Since Buttercup played their first gig together in 2003, it has been a constant production of maniacal bliss in the form of art rock, brought to an audience in unconventional and creative ways: for instance playing to audience members one at a time, or singing while swimming in baby pools. Formed in San Antonio, the band has fused a post-modern sound that crams their love of The Kinks, Neil Young and The Talking Heads into something more at home with fellow Texans Spoon, Chicago's Wilco or New York's Besticles.
The band shows no sign of slowing their pace, joyously celebrating the 2009 release of their third full length album, “The Weather Here” produced by Salim Nourallah (Rhett Miller, The Old 97s), whose songwriting and production skills have created the group's best recording to date.
Armed with a batch of new songs, and joined with heavy hitter Jason Garner on drums (Deathray Davies, The Paperchase) Buttercup is now playing harder, heavier and sillier than ever.
From their charmingly arranged harmonies to their unpredictable onstage antics, Buttercup is comfortable and chameleon-like in a live setting. The Cup revels in their ability to adapt from a stripped-down, intimate environ to a raucous, energetic and unpredictable club show. Employing such whimsical tools as an old rotary telephone, tambourines, glockenspiels and other fanciful homemade instruments, fans have come to expect the barriers between the stage and audience to be broken; teeth to be lost and hearts to be won.
Erik Sanden - Vocals, Classical Guitar
Jamie Roadman - Drums, Vocals
Odie - Bass, Vocals
Joe Reyes - Electric Guitar, Vocals
2004 - DVD - Goodbye, Blue Monday
2005 - Album - Sick Yellow Flower
2006 - Album - Hot Love
2007 - EP - Captains of Industry
2007 - EP - Living Again
2008 - EP - The Head Sits Upside Down on the Top of the Head
2009 - Album - The Weather Here
"Weather" Looks Good From Here 7/30/2009
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by Jim Beal Jr -- Brace yourselves. There's glockenspiel on only one song on Buttercup's new CD. ...by Jim Beal Jr --
Brace yourselves. There's glockenspiel on only one song on Buttercup's new CD.
Hated to lay it on you just like that, but the 12-track “The Weather Here” (Bedlamb), produced by Salim Nourallah (Rhett Miller, Old 97's) and recorded in Dallas at Pleasantry Lane Studios, features a more basic approach to the pop/rocking Buttercup sound/vision.
“I really like some of the stuff Salim did with Old 97's,” Buttercup guitarist Joe Reyes, a producer himself, said. “We did some shows with Salim up in Dallas and he said he thought he could help us capture on record what he liked about our live sound.”
But don't panic. Though Nourallah didn't use every bit, byte, musical instrument and inanimate object at his disposal, Buttercup is still Buttercup. Reyes (guitars, vocals), Erik Sanden (vocals, guitars, keyboards), odie (bass, vocals, glockenspiel) and Jamie Roadman (drums, percussion, vocals), with assists from Nourallah, The Deathray Davies' John Dufilho and a couple other folks, craft clever, quirky, sometimes punchy, sometimes spacey, sometimes melancholy pop/rock that has deep Alamo Town roots but universal indie-pop appeal. Nourallah did a masterful job of serving the songs.
“Salim has a similar aesthetic to our band, so we were able to give up a good deal of control to a good producer,” Sanden, the principal Buttercup songwriter, said. “We wanted to record as live as possible.”
“The Weather Here” is Buttercup's sixth release and third full-length album. Taco Land-raised and Grackle Mundy-tempered, Buttercup is at its core a live band that strives to make every show an experience.
“This record is mostly us playing in a room live,” Reyes said. “We recorded it in four weekend sessions. I'd take a bunch of guitars with me to do overdubs and then end up doing very few overdubs with the same guitar. Our records have been a bit more experimental, but when we play live, it's just the four of us and we just play the songs. The better we become as a band, the more we write like a live band.”
Reyes wrote “Consolidation”; odie penned “The Butcher.” Sanden wrote the other 10 songs.
“I make a set of words and a melody and the band arranges the song and makes it come to life,” Sanden said. “The songs I write are open to interpretation by the band. The songs Joe writes are pretty well scripted. He's like Paul McCartney. odie writes much like I do. I feel like I have a whole lot of help. I don't have to finish a song. I just put odie, Jamie and Joe on them.”
Buttercup is fiercely independent. It couldn't have been easy to put all the songs into Nourallah's hands.
