Kool Kat of the Week: Jeffrey Butzer Delivers A Lynchian Tour de Force with His “Club Silencio: Music From the Feature Films of David Lynch” Kicking Off Its Southeastern Summer Tour at The Earl

Posted on: May 30th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

It’s been exactly half a decade since we shot the breeze with Atlanta’s own jack of all musical trades and film score junkie, Jeffrey Butzer (The Bicycle Eaters/The Compartmentalizationalists). So we caught up with him once again to get the scoop on his upcoming venture into the bizarre land of Lynch. His “Club Silencio: Music From the Feature Films of David Lynch” tours the southeast this summer with a killer kick-off at The Earl this Friday, June 2 at 9 pm, featuring the “Ladies in the Radiator” also known as Butzer (guitar); T.T. Mahony (synth/piano); Bicycle Eaters Matt Steadman and Sean Zearfoss (rhythm section); Ben Davis (sax), Jade Poppyfield and Renee Nelson (rotating vocalists). Club Silencio promises an unconventionally surreal evening sending you dangling head first into The Pink Room. And if you just can’t get enough Lynch-madness after the June 2 date, you can catch the tour at its stops at the High Dive in Gainesville, FL on June 23, at Saturn in Birmingham, AL on July 8, and at the Caledonia Lounge in Athens on July 15!

ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey Butzer for a quick tête-à-tête about “Club Silencio,” his love affair with film scores and film in general, and what he and the Bicycle Eaters/The Compartmentalizationalists have been up to in the last five years. While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Butzer, why not listen to a bit o’ Butzer and The Compartmentalizationalists’ “Mother’s Gray Dress.”

ATLRetro:  It’s been nearly half a decade since we spoke to you about the release of The Bicycle Eaters’ new 7-inch HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS. So much has happened since, and now you’re diving head first into David Lynch’s land of the bizarre with your newest musical escapade, CLUB SILENCIO: MUSIC FROM THE FEATURE FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH. What draws you to Lynch’s film scores?

Jeffrey Butzer: What I love about Lynch’s work is his element of surprise. The new TWIN PEAKS series is a great example of that. I love that every week I have no idea what I am getting into. Will it scare me or be hilarious?  …Who knows?

Your CLUB SILENCIO tour was originally slated for 2008, as a follow up to your BEAUTIFUL LOSERS: THE SONGS OF CAVE, WAITS AND COHEN and A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS tours. Of course we have to know, what took so long and why now?

I am not sure? It wasn’t feeling right in 2008. I never could get in to the mindset to put it together. As Lynch would say, “The ideas weren’t coming.” I had a set list, which really hasn’t changed very much. But that was it. Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a musician who was sort of pushing me to finally do it. Then Julee Cruise and I sort of discussed a mini tour, which neither of us could make happen but, at that point I was really into the idea again, and with the timing of the new TWIN PEAKS it was easy to get everyone motivated.

Can you tell our readers a little about “The Ladies in the Radiator” who will be performing with you on the CLUB SILENCIO tour?

Yes, my longtime collaborator T.T. Mahony is playing synth/piano, Bicycle Eaters Matt Steadman and Sean Zearfoss are the rhythm section, Ben Davis (Purkenji Shift/Noot d’Noot) on Sax, Meghan Dowlen a.k.a. ”Jade Poppyfield and Renee Nelson (Jarboe) are both singing on different dates. I am playing guitar. It is a really great band. I am really happy with all the arrangements.

Film scores are a big influence on your music, with the Bicycle Eaters and The Compartmentalizationalists, et al. It seems many musicians are influenced by particular musicians (past or present) or a particular type of popular music (the art being the whole), but film’s scores tell a different kind of story, as accompaniments or pieces or carriers of the whole. Can you tell our readers what it is about film scores that influence you and the part they play in carrying a film?

