The Idolator Interview: Butch Walker And Patrick Stump
It’s no secret that the denizens of Idolator HQ are big fans of both Fall Out Boy and really smart pop, so having FOB frontman Patrick Stump and pop troubadour Butch Walker interview each other is kind of the perfect way to introduce our new series of conversations between artists. After the jump, the two have a friendly chat about first concerts, free stuff, and how each developed his signature singing style.
BUTCH: When I first saw you sing with Fall Out Boy, you were much younger and were singing pretty damn good for then, but you have since evolved into a much more soulful voice for the band. Did you always want that, but took time and maturing to grow into that kind of singer? Or did you sing for the genre when you were younger? Did you always grow up listening to soul singers?
PATRICK: When I started it was in the hardcore scene which was very accepting of our band as people, but barely accepting of pop-punk music in the first place. We were too heavy for the pop-punk kids, too happy for the emo kids, and too light for the hardcore kids. So I feel in retrospect A) it was fear of being accepted and B) simple inexperience. I think I’ve been able to sing a lot of this stuff for a long time but just too much a wuss to do it in front of people. As for soul music, from the start of my career as a singer I’d always looked to soul singers as the be all and end all. I performed Marvin Gaye songs in the high school battle of the bands and stuff like that. Marvin, Otis, Solomon, Ray, Jackie, these were all who I looked to for inspiration. They’re like the Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Vaughn, and Green of throats.
BUTCH: Do you find yourself ever wanting to do a solo album to showcase your diverse and eclectic styles and influences? I know there’s a certain thing that you have to do for the band, but is there ever a time you want to just make your Under the Cherry Moon? Sorry if that’s a bad reference.
PATRICK: I go back and forth on the idea of solo material because on the one hand my band allows me to be so hands on with our music that it really stretches the limits of the term “collaboration.” On the other hand I occasionally write lyrics and I’ve never had an outlet for any of that. If I made a solo record though I don’t think it would be as soul as everyone assumes it would be. I don’t have a clue what type of music it would be and it’d have to meet my band’s approval anyway. I don’t know. Probably not going to do a solo record ever.
BUTCH: Do you guys get lots of free clothes? And if so, tell me which brands you love the most (don’t say Clandestine!).
PATRICK: I don’t personally get very many free clothes because I don’t look very good in them haha. I have however gotten free stuff here and there from Supra, Nike, Mishka, and Diesel amongst others. I wear a lot of street wear stuff and for the most part I don’t know a lot of people making street wear. I don’t mind it anyway cause I think one should have to pay for stuff every now and then.
BUTCH: I worked with you on a song on the last FOB record and I was impressed with your ability to jump around different instruments to work out the idea for the song. I wonder if you ever left the house when you were young? I didn’t much! Were you in school band?
PATRICK: The funny thing is I never had that many instruments as a kid. My dad had a guitar that I was too small to play (a Harmony 12 string that sounded terrible) and his only other guitar is his phenomenal 1969 Gibson that I was too terrified to touch. I spent most of my time learning drums banging on my knees with sticks or on buckets and stuff like that and to be honest I didn’t get out very much, no. I was in school band off and on but I hated it. I just hated getting up so early and I thought band geeks were too cliquey and weird… the trumpet players wouldn’t socialize with the woodwinds… I was like, “Man this is lame.” I quit freshman year but snuck in during lunch period to play the piano and the upright basses.
BUTCH: Not only am I gonna ask what was your first concert ever, but also give me your exact memory of the whole day leading up to it. Anything you can remember… I want details all the way to bedtime.
PATRICK: I was 8 years old in about 1992 and Chicago had the world’s best radio station. It was called WXRT and they played stuff I still haven’t heard anywhere else to this day. They’d put together bitchin free shows at Grant Park every year but before I ever went to any of those I went to see a show they sponsored headlined by Midnight Oil. They were my favorite band ever on Earth at the time and my Dad had won 3 pairs of tickets to see them (!) One pair was up front, one pair was a bit further back, and one pair was on the lawn. Of course Pops made sure the closest seats were for the two of us. It was at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park (now I don’t remember what it’s named these days) and it couldn’t have felt like a bigger deal. The set started with Hothouse Flowers who were totally awesome kind of Irish soul…they reminded me of a cross between Squeeze and Van Morrison. Next up, I had to pee. Dad and I were standing in line forever because we had never heard of the second act and we didn’t care much. While we were at the porta-potties though we were like, “This is totally awesome! We’re missing some good stuff!” We ran back to hear the last few bars of Paul Westerberg’s set. We were disappointed in ourselves for putting piss over what I would later find out was “Alex Chilton.” After that was Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, who were totally great but I feel about reggae the same way I feel about metal: I really only need like 5 records for my whole life. Ziggy hasn’t made one of them. His dad made nearly all of them. Finally Midnight Oil came onstage. They were the perfect balance of punk rock energy, left-wing politics, tight performance and musicianship, great sound, intense stage presence, and sing-along choruses. Peter Garrett’s intimidating frame and serious facial features scared the crap out 8 year old me, especially when he threw his harmonica into the sky into apparent oblivion after finishing his solo at the beginning of “Truganini.” I left the show super stoked. I actually wrote Peter Garrett a letter once at the beginning of Fall Out Boy’s success cause he entered Australian parliament. He wrote me back and said he’d check us out. Was pretty cool.
PATRICK: You’ve been in the business for a while. It’s even been implied you were witness and participant to the late-’80s club scene. You still seem to be moved by music. How do you keep your appreciation alive?
BUTCH: I’ve never hidden from my past or tried to cover it up (there’s this thing called the Internet… Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s definitely heard of everyone else). I’m proud of where I came from and all I’ve accomplished and tried to accomplish, but God knows I’m not that proud of some of the shit I said, sang, played, wore, produced in my early years. It’s like looking at a high school year book 10 years later and going, “why did I wear those Limp Bizkit pants?” (or in my case, a Glass Tiger or Hagar-era Van Halen shirt). I digress… What my point is… I always want to grow, learn, evolve, progress and simply just get better at music. I love it and respect it way too much to draw on the negative of the career side of things, or to do a record, it flop and just go, “well that was a laugh… Back to the coffee shop.” It motivates me when I hear a record by someone new that’s like 12 years old and blowing my mind with what they can do. Or to find a record that missed my radar when I was young and I had my head too far up commercial music’s vapid ass to even give it the time of day. This is one of the few things that gets old in life. Fuck being jaded and thinking you’ve heard it all by the time you’re 18. I don’t believe that is someone who truly loves music. That’s just someone who loves to feel smart. Dumb your shit down every once in a while and LISTEN to music. Whew… Sorry… We are in trouble here aren’t we?
PATRICK: I remember a piece I’d read that praised you as the go-to-guy for ballads for female artists. It didn’t really mention much about your work with rock bands, even your Grammy. Just that you were very good at making big hits for the ladies. I, being a male who worked with you on a very uptempo song, wondered if you found that at all condescending or backhanded? I did, that’s why I’m asking.
BUTCH: Good question, Patrick. It gets asked in different forms like, “why do you give away your best songs?” Or “how does it feel to be known as a producer and not an artist as much?”. It all can be perceived as a bit backhanded, but I also know that the public believes what they are served. And let’s face it, Avril sold a fuckload more records and was on TV a lot more than say Hot Hot Heat or Injected or The Donnas or even ME! I remember one time the guitarist for Injected (one of the first real records I ever produced for a big label) confronted me in a club recently and attacked me about never mentioning them in interviews when asked about shit I’ve done. I had to back him up and say, “Dude! They write and edit out what they choose to! I can’t control the fact that they think Avril is a hotter topic than you!” Hell, most of the time, when I do an interview in support of one of my own records, the whole Q&A turns into questions about what’s it like to work with Pink or Avril. Even my indie-est of friends are fascinated more by that than how I got the drum sound on that Injected record or whatever. It’s ok though. I don’t and shouldn’t ever get upset that people are interested in what I’m doing. Being ignored your whole life? That only works for critics.