“It was difficult, but also liberating,” Sanden said. “Salim had a strong vision. We gave him 30 songs on a demo. He helped choose the songs, he chose the order of the songs and even chose some of the spelling. My girlfriend advised me to stay out of it and let Salim work. I took her advice, and I'm glad I did.”
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BY JEREMY MARTIN Buttercup’s latest full-length is equal parts quiet and mesmerizing. Get the hea...BY JEREMY MARTIN
Buttercup’s latest full-length is equal parts quiet and mesmerizing. Get the headphones; this one will bring a party to its knees. Not that finely crafted should-be hits “I Am a Tiger,” with its hand claps and “hey”s, and almost criminally catchy “Betta No Better” would be out of place soundtracking a cookout, but The Weather Here’s first two tracks set the tone for a rainy day sort of album. Opener “It’s in the Way” waxes zen-ish as the titular hook suggests you’re being hampered by “what you hate,” “Consensus Chalice” makes a harried reference to “JFK at the free-throw line,” and both songs are minimalist enough to allow introspection on lead vocalist Erik Sanden’s lyrics, which are delivered soft and deliberate, as if straining his vocal chords might snap them. And I’d suggest the band sell drunkard’s plea “Always Alcohol” to Ryan Adams, but Sanden’s voice manages an emotional immediacy that Adams has only occasionally achieved since Heartbreaker.
Buttercup's Erik Sanden Balances at the Edge of the Stage
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Vocalist-guitarist Erik Sanden looks so happy and comfortable onstage, he doesn’t seem to realize he...Vocalist-guitarist Erik Sanden looks so happy and comfortable onstage, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s working. “I had a dream last night” he says, “that Barack Obama gave me a big kiss on the forehead and told me it’s gonna be OK.” He grins like he’s joking, but the band’s stage presence is so goofy and carefree, supernatural pre-show reassurance from the president-elect can’t really be ruled out as the cause.
Buttercup are in full bar-band mode tonight, balancing the light-headed giddiness of their airy harmonies and “bahbahbahs” with a bottom-heavy mix and overcoming equipment problems through pure energy. Bassist Odie, with cowboy hat and braided goatee, provides the rhythmic momentum to propel the band through a lengthy but quick-moving set list while Sanden jigs, kneels, lays down on the stage, and bats playfully at a low-hanging light. The mic stand keeps falling over, and the vocals keep cutting out. At one point, Sanden simply shrugs and throws the microphone aside. Guitarist Joe Reyes solos and more than takes up the slack.
On Kinks cover “Alcohol,” Sanden lets the audience scream the chorus: “Who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?” He switches to a megaphone and runs through the audience to stand up on the bar. For some reason, this isn’t their closing number, but the show never anticlimaxes. A ferocious take on Tragically Hip’s “Poets” is damn-near mosh-worthy, and following last call, Sanden packs the stage for closer “’68.”
“Everyone get the fuck up here!” he yells, and most of the other musicians on the night’s bill, as well as some of the audience members, join the band onstage. If the sound cuts out again, everyone’s too busy shouting and jumping, writhing too deep in the throes of demonic possession, to notice.
Best of 2007
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Some bands work better under pressure. For San Antonio’s brainy pop quartet Buttercup, the pressure ...Some bands work better under pressure. For San Antonio’s brainy pop quartet Buttercup, the pressure is all self-imposed. The band has publicly promised that if they ever fail to adhere to the highest standards of music-making, they will wear their clothes inside-out for a full year. For my money, that’s a ballsier bet than Muhammad Ali promising to crawl across the ring if Joe Frazier beat him (a promise that Ali conveniently forgot after losing the fight).
Buttercup won’t have to be inverting their garments anytime soon, based on the song-rich wonder that is their 2006 album, Big Love. Every bit as smart and eccentric as their debut release, Sick Yellow Flower, Big Love added loads of time-tested pop candy: lush harmonies, bossa-nova flutes, and chiming guitar overdubs. It captured the group’s deadpan sense of humor and made even its darkest ruminations feel inviting.
Hot Love’s title song was chosen as NPR’s Song of the Day last June, and NPR contributing writer David Brown nailed the band’s artistic intent when he observed that “Buttercup is out to tickle the left side of listeners’ brains.” With Hot Love, they consistently succeeded.
