Butch Walker has carved a successful career producing everyone from Pink to Weezer to Taylor Swift to, currently, Panic! At the Disco with their remake of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the “Suicide Squad” soundtrack.
But Walker has also crafted a roster of albums that reflect his expert hand at a powerful riff and flair for storytelling.
Last year’s hushed “Afraid of Ghosts,” released two years after the death of his dad, “Big” Butch Walker, showcased the singer-songwriter-producer’s introspective side and the raw pain of dealing with the death
His latest, “Stay Gold,” arrives Aug. 26 and along with its anthems and celebrations, pays homage to his Cartersville roots.
Scroll down to watch the lyric video for “Stay Gold.”
Walker will debut some of those songs – along with crowd-pleasers such as “Synthesizers” – at his Saturday concert at The Tabernacle.
The funny, candid Walker talked recently from Nashville about the inspiration behind “Stay Gold,” his Springsteen infatuation and his loyalty to Georgia.
Q: That’s quite an interesting album cover you have for the new record.
A: I went to my buddy Matt Eddmenson – he’s a graphic designer – and I told him I wanted him to do some artwork for the record. He’s good at skull images and I said, ‘Why don’t you make me into a skull and give me the gold tooth?’ When I think of skulls I think of black and white and instead of being gray, it’s better to be gold!
Q: So tell me about the influence of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” on the record.
A: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grow up in a very similar kind of space that they did. It was a very small town, sometimes small minded, with a couple of different classes. You had the yuppies and the dope bags and the cheerleaders and jocks and all the demos that make up most small towns. I was able to witness that firsthand and I might have identified a little with the outcast side. I was never the popular kid. I revisited that movie after being familiarized with it and the book when I was younger. It’s interesting that a lot of it paralleled my life growing up in Cartersville. The whole record is based loosely on my childhood and my dad’s childhood and having hopefully a silver lining for people who maybe settled down and married their high school sweetheart or maybe got out or were content to stay.
Q: Your last album after the death of your dad was very quiet and introspective. Did you make a concerted effort to go the other direction this time?
A: You come out of this fog of making a record about your dad dying and it’s dark and depressing and beautiful and sad and you tour on it and you grieve onstage every night and you come out of that and the catharsis from that is great – you feel mentally uplifted and stable and come to terms with it. And then you go, ‘What am I gonna say after that?’ So naturally, what I felt like doing was celebrating after spending a year groveling about it, and I ended up writing what I thought was a very good celebratory reply. I feel good about life, I feel good about death. That’s where the tone of the record came from.
Q: There’s a definite Springsteen/Pretenders sound to many of the songs, especially “East Coast Girl.”
A: I constantly pay tribute to people with their songs. Good luck writing any song these days without it sounding like some kind of melody someone already wrote – Bowie and the Beatles and the Stones got them all! That song, it’s like three different songs that I loved from the ‘80s, Springsteen and (John) Mellencamp and all of that stuff coming out of 96 Rock back in the day. Bruce is a screamer, I’m a screamer, always have been. You can hear in his songs equal parts Roy Orbison and Van Morrison and in the same way I feel I’m paying it back to him, He’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time and one of the best performers, still to this day. I see so many people throw in the towel and make the ‘Lion King’ record and I don’t want to do that. I don’t ever want to lose that flame. Do I win originality points with my music? No. But does it have passion and heart? (Heck) yeah.
Q: Tell me about working with Ashley Monroe (on the ballad “Descending”).
A: I love her. We’ve known each other five years or so; she’s one of my favorite people. I produced the Train song ‘Bruises’ with her and Pat Monahan. I really fell in love with her and her voice and her vibe. We had threatened to do something together for a long time. She was on a flight to Los Angeles and texting from the plane that we should get together to write a song and we were talking about love and relationships and being candid about making it work and in the same sentence she said “We’re descending.” And I said, ‘You mean your relationship?’ and she said, ‘No, no the plane is descending and I have to turn my phone off.’ She texted me when she landed and had written the chorus to the song. It’s one of my favorite, organic moments in music, it came from a real place. I’m super proud of it, it sounds like a ‘70s Bob Seger power ballad. Suzanne Santo from the band Honey Honey is in my band and she’ll step in for Ashley’s part (live).
Q: What do you have planned for the live show?
A: I’m bringing out a great little visual spectacle. We’re jamming a lot of arena rock into these clubs and theaters. There’s two sides all the time – I’m lucky there are just as many people who want to hear sad (stuff) with an acoustic and when that’s over, I want to get out there and have fun and entertain and solo and shred. It’s personal therapy.
Q: Do you get back to Georgia often?
A: I try to get back and see my mom and sisters as much as I can. The good thing about splitting time between Nashville and L.A. is that Nashville is only three hours away. But Atlanta will always be my home and Cartersville will always be my home, so it’s nice to fly in and have my Southern fix and see my family and friends. Atlanta has the best friends and fans in the world. Still to this day it’s my favorite place to play.