Daniel Cadwallader talks to Letlive's explosive frontman, Jason Aalon Butler.
If you were to speak to people of my Dad's generation, they will tell you that in this day and age you do not get any more proper rock stars. By rock stars they don't mean the pampered, preening likes of Bon Jovi, or Kiss, or Aerosmith. They mean rock stars like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer. People who would put the fear of god in you at the front of the stage, people who would teach you, people who could change the way you looked at the world through rock music... or perhaps just people who would mess you up if you talked during their acoustic number.
Letlive are an American post-hardcore/punk band who are here to destroy the myth that rock is dead (music magazines are always fond of saying this so they say rock is back three issues later). The band mixes the musical complexities of Dillinger Escape Plan, Deftones and Faith No More (particularly in Jason's distinctively tuneful vocals) alongside indie influences like the Pixies and a massive dose of the DIY ethos that was pioneered by hardcore punk (the band pay tribute to this with a cover of Black Flag's 'Wasted' in their live sets). All of this has inspired a dedicated cult following that has seen them jump from indie label stalwarts to an international force in the last few years, all without compromising their sound or ethics.
Frontman, Jason Aalon Butler is the visual and lyrical force behind the band, a whirling dervish at the centre of a punk rock storm. When you see the band in their natural environment, the stage, it isn't their post-hardcore contemporaries that spring to mind, but bands like the MC5 and the legendary Dead Kennedys. On their most recent album 'The Blackest Beautiful' the band has revealed a sharpened political wit to accompany their sometimes chaotic (in the best possible way) music, and this has seen them move into the next phase of their musical development.]
I caught up with the funny, humble and impressively bearded singer before a sold out show at Camden's Electric ballroom.
Daniel Cadwallader: You're back in England, you guys always get a good reception over here, do you like coming over here?
Jason Aalon Butler: Yeah man, I think it's pretty safe to say that England has become a second home to us. Musically and even culturally, we experience England in a way that is very similar to home. It's familiar to where we come from.
DC: Tell me a little bit about what things are like on tour for you guys, do you feel you've got a good attitude to long periods on the road?
JAB: Well I think we've just developed a lot of our adult lives, I mean real adult lives, in a band, and our aspirations have always been fairly similar to how they were when we started the band when we were 15. We've existed as such for so long that it's become common for us to be on the road anyway. I think the dynamic of being on tour is pretty standard for us now, it's no problem.
DC: Before you guys broke through you developed a strong cult following in Europe and the US for your dynamic life performances, is the live show a big element in the Letlive mix?
JAB: Yeah, I think so. I think what it does is offer another facet of what the band is. I mean you can give someone the record as the sonic representation, and then there's a time for you to prove it in some sort of authentic representation, which I think is the performance's job. With it we definitely honour our record as best we can, but we also understand that the setting has to be visceral and sporadic at times.
DC: You have a very eclectic sound, with elements of post-hardcore, metal, soul and even pop, what have been the biggest influences?
JAB: I think Letlive itself is what pulls us together (laughs) I think that's what brings these five rather disparate gentlemen, as far as lifestyles and music tastes, come together. As I get older and as the band develops I personally see that we find the commonality through Letlive, and it really has brought us together in that way. It's the really strong nexus for all of us really.
DC: Both your most recent album "The Blackest Beautiful" and its predecessor "Fake History" seem to have a political edge to them. Is the band's social consciousness and a big part of your song writing?
JAB: I think it's become more so, especially with "Blackest Beautiful", with me becoming a little more open and candid about how I feel. You know the social dynamism of a lot of western culture, is what I've observed, but as I've travelled to other parts of the world it has offered me other perspectives. With this record I definitely made a pretty conscious effort to air out some things that I feel negative about, the social aspect. But only because I feel the hope for the future is very bright. I'm like an atypical philanthropist, I have very very high hopes for the long run, but right now it's quite messy.
DC: Do you think there are enough bands out there at the moment vocalising similar issues?
JAB: Not to say that we are any better at doing it, or at all, but no I don't. I don't think people are talking about what's going on around them; I don't think people are talking about what's going on with them personally, internally. I think the emotional aspect in music has somehow dissipated over the decades, and it's really strange to me how sterile everything has become. I think that's a huge part of why, lyrically, I write the way I write because I've got so much distaste for this prosaic nature that music has kind of taken on. It doesn't mean that I'm any better, or worse, I'm just personally very very tired of all this safe, censored bullshit that keeps coming out through art. Art in itself is meant to be aberrant, it's supposed to be obscure, it's supposed to push boundaries and be progressive, and this shit that's coming out is everything but that. Whether it bring us success or not isn't the point, it's just that the artist that I want to be means talking about the things I'm talking about.
DC: The Blackest Beautiful seems to be an ambitious record and real step up in terms of song writing, do you have big ambitions for this album?
JAB: I think that if you have a genuine sense of artistic integrity, if you really think that what you put out there is worth people's time, then you should expect people to enjoy it. Only because you're giving what you think is what's deserved by those people that support you. You never feel entitled ever, because you're not entitled to shit, not in music, not in life, you're just not entitled to anything. Ambition is one of the driving forces for us as a band because we had to remain ambitious and our own biggest fucking fans for so long, because no one gave a shit about us for a long time, and now that people are starting to care, it's incredible and we're so grateful for it. So everything we do, we're thankful and want people to be a part of it with us. Letlive essentially, on a very fanciful scale, it's more than the band to me now, it's a community, it's like a wave, and essence. It's not about us anymore; we're making a soundtrack for something much bigger.
DC: What are your plans for 2014?
JAB: We're touring a lot! Also I'd really like to offer some alternative methods of listening to and enjoying the record. Maybe adding some visuals, maybe some spoken word. Perhaps we'll do some very unorthodox or sporadic shows around the US, I'd love to bring it overseas as well, and maybe just pop up in the subway (the underground, not the fast food chain - DC) and just play, and not expect any money, just to enjoy it and see how accessible we really can be as a band. Just offering different ways for people to enjoy the record, and enjoy Letlive, using methods that haven't really been exercised before.