— Gilbert Garcia
Song of the Summer
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“But, really, there’s no getting around it: Buttercup is out to tickle the left side of listeners’ b...“But, really, there’s no getting around it: Buttercup is out to tickle the left side of listeners’ brains…Even apart from the story behind the music, the songs on Hot Love—and the title track in particular—stand on their own as eccentric pop gems. With a ‘60s-style AM-radio beat and Sanden’s airy delivery, the track conjures an alternate universe where Ray Davies and David Byrne collaborate on jangly pop songs with unexpected twists in the shade of the Alamo.” David Brown, NPR Song of the Day; June 13, 2006
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“Remember when music was fun? San Antonio quartet Buttercup masters the breezy good times of Texas s...“Remember when music was fun? San Antonio quartet Buttercup masters the breezy good times of Texas summer on second LP Hot Love (Bedlamb). Prereleased song by song through singer Erik Sanden’s grassroots Dial-a-Song service, Hot Love rings up somewhere between early Flaming Lips and GBV. Buttercup is really just having a good time, and if you listen close enough, you can hear them laughing.” Darcie Stevens, The Austin Chronicle; June 1, 2006
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“Over the last two years, the band has consistently rehearsed twice a week on new material, and the ...“Over the last two years, the band has consistently rehearsed twice a week on new material, and the full flowering of this labor can be heard on Hot Love, Buttercup’s sophomore release, and an audible leap beyond last year’s excellent Sick Yellow Flower. Working, by necessity, in piecemeal fashion, most often at makeshift home studios, the band somehow crafted a pop kaleidoscope that’s whimsical, melancholy, silly, and cerebral. Most pop music that aspires to be artsy is no fun, while most pop music that aspires to be fun is neither. Hot Love is one of those rare achievements that hits all the right pleasure buttons, while challenging your preconceptions.” Loving Cup Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Current; May 24, 2006
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“…I can honestly say that I’ve never witnessed any musical performance quite as wildly inventive, ...
“…I can honestly say that I’ve never witnessed any musical performance quite as wildly inventive, unique and fun as Buttercup’s “Grackle Mundy” shows. When you write about music for a living, it’s sometimes all too easy to get a little jaded and occasionally flat-out weary of seeing live music on a regular basis. But, Buttercup, bless ‘em, made me a believer all over again.”
Richard Skanse-Texas Music Magazine, Letter from the Editor Spring 2005
Texas Music Spotlight
Buttercup by Richard Skanse
It’s 10 P.M. Monday night, and the Wiggle Room is stuffed and rocking…gently. A tiny, down-and-dirty former Piggly Wiggly market turned into an art space on the fringe of downtown San Antonio – far, far away from the tourist traps – the Wiggle could at present qualify as the Alamo City’s unofficial headquarters of, for lack of a better word, “hip.” For this is the latest home of “Grackle Mundy,” the monthly (formerly weekly) fete “co-hosted” by the band Buttercup and its growing cadre of dedicated followers of unconventional fashion.
“Grackle Mundy,” like any regular gig that can consistently draw 130-some-odd folks on a Monday night, is definitely a scene – but not in the over-played Austin (or New York, Los Angeles or any other town that hypes its music scene) sense of the word. There’s a totally different vibe happening here, more akin to a visit to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory than a typical rock show. You know, like anything can happen…and a different “anything” happens every time.
“One of my favorite ‘Grackle Mundys’ was when we had ‘Confession Night,’” say Buttercup bassist Odie (just Odie). “We were all in a back office in the Wiggle Room, and we had random people brought in one or two at a time. We’d offer them green tea and ask them about their day. If they had a great day, we’d play them a somber song, if they had a crappy day, we’d play them a happy song. Then we took a picture of them and sent them on their way. We did that for three hours straight…and people loved it.”
Then there was “Unlucky Night,” when everyone entering the art space had to walk under a ladder and the band systematically violated every superstition in the book. And “Video Valentine,” when the band members went door to door in their neighborhood, instruments and video cam in hand, and serenaded little old ladies in their sitting rooms – later projecting their adventure on a screen for their Grackle crowd. And “Mannequin Night,” when the audience gathered in the sidewalk and watched Buttercup play in the Wiggle’s plate-glass window – freezing for several minutes between each song. Or “Barrels,” when the audience watched the performance by staring down into four 55-gallon oil drums, each containing a TV showing live footage of a different band member from a hidden room. (That one the band even had documented for a DVD.) And who could forget “Battleship Night,” which pitted the band against the audience in a heated round of the world’s most tedious board game? OK…that one they’d like to forget.