I am a film lover in general. I like when films have no music, like in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or films by my hero Luis Bunuel. But, I also like when music is almost like a main character in a movie, like THE MASTER or films by Fellini, for example. I am not sure how film music influences me exactly. I guess I like the abstract nature of creating feelings out of noises. Mood is my primary goal in the music that I create.

We see that you’ve composed several scores as well for films such as Raymond Carr’s WILD IS THE WIND (2011); HITORI (2014); GOOD GRIEF SUICIDE HOTLINE (2015); ABACUS, MY LOVE (2014); BIRDCATCHER (2006), etc. Do you prefer composing behind the scenes, or playing in front of a crowd? Pros and cons?

I enjoy both for different reasons. Making a score is really strange to me. I really never know what I am doing. I still do not have a method of working and I don’t write out music. Matt Steadman (producer, musician) and I normally meet and see what happens and eventually we come up with music we are happy with. Live shows are very thrilling for me. Something like Club Silencio is fun, because we get to have our own Lynchian spin on expectations. We created this as massive admirers and fans of Lynch and have put together the show we would want to see. I’m getting really obsessed with details like stage plot, lighting, clothing. We put a lot of thought in to these types of shows. We really want them to feel special and fun for people.

Which film score(s) influenced you the most before you began composing your own, and how did it influence you?

Nino Rota’s 8 ½, Michael Nyman/Peter Greenaway scores and the spaghetti westerns by Morricone and Luis Bacolov were all influential to me.

Who are your top five favorite film composers and the film scores they composed that moved you most?

In no particular order my favorites would be Nino Rota (8 ½); Angelo Badalamenti (most Lynch films); Ennio Morricone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST/ THE GREAT SILENCE); Michael Nyman (A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS/ THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER); and Carter Burwell (FARGO/ BARTON FINK). However, it is difficult to speak about influence. As a musician I strive to not show my influences. I can say that when I sit down to write, music is the last thing on my mind. I am typically thinking about a story, sometimes my own, sometimes a book or film. Then, I try to musically paint a picture. I am very bad with narrative, which is probably why I am drawn to filmmakers like Lynch, who seems more concerned with mood.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be listening to right now–past or present, well-known or obscure?

1) Rowland S. Howard, the guitarist from The Birthday Party has a great, dark, and beautiful album called TEENAGE SNUFF FILM; 2) the singer Lhasa, especially her song Rising, and a song called “That Leaving Feeling she recorded with Stuart Staples of Tindersticks. She passed away a few years ago. Her voice is one of my favorite things; 3) Leonard Cohen’s underrated album NEW SKIIN FOR THE OLD CEREMONY is an all time favorite of mine; 4) Emiliana Torrini’s version of “If You Go Away” has been in my steady rotation. I love Brel’s version of course, but hers in a wonderful modern take; and 5) Rennie Sparks (The Handsome Family): Many now know of them from the theme from True Detective, but do yourself a favor and delve in to their world. Rennie’s books and paintings are so strange and vivid and their last album is one of their best. Rennie, as a writer is one of my biggest influences.

Back to the surreal. If you had to choose just one (I know it’s hard!), which Lynch film would be your absolute favorite?

I honestly cannot pick one. MULHOLLAND DRIVE is always in my top three. BLUE VELVET is the first one I fell in love with. INLAND EMPIRE is a misunderstood masterpiece. If you’ve only seen it once and are on the fence or don’t really like it, see it three more times. It is so dense it demands multiple viewings.

You’re taking this epic and eccentric beast on a trip across the equally bizarre south this summer after your gig at The Earl on June 2, with shows at the High Dive in Gainesville, FL (June 23); Saturn in Birmingham (July 8); and the Caledonia Lounge in Athens (July 15). What exciting things can folks expect when they come to one of your shows? And will this be the last of the tour, or will you be giving Atlanta an encore presentation in the near future?

If this goes well, we plan to make it a summer tradition. We are doing our best to make you feel like you are visiting the Pink Room/Black Lodge and deliver the best renditions of these iconoclastic songs as possible.

