THE BUTTERTONES: WE PLEAD THE FIFTH
photography by debi del grande
The Buttertones began in bassist Sean Redman’s shabby Hollywood apartment. It was the year 2011 and Redman, guitarist/singer Richard Araiza and drummer Modesto ‘Cobi’ Cobiån bonded over their shared affinity for mid-20th century music. Araiza brought Dakota Boettcher into the mix around the time the band was readying their self-titled debut on Lolipop, recorded with Joel Jerome. When saxophonist London Guzman entered the picture, the band was complete. They were now fully equipped to fold in the flavors of their enthusiastically diverse musical influences and cook them into a delicious casserole. This ever-so-stylish group of guys recently signed with Innovative Leisure, and recorded their latest album, Gravedigging, with Jonny Bell at Jazzcats in Long Beach. The songs are full of romance, blood, guts, ghosts, surf, doom, and delight—like they crammed all their favorite movie plots into three minutes or less. Their record release show is Sat., Mar. 25, at the Bootleg. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
Why did you choose Gravedigging as the album title? Is there a symbolic meaning to it beyond the surface?
Sean Redman (bass): It was a last-minute call to name the album Gravedigging. We were attracted to the imagery and mood of the title. It pulls directly from the last song on the record, which we all agreed best encompasses the Buttertones experience.
Why do you think horror or thriller themes make such good song material?
Dakota Böettcher (guitar): It keeps the listener on the edge of their seats, and helps us be less predictable.
If this album were the soundtrack to a film, what would be the plot?
SR: Wild at Heart meets Blazing Saddles.
Richard Araiza (guitar/vocals): A noir/western in a smoky dystopian Maui. Chizuko (Lucy Liu) is a private eye, hired by a mysterious wealthy man who identifies himself as Mr. Kimble (CGI Marlon Brando). He tells her to track down his nephew Frances (Richard Lewis) to bring him home to run the ‘family business.’ She accepts but soon finds out that Frances is working for the yellow-eyed coyote (Al Pacino), the same man that killed her lover Ann (Scar Jo).
There’s criminality in a few of your songs. What fascinates you about crime stories?
SR: The thrill, the danger, the romance.
Have you committed an actual crime?
Everyone: We plead the 5th.
Is it important to be a rebel?
SR: It’s important to have principles you firmly believe in. If the status quo runs opposite to your convictions, it’s completely natural to rebel. It is very important to stand up for yourself and your pack as long as your beliefs aren’t forged in superstition or paranoia.
DB: It’s important to question everything and forge your own path.
What attracts you to the music of the 50s and 60s?
SR: For anyone trying to create popular music, it’s important to go to the source. Music from the mid-20th century still resonates today and we’ve always identified with the outsider perspective of early rock and roll.
Is there anything about current music that you really love?
RA: We all have our top picks for current artists, like Björk, Nicolas Jaar, Gorillaz, Devendra Banhart and Beach House, to name a few.
SR: It’s good to discover that there are still boundaries left to be pushed with music. None of us are particularly savvy with new music technology, so it is fun to hear a new song and be genuinely perplexed as to how the sounds were created. It doesn’t really matter what era a song is from, as long as the writing is thoughtful.
Do you guys have conversations about clothes as well as music?
SR: Yes. London is the reigning style guru, but we’re still trying to forgive him for the time he wore suspenders with a belt.
RA: I feel like I’m about to have my tracksuit and robe taken away from me.
What was the first song you ever learned? And the song you play the most on your own time?
SR: ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Flowers Grow Here.’
RA: ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.’
DB: ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Dueling Banjos.’
Modesto ‘Cobi’ Cobiån (drums/multi-instrumentalist): ‘Californication’ and ‘Polka Dots and Sunbeams’
London Guzman (sax): ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Comanche.’
Some of you studied music—is there any particular aspect of music theory you apply to your songs?
SR: The school Richard, Cobi and I attended is in the heart of Hollywood and provided a different type of education than most music colleges. The work ethic we learned will stick with us forever. I also learned some valuable lessons in what not to do. It was pretty rough watching some classmates prostitute themselves for attention only to become casualties of the Hollywood entertainment machine.
Are you pro-Beatles or anti-Beatles?
Everyone: Definitely pro-Beatles.
If you could go back in time, what musician would you seek out to try and change the course of history?
LG: Save Elvis from his final trip to the toilet.
RA: Stop Otis Redding from getting on that airplane to Madison.
MC: Go back in time and save Dennis Wilson from drowning.
SR: I’d stop Mama Cass from eating that ham sandwich.
DB: I would go back and save Ritchie Valens—too young.
Who would you let punch you directly in the face? Explain your choice.