“It was weak and antagonistic,” groans Buttercup singer/guitarist Erik Sanden. “Plus, Battleship as a game is endless and boring. So that was a bad choice.”
“But we’re still talking about it now,” offers drummer Jamie Roadman. “So on some level, it was a success!”
All of these shenanigans – from the whimsical to the outright Warholian – might easily be misconstrued as artfully devised, style-over-substance tricks to distract from Buttercup’s music, if not for the fact that the band is made up of four of San Antonio’s most talented and hardest-working musicians in recent memory. California-born Sanden and Georgia-born Roadman (son of a former Air Force surgeon general), who met at Trinity University in the early 90’s, have been playing together with Odie (a half-japanese military brat who settled in Texas 20 years ago) in various Alamo City bands for nearly 15 years. All three were in the late, great Evergreen in the 90’s, and Roadman and Odie currently pull double-duty in Buttercup and Los Mescaleros. Guitarist Joe Reyes, meanwhile, was half of the long-running, Grammy-nominated instrumental duo Lara & Reyes (he’s also a Grammy winner, for co-producing Freddy Fender’s 2002 album, La Musica de Baldemar Huerta).
Buttercup originated four or five years ago as a means for Sanden to perform in public the wealth of solo material he wrote as part of his year-long “Dial-a-Song” project, in which he wrote and recorded a new song every week that people could hear on his answering machine (he says he still does that, though now you call, leave a message, “and I call you back and sing you a song at my convenience”). With Odie and Roadman and a few other friends sitting in, Buttecup played sporadically for a couple of years before Reyes joined an cemented the current line-up.
“I had always wanted to play with these guys from the first time I heard them, but I was too busy,” says Reyes, the band’s lone native Texan. “But in 2002 I was coming out of a recording contract with the instrumental band I used to play with, and the timing was just right. I thought, ‘Man, this’ll be fun.’”
“Then at some point after he had been in the band for a while, Joe said, ’Let’s get good,’” laughs Sanden. (“Let me note that I had said that before,” interjects Roadman, “but it didn’t really take.”)
And good they got. Drawing on a shared heart-on-sleeve love for artists like the Kinks (think Something Else / Village Green-era) and Neil Young, Buttercup’s original music ranges from playful and ramshackle to gorgeously moody, gentle and – Sanden’s pet word, used proudly – “feeble.” It’s the kind of music that requires, and rewards, a degree of intimate attention hard to come by in typical bars – which is in large part why the band deecided to seek alternative performance options. “We decided, as long as we’re not going to make any money, let’s do this according to our rules,” says Sanden. “And we started dreaming: No jukebox. No separation between the audience and the band. No searing neon signs. No regimented format. We just wanted to make it more relaxing, more intimate.”
The “Grackle Mundy” shows actually sprang from a weekly solo residency Odie had at a Riverwalk bar called Tequila Mockingbird, but the party didn’t really get started until Buttercup moved the concept to a King William District gallery owned by friend and famed San Antonio artist Robert Tatum. “The first couple of times we did ‘Grackle Mundy’ at the art space, there was four or five people,” says Sanden. “And the next week there were 10 people. But the tipping point was when one of our first fans, Doug Mannion, found like 200 peacock feathers on the side of the road and brought them to the show, and the whole place was moving and undulating with people waving these feathers. It was at that point that I realized…there’s a lot of people here. From there, it just kind of…exploded.”
In March, the band released its first CD, Sick Yellow Flower – a quiet gem of a record (available at www.buttercult.com) that proves Buttercup’s music holds up just fine without the performance art element. And over the last year, they’ve been making monthly Wednesday-night forays into Austin, adopting the East Side’s quirky Church of the Friendly Ghost performance space as their home away from home. Clearly, the band is not averse to reaching a larger audience – but not at the expense of changing the way they go about writing and performing their music (i.e., on their own willfully “not-like-everybody-else” terms). Which means that if Buttercup and their devoted “Grackle” following are destined to remain a predominantly San Antonio phenomenon, well, they’re OK with that, too.
I think we naturally take on some of the inviting, relaxed vibe you find here,” says Sanden, whose T-shirt proudly reads “Keep San Antonio Lame” – a play off of Austin’s self-consciously hip “Keep Austin Weird” campaign. “We strive to create a different, disarming and direct line of communication at our performances, and I think San Antonio is the perfect breeding ground for what we’ve been experimenting with. Not being ‘hip’ really makes you careless in your affections…and that can only lead to love, true love!”
