Pit Er Pat describes the keys and voice of Fay Davis-Jeffers as it blends with percussive octopus Butchy Fuego’s rhythmic tentacles. There’s nothing fishy about their new album, The Flexible Entertainer, especially since it lends itself to a party vibe. As a producer—especially when it comes to L.A. bands—Butchy’s all about the beats, so we made sure to ask him how many cables he’s got in his living room. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What came first, Butchy or Pit Er Pat?
Butchy Fuego (drums/production): I put out a Butchy Fuego solo record in 2001, so that came first. And I was playing in other bands. Pit Er Pat was really different initially. We went through four different band lineups and didn’t really take it seriously until Fay joined the band. It was a four-piece then. There was a singer-songwriter dude and we would fill out his songs. He moved to New York and the three of us continued. It was an upward trajectory of working from that point on—it’s been seven-and-a-half years.
What’s different now in your recent music?
Butchy Fuego: The new record is much more stripped down in the amount of gear that we need to play a show. It’s centered a lot on the MPC, which is the drum machine you see in hip-hop. And since we’re playing without a bass player now, it handles all the low-end. There’s a couple of tracks where I play it like a drum with my fingers, which is really fun. So the music is more eclectic—there’s a broader range of sounds we can do using the sampler. People say it sounds more lighthearted.
As opposed to the doom you had before?
Butchy Fuego: I guess! Maybe a little more energetic. More dancey. I’ve been making a lot of dance music, collaborating with DJs and dance producers and that’s influenced a lot of the sounds. The approach has always been eclectic. Even when it was a more straightforward rock setup. We would try to take the basic elements and stretch them as far as we could. It’s gotten to a place now that’s more what we imagined seven years ago.
How did you get into producing other people’s music?
Butchy Fuego: I was always interested in recording and using the studio as an instrument. I worked on my own projects for a while when I lived in Chicago. I lived in a recording studio called the Shape Shoppe for about five years, which is where I learned the majority of my knowledge. Have you heard of Icy Demons? There’s a bunch of bands affiliated with this place—the label Obey Your Brain and Need New Body recorded all their records there. So I did a lot of collaborating with this guy Griffin Rodriguez, who goes by the name Blue Hawaii. I started accumulating more and more gear, and didn’t really set out to do that, but people would ask me to help out with things and I really enjoyed it. Sometimes I wonder if I enjoy it more than playing music. I don’t think I do. But I gravitate towards that because I like being in the shadows. The last couple of years it’s turned into a job—my own job! Right here in my house I do the mixing.
How many wires does it take to run a studio?
Butchy Fuego: It sort of depends. I’ve stripped down a bit. I used to have a big mixing board. When you get into that, the mixing board alone has 500 cables—eight cables per channel then if you have 24 channels. And if you have the master section, there’s another eight channels …
Why so many cables?
Butchy Fuego: That way you can do different sorts of routing—you can run something through an effect and still retain the integrity of the sound. There’s inserts—is this geeky? Well, anyway, my last mixboard had about 460 cables. The fun part is making all the cables and doing all the soldering. Which I recommend. It’s a lot cheaper and you can buy higher quality stuff.
When you produce something—what’s the most important quality you want in the sound?
Butchy Fuego: I’d say performance. Although if it’s electronic music, then it’s getting the right vibe. Music is such an intangible thing—it’s hard to talk about it in language. Language is kind of a real bummer. I think that’s why it’s such a special medium. It’s basically a direct projection of someone’s subconscious. Capturing that projection is what you’re trying to do when you make something, in a way that makes sense both for the artist’s vision and, as a producer, how others will respond to it. It’s such an introverted process. You don’t really think about how it will work on others. You’re just thinking about the work. It’s very easy to get in this headspace where you’re just spinning wheels. The recording engineer has to crack the whip—be their friend, their coach and their slave driver. It depends who you are working with. Some people know what they want and go for it, other people have to churn—the arrangement, the sound. If you’re singing there are an infinite number of variables: timbre, timing, attack. Anything can be good. It’s a matter of committing to an idea and believing that it’s good. Then, with enough work, you get to a place where other people will recognize that quality.
What was different working with Hecuba and Rainbow Arabia?
Butchy Fuego: They have really different approaches. When I did Paradise with Hecuba, they did a lot of preparing on their own. Jon is really detail-oriented and meticulous about his tracks and his arrangements are layered and complex. They wanted all these session musicians on it, so I knew all these people in Chicago. We got horn players, string players, a 30-person choir. When they were in Chicago, it was all tracking. And Jon was just conducting people, which I feel is what he will end up doing when he’s 50 years old. It was totally his element. With Rainbow Arabia, it’s just Danny and Tiffany on that record. I contributed a lot in terms of arrangements and helping with the beats and rhythms. We’re doing a new record as well.
How much of the business end do you get involved with?
Butchy Fuego: I’m not really very good about that. I’d rather just focus on making stuff. I’ve been fortunate to have people come to me who want to work with me. Luckily I manage to just do jobs I want to get behind. Most studios take whatever, and maybe I should, but it’s liberating to only work on things you’re interested in. It’s a privilege. Why are you an artist in the first place if not to make art that inspires you?