And last but not least, any other exciting plans in the future for Jeffrey Bützer? The Bicycle Eaters? The Compartmentalizationalists?

Bicycle Eaters have our first vocal full-length in the editing room as we speak…er, type. I’m also writing a play/screenplay entitled “Partialisms” that I plan to bring to a stage or screen in the near future.

All photos are courtesy of Jeffrey Butzer and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Blair Crimmins Promises Prohibition-Era Pandemonium at the Plaza Theatre Premiere of OLD MAN CABBAGE Sat. Feb. 4

Posted on: Feb 3rd, 2012 By:

Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Photo credit: Scott McKibben.

With HUGO and THE ARTIST nominated for a bevy of Oscars this year, silent films seem to be getting a lot of love lately reimagined in creative ways for the 21st century. From what we’ve heard about OLD MAN CABBAGE, a short film co-produced by popular neo- ragtime band Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Atlanta’s Ninja Puppet Productions, it sounds like a fantastic local addition to the oeuvre and a great reason to come out to the historic Plaza Theatre again this Sat. Feb. 4 at 10 p.m. But the night’s much more than just seeing a cool movie – Blair and the band will be playing the soundtrack live as the film unwinds on the big screen and then a complete concert afterwards in the alluring art-deco setting of the Plaza stage.

Based on a Blair Crimmins & the Hookers song and set in a farm forgotten by time, OLD MAN CABBAGE tells the tale of two dust bowl farm kids who find their lives flipped upside down when they are caught in an accident with an abusive father. Like so many classic children heroines, they run away to join the circus, only this particular one is distinctly supernatural. Without giving too much away, the cast features performers from the Imperial OPA Circus, well-known to the steampunk community. OLD MAN CABBAGE is directed by Raymond Carr, the founder of Ninja Puppet Productions, a collection of artists and professionals dedicted to the creation of innovative art and storytelling of all sorts.

As we pointed out in a previous short feature on Blair, you might think of ragtime as kind of quaint, but you wouldn’t be talking about his and the Hookers’ take on this 1920s form of jazz. Remember that they didn’t call the Twenties Roaring for nothing. In fact, you might even describe Crimmins’ high-energy style as “in your face” as rock ‘n’ roll. Except the groupies would be flapper girls, and the band is playing instruments your grandparents would approve of from banjo to accordion, saxophone to piano, trumpet to trombone—and may be accompanied by antics inspired by the best vaudeville comedy. Oh, did we mention that while the music swings, the lyrics to many of the songs are also delightfully decadent and dark.

ATLRetro has thought for a long time that it’s high time for Blair to be Kool Kat of the Week, but this week we had no excuse but to catch up with one of the Atlanta Retro scene’s most talented performers to get a sneak peek into what promises to be a sensationally surreal Saturday night at the Plaza. Tickets to the screening and concert are just $10 in advance and can be purchased here or $12 at the door.

What’s the story behind OLD MAN CABBAGE and your involvement with Ninja Puppet Productions?

“Old Man Cabbage” is a track off THE MUSICAL STYLINGS OF, which tells the story about a young man who moves into an old house and becomes possessed by the ghost of an old ragtime musician who lives there. It’s a biographical dramatization on how I became so enamored with early jazz. Raymond Carr took that ghost story and expanded it to give more backstory to the characters, and instead of the haunted house created a whole speakeasy of specters who reenact their gruesome demise every night. Quite a story. I won’t give the whole thing away.

So is it an extended music video or is it a movie? And what’s the running time?

Raymond calls it a short narrative film. I jokingly refer to it as my jazzy version of “Thriller.”  The film runs about 15 minutes long.

Is it performed with puppets or human characters since Imperial OPA is involved?