Buttercup Builds Up a Scene on its Own, and It's Personal
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Jim Beal Jr. San Antonio Express-News 3/30/2005 It was a Monday night. The Spurs were on te...
Jim Beal Jr.
San Antonio Express-News 3/30/2005
It was a Monday night. The Spurs were on television, free television. Still, a steady stream of people moved with a purpose from the Wiggle Room, across South Presa Street, through a dimly lit hallway, behind a ramshackle building, into the back door of an old hardware store that most recently was home for a storefront church.
On a stage, Erik Sanden, dressed like a '30s-era newsboy or a tall Little Rascal, strummed an acoustic guitar and sang. As more than 100 people, some toting beer, others wine, others dogs, filed into the room, Sanden was joined by music-making compatriots: bassist Odie, resplendent in a red caftan; drummer Jamie Roadman sporting a porkpie hat; and guitarist Joe Reyes in a small snap-brim hat and short jacket. Buttercup was at full strength, the room was filling up, the Pied Piper would have been proud and another Grackle Mundy, this one with a fashion theme, was off to another imaginative start.
"Our goal is to make it be personal for everyone," Odie said. "The goal is not just for people to come see the band or hear the band. The shows need to be personal for each individual."
To that end, Buttercup has eschewed the traditional bar band trip. Instead of grinding it out on the bar circuit, working for $50 a night and a bar tab per man, finding excuses to not rehearse, crying about "nothin' happenin' here," whining about not getting gigs in Austin and/or waiting for a record label A&R rep to offer them a record deal, Buttercup has built its own scene, built its own audience and even built its own stages. And a couple of weeks ago Buttercup released it own debut album, "Sick Yellow Flower."
"It all stemmed from Tequila Mockingbird," Roadman said. "Odie had a regular Monday night gig there and he'd invite different people. We'd turn off the beer signs, turn off the televisions, push back the tables."
"We'd do anything to get the focus off the place being a bar," Odie said. "We started that because we didn't want to play a place where we're jerking our souls out of our bodies."
Odie dubbed the Tequila Mockingbird nights Grackle Mundy.
"I invited Erik, then Joe, then Jamie and they all said they'd do it," Odie said.
"And we did it for no profit but a free hangover every Tuesday morning," Sanden added.
The Grackle Mundy name stuck and the gathering went mobile, moving to arts spaces around town. Weekly Grackle Mundys eventually found a home at the Wiggle Room on South Presa Street. Instead of a set cover charge, patrons spin a wheel and can pay from nothing to about $4. Buttercup also took the Grackle show on the road. Now there's a once-a-month Grackle Wednesday at East Austin's Church of the Friendly Ghost. The local Grackle Mundys are also now monthly events and might well be mobile again soon. The band will play the occasional bar, including Taco Land, but the bars still get transformed.
"The band needs to generate income, but we hold our own at Grackle Mundy," Reyes said. "The initiative people have been taking is amazing. People have been going to great efforts to make every show special. They bring food. They bring beer. They bring friends."
"Jamie will build a stage," Sanden said, laughing. "My friend Doug Manion had all these Christmas lights he'd collected. For the CD release at Taco Land he and I climbed into the giant oak tree on the patio and strung all these hundreds of lights. We can sleep well because we work hard."
A Buttercup crowd defies easy categorization. At the recent Grackle Mundy the ages ranged from about 16 to maybe 60-something, evenly divided between males and females. Just about every segment of the racial rainbow was represented. Architects rubbed shoulders with visual artists, musicians, writers, printers and no telling who else. Augusto, from Jai, provided the fashions for the band.
Buttercup music runs the same sort of category gamut. Some of the songs rock hard with guitar jangle. Others are lo-fi ballads. Most are originals, though the weird cover sneaks in now and again. No one in the band is an amateur. All have worked in a variety of aggregations. Some still do.
Everyone in Buttercup writes and sings. Odie and Roadman also double on glockenspiel. Live shows are often augmented by Dale Johnson (flugelhorn) and Dan Klein (trombone). "Sick Yellow Flower" also features Dee Dee Fancher (viola), Karen Stiles (violin) and producer/engineer Mark Rubinstein (various keyboards and string arrangements).
