Music Monday: Letters by Butch Walker (yes, a day early)

Today is a momentous day: Letters by Butch Walker is 10 years old. If you know me at all, you know that Butch is my favorite artist (see previous posts here). For many years, I would buy this album for friends just out of the blue so they’d be introduced to Butch. To understand why this is such a big deal to me, first, let’s cover a little background.

The Background

Dateline: Summer 2004

I have two internships needed to finish my Associates Degree in Audio Recording from Hennepin Technical College. I am interning as a studio slave at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls. Yes, thee Pachyderm. The one where In Utero was recorded. I am looking for another internship so I can complete my degree. I am thinking about moving out of Minneapolis, in order to get some independence, clarity of mind, and work in a larger music market. The four major music markets seem to be:

  • Los Angeles – Given my long-standing hatred for the fake part of California, this is an easy
  • New York – I’ve never been much for a huge city, so this is an easy one to eliminate as well
  • Nashville – I really don’t like country or “Christian” music, so again, this is an easy option to pass over
  • Atlanta – a city of humidity, traffic jams, and an up-and-coming hip-hop & rap scene[1]

So I decide to move to Atlanta knowing that I’ll likely be working in a studio where the main clientele is in hip-hop or rap. There are some great rock studios in that area as well, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll find one. I don’t remember exactly what order it happened in, but I do remember that one night at our cabin, I was listening to a Royer Labs CD that had tracks that used their microphones. I was always fascinated by the R–121 and I would often read about the latest in recording equipment, interviews, etc. in the evenings after we were done with waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing.

One night, as I was listening to this demo CD, I noticed that one of the tracks featured a band that I’d really liked about 6 years before: Marvelous 3. My brother introduced me to Marvelous 3 when their single Freak of the Week was on the radio.[2] Thank you for that, Matt! I also remember seeing a little of his handiwork in the 2001 song Right Now by SR–71.

Intrigued at what I heard , I checked the liner notes for the demo CD which said that the track was produced by Jerry Finn. JERRY FINN! He was my favorite producer! My favorite producer, using one of my favorite microphones: I’ve got to see if Marvelous 3 is doing any more albums!

Keep in mind, this is 2004. The iTunes Music Store was barely a year old, YouTube didn’t exist and if Wikipedia was around, it certainly wasn’t widely known. Oh yeah, and this guy was a huge hit and this is how you took a selfie with your cameraphone.

I quickly found out that while Marvelous 3 had broken up, it’s lead singer, Butch Walker, had recently put out an EP, Heartwork. I downloaded it and quickly fell in love with Butch’s style. I also discovered that he’d produced Avril Lavigne’s My Happy Ending[3] which was a song I really liked. A few weeks after I got Heartwork, Letters was released and it changed my life.

I knew that I had to move to Atlanta, and I wanted so badly to work at Butch’s studio Ruby Red Productions. I worked up the courage[4] and scheduled a time to talk with Butch’s engineer Russ-T Cobb. Russ-T didn’t think he had anything opening up, but said he’d keep me in mind. Well, I needed something more definite so I continued looking and ended up working at The Sound Lab in Smyrna recording rap. But just because I wasn’t working with/for Butch didn’t stop me from falling in love/to Letters.

The Album

So many late, lonely nights were spent driving 120, 285, 400 and 75 listening to that album. This album was perfect for severing old ties and forging new ones. You see, I’d just moved 1500 miles away from everyone and everything I knew. I’d always been very close to my family and a homebody. I didn’t have huge ambitions for myself, but I knew I had to get out Minneapolis and figure out exactly who I was. So many nights crying while listening to this album, wondering why I’d moved. But, so many good feelings and longings while listening. You see, Letters was the album that became the backdrop for falling in love with my future wife.

We started corresponding through emails, calls, and, very appropriately, letters, about 6 weeks after I purchased Letters. Just a quick snippet from this album can immediately bring me back to the state of mind I was in that fall of 2004. It was a good place, a hard place, and a fun place. I own a lot of music, and I can’t imagine an album I’d rather have as the soundtrack to falling in love with my wife than this one.[5]

I had a LiveJournal (remember those) back then and I wrote up a year-end roundup of my 10 favorite albums. Letters was in a 4-way tie for first place. Here’s what I wrote then:

Butch Walker – Letters…this made me move to ATL

Songs to check out: “Mixtape”, “So At Last”, “Don’t Move”, “Best Thing You Never Had”

A nice summary, but wholly inadequate. 10 years later it’s clear to see that this was the best album I discovered in 2004[6].

<a name=“ButchReadThis>So Butch, if you read this, consider this my ”Thank-You Note“. This album changed my life and helped me forge such a deep love for my wife. We’ve never met (although you did put your smell butt in my face while doing your ”get down on the ground“ thing during ”Lights Out” at one of your shows years ago) but I owe you, man. This album taught me so much about love, and music.

Here’s a sampling of my favorites on the album (if it’s possible to filter them out). If you don’t own the album, go buy it.

Maybe It’s Just Me

Such a fun little ditty. A perfect album opener. I still get chills when I hear the line “The only thing I’ll hold against me is a picture of you tonight”. I thought that so many times as I was falling in love with Amy.

So At Last

So somber. So definite. So great.

Don’t Move

I still remember listening to this song while I was home in Minneapolis from ATL for Easter. I was dropping Amy off at the U of M after we went to Vespers. We were driving southbound on 35W just about to exit for Dinkytown and I did not want to leave her. This song came on and it perfectly captured the moment.

Best Thing You Never Had

I still remember when I went and saw Butch for the first time. December 18, 2004 at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. He told everyone in the crowd to call up their ex and let this song play. Then he proceeded to grab someone’s clamshell phone and sing part of it into the microphone. I hope that was a voicemail so the person receiving it could hear it over and over.

Race Cars and Goth Rock

I come from punk rock, so obviously, this song feels so great.

Bonus: Last Flight Out

I’d mentioned the Heartwork – EP Butch did, and this is a track that’s exclusive to that EP. It’s still hard to explain how great this song is. I love it so much. Again, from my LiveJournal post:

Song of the Year: “Last Flight Out” by Butch Walker….seriously, the sky does look like an Astropop and it just summarizes the feeling of leaving something behind.

  1. this is the summer of ’04 remember, Usher’s Yeah is constantly on the radio!  ↩
  2. probably 93.7 The Edge  ↩
  3. I am also convinced that he had a hand in  ↩
  4. I am an introvert.  ↩
  5. interestingly enough, I tried to also add Peter Gabriel’s Us to this list after reading an interview with Jimmy Eat World’s drummer saying he fell in love with his wife to that album. I love that album, but Amy really doesn’t like PG.  ↩
  6. this means it tops Transatlanticsm by Death Cab  ↩

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