What drum has the spookiest sound?
Butchy Fuego: It depends on the style of music. Most drums can sound all different ways. A conga drum wouldn’t do. Some talking drums would work, or a giant giant drum can be very eerie, with very little attack.
What’s the sexiest drum?
Butchy Fuego: The conga. I’ve been playing a lot of conga lately. My next door neighbor does Wildness so he knows lots of Latin rhythms and we just geek out. It’s a brain-melter. Playing a conga is so different from a kit. You’re just using your hands and there’s all these different ways you can strike the drum. The left hand keeps tempo, and on a kit, your right hand keeps tempo on the hi-hat. So that’s reversed. It’s also much more about syncopation as opposed to just keeping time, which is a rock idea. It’s more fluid sounding.
What country would you like to study percussion in?
Butchy Fuego: I love Brazilian percussion. I’ve been obsessed with Brazilian rhythms for a long time. Any Latin rhythm, really. Lately most of the stuff I’ve been listening to is more modern. It comes from the same tradition. Cumbia is really popular with club kids, but those kids don’t realize cumbia started in the early 1800s as a musical form from the slaves in Colombia. Now it’s spread out of Colombia and progressed through the whole Latin world, up through Mexico, into the Caribbean, and now the difference between cumbia and dancehall—you’d think there was a big difference, but now it’s really coming together. So many things about genres are funny. As the world accelerates in terms of how people ingest information and different musical styles, everything starts blending into this soup. Suddenly the genres become superfluous. Which I think is good. Which goes back to what I was saying before. Talking about music is superfluous—it doesn’t make that much sense. … Well, it does because it’s about communication. You have to communicate what I do to a larger audience because what I do is the expression. And then how do you describe that? Your writing doesn’t hinge on those genre titles, which is good. What does ‘indie rock’ mean?
That it sounds like Franz Ferdinand?
Butchy Fuego: And Franz Ferdinand sounds like they’re ripping off the Rolling Stones.
Why do you make music?
Butchy Fuego: I’m reading Carl Jung right now and I’m in the middle of this chapter where he’s talking about the psychology of the poet and the artist, and the difference between an artist’s mind and say a businessman’s mind is that the artist values art in such a way that they would not know what to do if they could not do that. They would not know how to operate. Every artist has felt or expressed it: ‘This is what I have to do. This isn’t my choice. It’s what I have to do.’ He talks about the two different ways of making art—and I don’t know if I agree with all of it—but he says there’s the sentimental and the naive. Every artistic expressions stems from a sentimental idea or a naive one. Which is kind of harsh. You’re either sappy or an idiot. But when you break it down, it kind of makes sense. The sentimental side is the introverted side of how the world affects them and the naive side is just someone who is in awe of the world and wants to worship it. Now I think there has been a lot of expansion in people’s consciousness since that book was written. It’s a different scene. The way people relate to culture in general is so different. There’s no telling where things will go. But the next few years should be interesting in that regard.
Are you naive or sentimental?
Butchy Fuego: I’m more on the naive side. I’m more extroverted. Well, it’s a weird combination. I appreciate work that’s more naive. I don’t listen to a lot of sentimental music. I listen to merengue and salsa, dance music, soul and funk, electronic music, a lot of Brazilian and African music.
Have we invented all the possible styles of music? Is it now about reconfiguring all the possible sounds in new ways? Could there be something that doesn’t reference anything that came before it?
Butchy Fuego: It’s probably impossible to reference nothing when you’re making music, because you’re influenced by whatever you’ve heard consciously or unconsciously. Even if you take something like Stockhausen, who was trying to do something like that, he still had a frame of reference. Even using sound is a reference, so to speak. It’s a cyclical pattern—especially in America where everyone wants to be different and push the boundaries, whereas in a culture like Jamaica or Mali, which are two of the most musician-populated countries per capita, Jamaican music took so long to change. It’s still similar to how it was 30 or 40 years ago. They continue to build on it and they’re not as concerned about innovation. We probably have hit some sort of ceiling where something has to change. Right now it’s more about the business than the music. That’s the dire situation the recording industry is in. We need to figure that out. Artistically, people will always be expanding and regurgitating ideas simultaneously, as it’s been through history. I see more of a cycle and less of a trajectory.
So things will get simple again?
Butchy Fuego: Yes, things change, and now the ’90s are back—just like, a few years ago, everyone wanted to look like they were from the ’70s. Except with more neon.
PIT ER PAT WITH THE CHICAGO UNDERGROUND DUO AND THE PITY PARTY ON FRI., FEB. 12, AT THE BOOTLEG THEATRE, 2220 BEVERLY BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 9 PM / $12 / ALL AGES. FOLDSILVERLAKE.COM. PIT ER PAT’S THE FLEXIBLE ENTERTAINER IS OUT NOW ON THRILL JOCKEY. VISIT PIT ER PAT AT MYSPACE.COM/PITERPAT. VISIT BUTCHY FUEGO AT MYSPACE.COM/BUTCHYFUEGO.