Smash Palace returns with Right as Rain, a 5 song ep. 5 beautifully crafted songs. Jangle melodies are king here.
Stephen Butler explains how this new music came together. And he explains a whole lot more.
The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring you? And what not?
The music business has changed dramatically over the past 40 years that I’ve been involved with it. I made my first record in 1979. It was a single released on the CBGB label. Hilly Krystal was my manager for a band named Quincy. We then got signed to Columbia Records. Back then, the major labels controlled every aspect of your career. They funded your record, hired a producer and the recording studio, promoted your music etc. You weren’t your own boss .. they were. The label told you how to sound, how to look, where to play etc. Not that that was always a bad thing. But you give up a lot artistically. Some bands have an easier time with it, but my experiences weren’t always that great.
Today, I have my own project studio where I can do whatever I want and for as long as I want. Smash Palace is on Zip Records, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam. The owner of the label, Art Herman, is a great guy. A total music lover who has been releasing our CDs for the past 12 years. He lets the band do its thing, which I greatly appreciate.
The one cool thing about being in a band today is that making an album is so much easier to do. You can get a pro tools set up in your house and make your own recordings without a huge investment of money. Of course, you have to learn how to use the gear and learn how to produce and engineer. Not everyone has the capability to do that.
What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?
The most fun in the making of this new Smash Palace record is the writing of the songs. Coming up with a new tune that you know is good .. at least by my standards. I’ve been writing with my brother Brian since I was 12 years old. We’re so close that we can finish each other’s sentences.
I consider myself to be very lucky to have my brother as my writing and music partner. Then when we’re cutting the tracks in the studio is another great experience.
I have such gifted players … David Uosikkinen on drums, Cliff Hillis on guitar, Wally Smith on keyboards and Fran Smith on bass guitar. They always come up with parts that add much to the song. And they’re my good friends too.
What’s up for the rest of the year?
The rest of the year is very busy. The new Smash Palace CD just came out. Now I’m finishing the new Quincy CD .. the first we’ve recorded since 1982. That’s a very fun time.
We got together a couple months ago to do the basic tracks and we fell right back into our groove. I’m in the mixing stages with that right now. I hope to see a release sometime this year.
Then the other project that should see the light of day this year is a duo CD I’m doing with Edward Rogers, a label mate of mine. We started writing together a couple years ago. Two of the songs made it on to Edwards last CD and we thought, why not do an EP with some of the other tunes.
So off to a studio in Brooklyn last month to record. We both sing lead on various songs and we had the luck to record with Sal Maida on bass ( Roxy Music and Cracker) Dennis Diken on drums ( the Smithereens) and Don Piper on guitar and doing the production work. We’re doing some overdubs right now and I’m very excited about where the music is heading.
The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?
The meaning of success is somewhat the same as it always was and at the same time, it’s changed. In my early 20’s, I wanted to be a successful rock star, travel the world, play great venues, make records with big deal producers and of course, write great songs. Today, the things that are the same are, writing great songs, playing gigs, etc but I don’t expect to become rich and famous from it.
It’s really about the quality of music and working with people who are great players. I did get to work with William Wittman on the previous Smash Palace CD ” Some Kind Of Magic”. He’s a Grammy winner and an excellent producer. Touring is very limited because everyone is so busy with not only Smash Palace but with their own careers.
I still think the songs I write with my brother Brian are as good or even better than we’ve ever written so I’m not going to stop doing what I do. If I thought I’m going downhill, and I’m not as good as I used to be, I might hang it up. It’s hard to say. I never thought I’d have a music career this many years later. It’s encouraging to see many of my peers or bands that started when I did, still making music. Ringo is going to be 78 and he’s still gigging .. That’s remarkable!
Can you still recall the moment music became important to you? What happened?
I can’t say exactly when I knew music was important to me. My mother was an excellent musician and songwriter. I grew up in a household where music was always being played or listened to. The Beatles changed my life in the sense that I knew that’s what I wanted to do and be like. All of the British Invasion bands had a huge impact on me and my brother. For Christmas, he’s bought me Rubber Soul and I’d get him Over Under Sideways Down by the Yardbirds.
I just thought this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. Why not? I went to music college and studied classical music, I’ve always taught music, now I produce bands, play gigs, write songs etc. It’s like I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I can’t imagine it any other way. I appreciate every day that I’m making music. I feel lucky that way. And most of all, don’t worry about success and what other bands are doing.
Find your own thing, do what makes you happy and keep working. It’s not easy but it can be a lot of fun. It’s really hard work and if you’re doing something you love, it won’t seem like work.