter where I live. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a kook, but I believe us humans have denied ourselves the gifts of the planet, each other, true freedom, and peace, because we are preoccupied with our differences, how much money we have and objects that reflect our ability to earn money. I’ll get all misty if I watch Dances with Wolves. Run to the desert in an RV basically.

NN: How would you identify midwestern indie? Is there one unified sound or is it unique to locale?

BB: Midwest emo (bad word) and punk is just an organic reaction to the music that was trickling in at the time. Bands like Fugazi, Molly McGuire, Sideshow, and Uncle Tupelo steered me to play the kind of music I made. All I ever wanted to do was make a big noise and be heard. The guys I grew up making music with were lower middle class kids who wanted to fun shit up in a positive way through skating and music. I’m glad to be back in the midwest.

“All I ever wanted to do was make a big noise and be heard.”

But midwest kids had something to prove. I feel like we had something different to to say. We weren’t from a major city, nobody cared what we were doing and we never thought we’d ever get heard so we always operated with a little chip on our shoulders.  We had more energy… Mercy Rule was a good example of of this kind of music. They use to hardwire their guitars to not have volume knobs. they were loud, rowdy but they could write melodic rock like nobody else.

NN: How does Six Bells compare to your other bands? What makes this a different animal, other than just the constituency of the players involved?

BB: For me Six Bells has the originality of Canyon, but the energy and spontaneity of Boy’s Life, however, Six Bells is the most enjoyable band I have ever been in, because there is no agenda. We are making music, period.

NN: How does the band compose? Do you bring in ideas or is it collaborative? Which do you prefer and why?

BB: We all bring ideas to practice. Sometimes I have a completed song that gets edited and changed. We collaborate on most everything. Everybody has a piece of the action.

NN: How do you decide what project to use material you’ve written for?

BB: At the moment I am only writing material to share with this band. I have a backlog of songs that I can play acoustic if I ever want to do a solo show, which is fun to do from time to time, but it feels SO good to be in a proper band again.

NN: What was the first instrument you ever developed a relationship with? Where did you get it? How long did you play it? Do you still have? If not, what happened to it?

BB: My first guitar was Peavey T-26. It was actually a pretty rad guitar but I hated it because it wasn’t a sg or les paul. So, no I never connected to that guitar. I have never really been attached to any particular guitar really. I trade guitars a lot, mostly electric guitars. As far as acoustic guitars, I have made a couple that I am pretty attached to, and my wife gave me an amazing acoustic as a wedding gift. I love all guitars and wish I could own all of them.

NN: I imagine you’ve done your fair share of touring in the past. What are the difficulties inherent to touring? Do you have any plans to tour in the future with Six Bells? Is there any place you haven’t played that you’d like to?

BB: Yes, I have done a lot of touring. For me the hardest part of touring was when touring turned into a job, when it became predictable. In the early days there was so much unforeseen and exciting about it. I use to think that I might be able to stay on the road and live in my van. Six Bells will probably not do any extensive touring. I would like to play in a few cities around louisville but as long as we keep writing, recording and playing with some level of consistency I’ll get my “fix” I always wanted to go to japan, but that ship has sailed.

NN: Supposing that the Terminators succeed against humanity, what comes next? What does Skynet do in a post-human world?

BB: I have a bad back and hopefully Skynet will replace my lower back with a Terminator replacement. Terminators will recognize me a friendly.

NN: Why did or does anyone like Sons of Anarchy?

BB: Never seen an episode of SOA. Crazy right?

NN: What non-musical things have you psyched lately and why?

BB: I am super psyched on my little boy. He’s a good kid and likes loud music. I love watching him discover new things. I’m stoked about making his life one new discovery after another, and yes, that includes rock and roll music.

NN: What are your top-five desert island album picks and why?

BB: Editor’s note – Presented in no particular order: