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Charlie Butler Interview: “Outside of music, comics and books are my biggest influences”

We talk to the U.K. experimentalist about his swathe of new releases.

Over the past couple of years, Bandcamp has been a revelation for many reasons. Not least for fans to discover new music and for artists to cut out the middleman, but for artists to actually release as much music as their hearts desire.

I’d wager that a lot of the sounds across the Bandcamp sphere have been in the vaults gathering dust for years on end, and while there is an argument for quality control, for the most part the platform has been a circuit breaker for many artists to emerge and showcase their oeuvres to an audience beyond Facebook friends and like-minded folk on message boards (remember them?).

Including Charlie Butler.

The now Scotland-based artist first came to our attention late last year with his Darmok LP via Cornwall label Dub Cthonic. So good, Darmok stormed into our Top 50 Albums of 2021, and from here, the customary deep-dive ensued.

Before we get to Butler’s various alter-egos, though, let’s begin with the work he has produced under his own name.

Starting with the multi-textual majesty of Deep Space (Cruel Nature Records). Harnessing the emotional intensity of the finest cinematic post-rock out there, Deep Space is a good place to start for new ears. Then there are Butler’s latest releases, Colossal Letdown (Panurus Productions) and Haunted Moon (Hard Return). Here, Butler shifts the needle or, indeed, planets, with tremor-like guitar pile-ups and blocks of white noise not for the faint hearted.

Whether they are tears of joy or pain one experiences from Butler’s creations, throughout many of his releases it’s evident that he is a meticulous practitioner in search of the perfect tone; and more often than not, he finds it.

In between these heady slabs of drone and cascading walls of sound, Butler also plies his trade in other projects; namely Last Place and Neutraliser alongside Mike Vest who released their self-titled LP earlier this year. Meanwhile, under the Chaos Emeralds moniker, Butler released the shoegaze-inspired Crawling from the Wreckage, last year.

Earlier this month, during one of those seemingly rare moments where he isn’t squirreling away drones and riffs within the confines of the studio walls, Butler took some time to answer our questions.

Haress Interview: “I really think the record is a product of its environment”

Sun 13: What are you first memories of music?

Charlie Butler: “Between the ages of six and about nine I was obsessed with the Pet Shop Boys. I’m not sure exactly how this started, but I listened to them all the time, knew everything about them and am massively grateful that my dad took me to see them at the Birmingham NEC when I was eight in 1989. It was a spectacular, flamboyant show when they were at their absolute peak and even though I was very young I can still vividly remember it. I was pretty dismissive of my early love of the Pet Shop Boys in my teens and early ’20s due to being far too serious about ‘cool’ music but I’m very glad I got over this and rediscovered how amazing they are and realised how much that early obsession and concert experience influenced me.”

S13: And as the years have passed, who would you consider to be your main influences?

CB: “I’d say my main influences are ’90s / early 2000s post-rock (Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Slint, Papa M), Kyuss, the Hydra Head records roster, Boris, 2000s doom (Boris, Om, Ramesses, Sunn O))), Earth), Yo La Tengo, Spacemen 3, ’90s style emo and Codeine. Strong persistent underlying Meat Loaf and Queen influences too from my dad, too.”

S13: You’ve released so much already this year, but let’s start with Haunted Moon. What was the inspiration behind the record?

CB: “Haunted Moon was recorded as a solace from the stress of the process of moving house. There was so much going on with filling in forms, solicitors, packing and all that guff that I was finding it hard to switch off, so when I had some free moments I tried to relax by improvising some drones then layering on top of them. Initially I wanted it to be a really horrible noisy affair in the vein of the Howling Void release I did, but when I sat down to do it things took on a more subdued, colder feel and it became something different.”

Charlie Butler - Haunted Moon

S13: I’m not sure whether they are linked or not, but it feels to me like Haunted Moon is loosely connected with Deep Space. Was this something you were thinking about?

CB: “Now you mention it, I think I might have been thinking about it subliminally. I’d listened to Deep Space again for the first time since finishing recording it following its release just before I recorded Haunted Moon, and I think it may have pushed me towards doing something with a similar, spacious, sad vibe rather than a screaming wall of noise.”

S13: With the amount of new music you release, is it a case that you are always working on something?

CB: “Pretty much, yes. I like to try and keep to a regular schedule and always be working towards something.” 

S13: While some of your music is quite abrasive, there’s also a filmic quality throughout your catalogue, too (Darmok for instance). How much is cinema an influence of yours?

CB: “Not much I’m afraid, I like films but I rarely watch them. Outside of music, comics and books are my biggest influences. I think they do for me what cinema does for others. Comics wise, I’m a massive Grant Morrison fan and the last couple of years I’ve been heavily into 2000AD and the current Krakoan era X-Men comics, all of which are pretty mind-blowing.

“On the books front, I tend to read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. My favourite author of recent times is N.K. Jemisin, particularly the Broken Earth trilogy which is incredible. I’ve also become absolutely obsessed with Star Trek over the last few years (particularly Deep Space Nine and Discovery) after shunning it for 35 plus years. It has been a huge influence on a lot of my solo releases, Darmok and Deep Space in particular, and generally a massive source of comfort and solace from the general crap of recent times.”

Charlie Butler - Darmok

S13: Your music is released all across different labels too, from Cruel Nature, Panurus Productions and Dub Chthonic. How did you come to meet, Steve, James and David over the years?

CB: “I met all three by being well into the music they release and asking if they would be interested in releasing any of my stuff. I saw Steve’s excellent band Fret! play at South Street Arts Centre in Reading in 2017 which made me aware of the incredible array of music he puts out on Cruel Nature and I’ve been buying tapes off him ever since.

“Listening to the wide variety of killer sounds he puts out made me aware of Panurus (think it was via the colossal Bodies on Everest / Lump Hammer split) and both of those labels put out sweet Deathbird Stories releases which lead me to Dub Chthonic. All three of these labels continue to release the best music out there month in month out and have set the bar for beautiful art, design and packaging. I’m massively honoured that Steve, James and David have released my music and hugely grateful for all the help and support they have given me.”

S13: Can you tell us about your creative process? Is it a case of you having to finish one album before you start the next, or have you built up a catalogue of ideas over the years and pick and choose?

CB: “It’s a bit all over the place to be honest, hah. I try and finish one album off before the next  but get distracted by having new ideas and want to work on them straight away. I’ve found since doing solo recording I have a bit of tendency to try and rush things as I want to be doing new stuff try and finish projects quickly to get onto the next one. This has lead to some poor quality control on the playing and mixing front with some releases and I’m trying to avoid this and take my time and focus more now, to varying degrees of success.

“My creative process generally tends to follow two different paths. When I do more song-based material like Last Place and Chaos Emeralds these are often based on melodies and chord sequences I’ve had in my head and played at home for a while which I then flesh out via recording. Most of my solo material is more improvisational and ideas based, I’ll record one repetitive chord sequence or drone and then kind of jam over that and add layers and melodies.”

Daniel McClennan: Unfurling Redemption

S13: I understand you recently moved up to Scotland. Has this had an influence on your current work?

CB: “I’ve been mainly finishing off projects that I started or I had the ideas for before moving to Scotland, so I don’t think there’s been a big influence as yet. I think there will be a massive influence in future though, particularly from all the space and beautiful landscapes up here.”

S13: Speaking of which, are there any more releases for the end of the year?

CB: “Yes, I’ve got a couple things in the works which should materialise in the near future. I have split tape coming with Metal Machine Ascension via Shane Hartman’s awesome new label We, Here and Now! Based in Canada. This one is a feast of noisy cosmic drones, very grateful for Shane asking me to be a part of this. I’ve also got a tape called Ghost Light coming via the mighty Echodelick Records based in the US. It’s two big slabs of repetitive, heavy psych-rock and kind of a sequel to my Analog Funeral release on Weird Beard from last year. That should be me done for 2022 I reckon, got a few things brewing for next year though like a new Last Place album with Sean Hewson (Head Drop, Monster Movie), a new Neutraliser album with Mike Vest and hopefully a new Chaos Emeralds album.

Deep Space is out now via Cruel Nature Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

Colossal Letdown is out now via Panurus Productions. Purchase from Bandcamp.

Haunted Moon is out later this month via Hard Return. Pre-order from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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