Singer-songwriter Butch Walker -- "I don't think my music sounds anything like them," he says of the pop acts whose albums he produces.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Not to delve into his personal finances, but Butch Walker clearly pays the bills these days producing hits for Taylor Swift, Pink, Fall Out Boy and others, so it wouldn't be surprising if he just locked himself up in a studio.
Instead, he's on the road now with a new EP, playing Mr. Smalls on Friday.
With: Marc Scibilia
Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $20; www.mrsmalls.com.
"A lot of people are like, 'You should just give it up and produce records. That's where the real money is.' That makes no sense," he says in a phone interview. "It's like telling a bird to stop singing or stop flying. I'm a musician first and foremost and I'm very lucky to be blessed that I have a fan base that comes to see me and doesn't yell out for me to play songs I write for other people. I'd probably rethink my life at that point."
Mr. Walker, originally from Atlanta, had an early taste of success in the late '90s with Marvelous 3, which scored the bratty Modern Rock hit "Freak of the Week." When the group disbanded, he launched his solo career in 2002 with the power-pop record "Left of Self-Centered" and has now followed that with five more albums that have won him critical acclaim and a modest club-sized following.
Musically, he says, he falls somewhere in that gray area between the radio pop stars and the bands pushing the envelope.
"I don't think my music sounds anything like them," he says of the pop acts. "I'm not trying to be brag or be a [jerk], but those songs are very pop, and the production is very pop. I don't mind helping people make those kind of records, but they're not the kind of records I would make for myself."
On the other hand, he says, "I'm not trying to be Sigur Ros or Radiohead. They probably work really hard to just constantly reinvent music and be different, and it's beautiful what they do. But I'm a storyteller, a songwriter. I'm not a beat maker or computer programmer or whatever. But I don't know, lyrically, that I go broad enough or vague enough for radio. You have to be more nondescript. Your competition is 'We can't, we won't stop,' 'We're gonna be forever young.' It makes it a lot harder for a quirkier lyric to get through."
Walker's most release work is an EP, "Peachtree Battle," that opens with him on a squirrel-hunting trip with his dad. The EP, of mostly upbeat and catchy pop-rock songs, is themed around his relationship with his father, who died two months ago.
"A lot of it was wanting to be a tribute to my father, who at the time was alive but his health was declining and started getting worse," he says. "He got into his final days and I realized I needed to get this out as an EP with songs that I felt were influenced by him. The older I've gotten the more nostalgia has crept into the songs, and I find myself [thinking] a lot more about him raising me and my upbringing and what a colorful dude he was. I just didn't feel like writing a bunch of love songs or breakup songs."
The EP arrives at the end of a successful year in which he produced the comeback record for Fall Out Boy, which included the hit "My Songs Know What You Did the Dark." Putting Fall Out Boy at the top of the charts wasn't a given with the band coming off a five-year hiatus.
"The only reason [it hit] was because they didn't put out a record just like all their other ones," Mr. Walker says. "If they would have just put out, five years later, a record of music that a lot of people don't even listen to anymore, they might have a problem getting music into the hands of new listeners. They knew their core audience would still be with them, but you can't just put out a '90s pop-punk song and expect it to get played on the radio or reach new listeners."
Pop radio listeners are also familiar with "Everything Has Changed," the Taylor Swift-Ed Sheeran duet which hit the airwaves as an amped-up remix.
"There's some sort of new remix of it played on radio," he says, "that I don't really understand because they took the track and put a weird beat to it and it didn't sound like anything I did, but that's what remixing is. I get it. The version I did was definitely the most organic thing with all real instruments, not necessarily a laptop production which a lot of those pop records are with danceable tracks. She didn't want me to do a song that sounded like dance pop. She already had those songs. It was just a demo I fired up, where I played all the instruments and she said, 'I think we need to keep it like this.' I respect her vision for everything. She's knows exactly what she's doing, knows what she wants."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg
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