"I like to think it's not a product of age but of finding strength in being gentle," Sanden said. "Plus, when we started we rehearsed in Odie's apartment. We had to be really quiet."
"It was hard to groove playing that quiet, but we had to learn," Roadman said. "We wanted to play with more dynamics, with more finesse."
"There's also a wellspring of great writing in the band," Reyes said. "That makes the songs so much easier to play. They don't need a lot of coaxing. It's hard to assume somebody else's roles, so we have long discussions over songs. Why isn't this working? Everybody is involved."
"We come up with a concoction that's palatable to all of us," Odie added.
The band is also surprisingly compatible. Sanden, Odie and Roadman all came out of bands that had varying degrees of musical chops. Some, such as Evergreen, were tight. Others, particularly the Unables, weren't. One project, Sanden's Dial-A-Song, was a solitary effort that found Sanden once playing the same song for 24 straight hours over the telephone to anyone who called his number.
Reyes, one of the best guitarists around, has a world of stage and studio credits plus a Grammy award for being one of the producers of Freddy Fender's "La Musica de Baldemar Huerta" CD.
As the Buttercup lineup was gelling, a member moved to Thailand.
"Joe had been watching us and said he'd play guitar," Odie said. "We thought he was too good of a guitar player and that he should play keyboards."
But Sanden challenged Reyes to a game of "aesthetic pool" at the old SWC Club. Aesthetic pool, a Sanden invention, has no rules. The winner is the person who makes the most creative shot. Reyes threw the cue ball across the SWC into a trashcan.
"He kicked my ass. He's crazy," Sanden said. "He was in the band."
"It would be a recipe for disaster normally," Reyes said. "I could play a lot of licks that wouldn't fit, but the songs dictate what I'm supposed to play."
Buttercup decided to get good and did. The work ethic, the rehearsals, the Grackle Mundys and Grackle Wednesdays, video projects and imagination come together in "Sick Yellow Flower."
"It became what we wanted it to be, a truthful statement about the band," Roadman said. "It begins stark and builds up."
"The next one will be better," Sanden said. "The third one will be really good."
The members of Buttercup are still balancing making music, some with multiple bands, with other jobs. Odie has been a waiter at Dick's Last Resort for 10 years. Sanden and Roadman work at Half-Price Books. Reyes teaches guitar at Spacetone Music and still does studio work.
"People who are supposed to do this do this," Reyes said. "We can see progress. Not everybody can do that with their job. You can inject a lot of yourself into this if you're brave enough. It ain't Ozzie & Harriett but it's fun."
"The whole art space thing gave us a lot of confidence," Roadman said. "It started small and built up, and the same thing is happening in Austin."
"We can control whether the guitars are in tune and how good it sounds and whether it's fun," Sanden said.
"You can control several things," Reyes added. "Those things give you autonomy and that gives you a lot of pleasure. We set out to not give any of that away and to take some if it back. There's no need to complain and bellyache. You stumble along the way, but it's your deal."
Or, in the case of Buttercup, it's a deal that'll lead people to have a ball in a decrepit room on a Monday night. And Jamie Roadman will build a stage.
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"One-man bandwagon" Joe Reyes finds time between his multiple musical commitments to make an exce..."One-man bandwagon"
Joe Reyes finds time between his multiple musical commitments to make an excellent solo EP
By Gilbert Garcia
When Joe Reyes was 15, his dad gave him the best piece of musical advice he ever received. At the time, Reyes was deeply into his Judas Priest phase and playing in a local metal band, and while his father, Rudolph, could recognize his son’s playing ability, he warned Joe against limiting himself. He said, ‘I think you’re going to have to learn more than rock,’” Reyes recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean? We’re going to make it big.’ But he said, ‘No, you’ll have to learn some country, some jazz, some soul music.’ It didn’t strike me for another five years, and sure enough I learned how to play all kinds of things. And it turned out that I needed it.”
The deeper point behind his father’s suggestion was that you must seriously prepare yourself to meet any goal, and there is no substitute for hard work. It’s a lesson the 43-year-old Reyes long ago took to heart, with a formidable range of commitments: playing guitar for the Swindles, playing guitar and writing songs for Buttercup, collaborating on acoustic guitar instrumentals in Lara & Reyes, and producing teen phenom Marcus Rubio, among others.
