Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baker's Dozen: Interview with The Builders and the Butchers

I attended a funeral and a rock concert broke out. This is a small piece of Portland's The Builders and the Butchers' story. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Sollee (via email) as part of our Baker's Dozen series on Write.Click.Cook.Listen. The Builders and the Butchers song "Barcelona" was the second track on September's Meatball Grinder Mix.

TB: Collectively you are The Builders and the Butchers, who are you individually?
TB&TB: Ryan Sollee, Harvey Tumbelson, Ray Rude, Alex Ellis, and Brandon Hafer.
TB: Amazon's product description for your self-titled debut album says "Alaskan Native and fish biologist Ryan Sollee started The Builders and the Butchers as a funeral songwriting project." Is this true?

Yea, we wanted to create a band that made impromptu musical visits to funerals, and while this idea was painfully inappropriate, it gave us a framework for the subject matter of the songs. Also, I used to be a fish biologist.

TB: On June 16th you released your second album, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. How would you describe this album? How is it different from its predecessor?

TB&TB: This is more of a fleshed out studio record, much fuller and covers a broader spectrum than the first. The songs had a shorter gestation period than the first record, so there was a bit uncertainty going in.
TB: Salvation's album cover features a drunken clown, men on a stage wearing human internal organs, a hanging carnival worker, and a number of kids and snakes. Who designed the artwork and why did you choose it for the album cover?
TB&TB: Our friend Lukas Ketner, who's pretty much done all of our art including the first record cover, did this one with oil paints. Once it was decided that he'd do the cover for "Salvation" we sent him the songs and this is what he came up with, which is pretty far beyond anything I could've thought up.
TB: What was it like working with producer Chris Funk (from the Decemberists)?
TB&TB: He was fantastic in the studio. Not only was he a wealth of studio knowledge and experience but he was also very calm and methodical especially considering we only had five days to make the record. Chris also brought in a number of very talented players to fill out the sound of the songs. Oh and he also scored the string arrangement for "The Wind has Come."
TB: A few weeks ago The Builders and the Butchers wrapped up a month long tour, your first as a headliner. What were the highlights of this experience?
TB&TB: Headlining and having people actually coming to the shows in super random cities was amazing. So happy to have 100+ people in a good number of cities. San Fran and Missoula were my personal favorites.
TB: Aside from a show in Portland on September 19th you are in the midst of a to month touring hiatus before heading back out with Manchester Orchestra and Brand New (tour begins October 8th in Denver). What are you doing with this time at home?
TB&TB: I just got married and back from my honeymoon, just trying to write and practice as much as possible, as well as working the odd jobs to shore up the finances.
TB: Congratulations on the wedding (not part of the original interview). On my first visit to a venue one thing I like to scope out is the bathroom. There always seems to be some sort of interesting stickers or graffiti on the wall. Brandon seems to have a similar interest in venue bathrooms as he has been photographing them and posting the pictures on your website. How did this project come about?
TB&TB: I think that there are always a few hours that you are hanging at a venue between sound check and the doors opening so mainly I'm going to say it was boredom.
TB: I've read that originally The Builders and the Butchers performed all acoustic sets but as more and more people came to your shows you had to begin amplifying. Was this transition immediately embraced by the band or was it an awkward one?
TB&TB: It was a bit awkward, but amps and mics were slowly brought into the fold. The funny thing is that now I think that our stage set up is a huge pain in the ass for most sound people.
TB: Describe the "unique deconstructed drum style" that Ray and Paul have "worked out."
TB&TB: Well its basically taking a drum kit apart and getting rid of all the cymbals, then putting the bass drum on its face and having one guy playing the bass drum and one guy the snare. Two guys can come up with some pretty cool beats.
TB: Portland has been the breeding ground for some great indie rock acts over the years. Why do you think that is?
TB&TB: I think the reason is that the winters are rainy so people want to stay inside and play music. The rent is cheap, so people don't have to kill themselves working just to pay rent like a lot of other big cities.
TB: Do The Builders and the Butchers get a chance to do any cooking? Any unique recipes to share?
TB&TB: Not much cooking to be done on the road, but Harvey and I developed a thing we call "Poor Man's Thai Food" which is a slice of bread, with peanut butter and secret aardvark hot sauce. Sounds gross, but tastes amazing.
TB: Anything else you would like to say?
TB&TB: That covers it, I think.

To download a few free tracks, check out tour dates, or read more about The Builders and the Butchers visit their web page here. To purchase Salvation is a Deep Dark Well or The Builders and the Butchers go here. A few additional videos for you:

"Golden and Green" from Salvation.

Also from Salvation, "Short Way Home" performed live in Kansas.

"Vampire Lake" live at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. This song is also off of the band's new album, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well.