PATRICK: Most producers get into it because they were just never handsome or charismatic or talented enough to be the star. You’re the rarity of a producer who’s much cooler looking than the bands you work with but is totally capable of outplaying most any member of most any band at their instrument. How did you get into production in the first place?
BUTCH: Well I was a model in a runway show once, and the sound system broke during this hot model’s walk (I think his name was Ashba or something) and I had to get his back, so I ran back to the sound board and found the problem. There was a shorted wire in the XLR connectors to the DAT machine that was playing his walk-out music, so I broke the wire with my teeth and hot-wired it with chewing gum tinfoil (Big Red!) and we were back in business. While he waited nervously for me to fix it on the catwalk, in the interim, I turned up the mic and started singing a song I was writing on the spot (I reached over to the dj mixer and turned the reverb up and made it sound like a gregorian chant. Models love that chant shit). It brought the house down. I never got to do the catwalk. I was in too high demand after that to produce music for fashion shows.
PATRICK: I don’t want names, but you have to have bumped into some pretty nasty artists with pretty big chips on their shoulders. I’d like an anecdote about the most obnoxious personality you had the misfortune of working with, albeit as anonymously as you feel comfortable divulging.
BUTCH: I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of great people and people who are infamously known to be dicks, but were great to/with me. One person was… How should I put this… Not an asshole… Just not… There. I was in the studio in NY waiting for this person to show up for like, six hours. Now I’m not a knob jockey or some “hourly wage” dude. My time is my time and I don’t like to be disrespected. I sat there and wrote the fucking song for them to sing, recorded every instrument, and all they had to do was come in and fucking sing. Well I get a phone call finally from them, not to apologize for running late or not even showing up to write the song with me (which they would later demand writing credit on)… But to ask me if I’d like to go to dinner with Paris Hilton instead. I was like, “I’m working.. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”. They finally come down, brat-pack posse in tow. There’s the token BFF (BeneFriend Forever!), the token little sister, the token GBGF (Gay Best Guy Friend, and a few other lucky sonofabitch hangers-on. GBGF starts trying to say to The Artist what HE doesn’t like about the track (he’s not in the music business btw. I’ve seen him jump like a parasite to about three other popular stars over the years). The little sister is freaking out over my shoes, and the assistant is frantic and acting melodramatic on her blackberry in the corner to make it seem like she’s “working”. Artist steps up to the mic to sing. First note is fucking horrible, out of tune, and cracking like a dinosaur bone in ’08. They’re like, “stop the music!!! I think I just damaged my vocal chord!!! The sister is crying. The GBGF is crying. The assistant is frantic, calling paramedics (no shit) to come to the studio. I run outside to call my manager to tell him I’m going home and that this is retarded. While I’m on the phone (it’s only been 10 minutes), 2 whitecoat doctors come walking by me and into the studio (no shit). I walk in and instead of them checking their throat, they are giving them a cortisone shot in a zit about to come in. Unlike the last answer to the last question, this one is absolutely true. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.
PATRICK: You have a pleasant rasp to your voice. I’d say it’s a signature of your sound. It’s very rock and roll but you’re still capable of crooning. I was wondering (cause I doubt it’s all “Whiskey and cigarettes” as the saying goes) how does that develop? Did you always have a little growl to your throat or did it grow over time?
BUTCH: As much as I want to say its the aforementioned anecdote, it’s not. Age baby… I smoked a pack a day for 15 years and when I quit at 30, my voice got raspier and cooler sounding. Go figure. Always doing the backstroke in the sea of irony…