Quietly, Reyes has added another credit to his résumé, that of solo singer-songwriter. This weekend,he celebrates the release of ill-equipped, a well-crafted six-song EP he recorded by his lonesome on the computer-based home studio he bought in 2003 from producer Mark Rubinstein. While Reyes’s sure-footed skills as a one-man band are impressive, the most astounding aspect of ill-equipped is that Reyes found the time (and mental energy) to make it, while his other groups were all actively gigging and creating new music.
While he has amassed a secret collection of hundreds of songs since he began recording at home in the mid-‘90s, Reyes says this collection came in a short burst of creativity in the winter of 2006. Buttercup had finished recording its Hot Love album, Lara & Reyes had completed its reunion disc, and Reyes had a rare, short break from his other projects.
“There’s always a little down time in the winter, ‘cause the industry sort of stops. Everybody goes out of town,” he says. “And that’s usually when I have time to really sit down and look at all the stuff that I’ve cobbled together in notebooks and on little hand-held tape players. And I’ll think, ‘What’s that? I don’t remember that.’”
Much like Reyes’s contributions to the Buttercup catalog, his solo tracks tend to be lilting, tuneful, achingly sad pieces. In the spirit of his biggest contemporary influences —Elliott Smith, Aimee Mann, and Michael Penn — Reyes loves to root around in the gaps between soothing pop melodies and downbeat, introspective lyrics.
“I don’t write narrative lyrics like Joe Ely and Townes Van Zandt,” he says. “I just come from that whole confessional school of lyric writing. And you tend to just focus on things that happen to you that are bad. You don’t sit around thinking, ‘Man, that was awesome!’”
Reyes’s knack for pleasing melancholia reveals itself on the jangling, mid-tempo “Comfy Coffins” and “Identity Theft,” an existential waltz which also turned up on Buttercup’s recent Captains of Industry EP, after Buttercup singer Erik Sanden insisted that the band cut a version of the song. “Dear Isaac” finds Reyes at his most Beatle-esque, with the same jaunty crotchet beat that ELO lifted from the mid-section of “A Day in the Life” for “Mr. Blue Sky” (it also features some of the jazz licks that Reyes learned at his father’s urging).
Although he’s quick to belittle his early attempts at four-track solo recording, Reyes acknowledges that those mid-’90s efforts helped him establish him a thoughtful pop voice that continues to define his songwriting. “I heard an Aimee Mann record and a Michael Penn record, and I thought, ‘Well, these guys are doing Beatle songs, more or less, with a modern take. Maybe I can do that,’ Reyes recalls. “That was all it took, somebody to say it’s OK to do that. Because I kept doing it and thinking, ‘Who cares about this? I’m not writing in any genre whatsoever.’ I felt like I was all alone.”
Reyes has been particularly prolific in the last two years, a development he credits to his decision to stop drinking in August, 2005. While always a social rather than habitual drinker, who used alcohol to help him overcome his natural shyness at gigs, Reyes felt that drinking had begun to affect his playing and muddle his thinking. For someone with such a disciplined approach to creating music, the costs were becoming prohibitive.
“Now I can wake up in the morning and not feel this cloudy feeling,” Reyes says. “I just grab a guitar immediately. So my output increased. Alcohol might allow you to find some unconscious or unfettered spot in your creativity, but for the most part you can do it just by concentrating.”
Reyes recalls that as a child he would ride on job assignments with his father, a labor-market analyst for the Texas Employment Commission who bought a dump truck and set up his own hauling business on the side. When Joe and his brother initially rode with their dad, they tended to spend their time goofing off. But his father quickly made it clear that if they wanted to tag along, they needed to get serious. As a result, Reyes says, “I was walking around with five bucks in my pocket when I was eight-year-old. In 1970s money, that was amazing.”
The lesson that he continues to carry with him is that any objective, even something as mysterious and elusive as musical inspiration, can only be met with rigorous dedication and a compulsion to make every performance as good as possible.
“It’s the ideas that nothing you do in this life can be a toss-off,” Reyes says. “You have to work hard.
“I think tons and tons of half-finished ideas are simply the building blocks for the one song that comes in 10 minutes, and you say, ‘Wow, that was so easy.’ I think it’s just the cresting of waves of your imagination, and the hard work that goes into it. Because I really don’t think you can get away without crafting it.”
Original material with the occasional whimsical cover.
Sets can between a few songs up to several hours -- we can summon Bruce Springsteen syle stamina, if needed... something that comes easy: we love to play.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.