You won’t find any puppets or ninjas in the film, although we did use some sets built in miniature and green screens.  We brought in a lot of other local talent and used the video as an vehicle to showcase our Atlanta favorites. The circus group Imperial OPA, the cabaret troupe Davina and The Harlots, some aerial acrobats and a number of fantastic swing dancers all put their talents in the film, not to mention the people behind the scenes in makeup and costume who brought the prohibition style to the screen.

There seems to be a rebirth in fascination with circuses and carnivals, from the popularity of Cirque de Soleil to books like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern, which explore their darker, more mysterious side. There’s even that surreal, crazy Guinness commercial. Do you have any thoughts on the current appeal of circuses and where does OLD MAN CABBAGE fit in?

There certainly seems to be a renewed interest, and I’m glad to see troupes exploring all the different facets of the circus tradition. From the classic freak and sideshow acts to the more bohemian variety stuff, many young performers finding their place on the periphery of mainstream performance theater. I don’t know if that’s entirely new, but I can say I [have seen] a lot of very interesting [acts] just in the last few years.  I do think that Atlanta is grabbing a place in art and culture that can now compete with some other big cities.  There is a very youthful and unjaded excitement in the artistic community here.

How did you prepare for scoring OLD MAN CABBAGE?

I prepared for scoring the film by watching other silent movies. Of course, the classics METROPOLIS and CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which are always fantastic, but I also watched THE GOLEM for the first time, which was one of the earliest monster movies ever made. It was filmed in 1920 about a rabbi who makes a giant man out of clay and brings him to life to protect the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague. I really dug that one and would recommend that to anyone with an interest in silent film.

Anything you’d like to share about the why behind the 1920s speakeasy setting and what the filmmakers did to ensure set, costumes and music were authentic?  

There wasn’t a lot of discussion on why the film should have a Prohibition era style.  That’s where my inspiration lies. That’s where home is for me. I know Raymond did a lot of research and studied old photos to ensure that film looked authentic.

And it’s silent, which seems even more apropos given the popularity and Oscar nominations for THE ARTIST and HUGO, two movies that pay tribute to the silent era. I’m supposing that was just lucky timing? 

Current trends always herd people to different areas to search for new life, to find something that they’ve been lacking, an oasis. I can see people who are finding that needed refreshment in the silent film era. Being beat over the head with the GLEE stick and AMERICAN IDOL will get anyone to pay for a ticket to silence.

Blair Crimmins. Photo credit: Katie Bricker.

What else do you have planned for Saturday night at the Plaza and do we need to dig out our bowties, golf caps, spats and flapper dresses?

Seeing a well-dressed crowd always brings a smile to my face. You won’t be the only one dressed up if you choose to do so. Davina and The Harlots will be dancing onstage and throughout the room in full flapper gear. The OPA will also be working the crowd in their usual fashion. The whole evening promises to be taste of pandemonium.

How did you personally discover and fall in love with ‘20s ragtime music and vaudeville?

It’s just music that endlessly amuses me. You know when you’re doing something you truly comfortable with as an artist because you never get tired of it. Once my writing steered in the right direction, the ship took off on its own.

Your gigs are always packed and your music and performances embrace the past but sell so well in the 21st century. Are you surprised to see how many people enjoy a musical style that’s nearly a century old in a time of fast-passing fads? Any thoughts on why Retro is so hip?

I don’t think it’s a fad or new thing. I feel as if people of every generation reach an age when they discover something cool from the past. Chances are, if you find something that you identify with, you’ll find a whole group of people that love it, too. As you watch new people discover it, there is a tendency to think “Wow, this is really catching on”; the reality is that it has never gone anywhere.  Its popularity is always fluctuating but never dies or becomes reborn. Some of the bad trends die and hopefully never wake up, i.e. polyester suits, but the really good stuff sticks around forever for generations to enjoy.

After Saturday’s screening, will OLD MAN CABBAGE be heading out on the film festival circuit or what are the plans for the film?

Yeah, Raymond is going to talk more about that at the film premiere.

And of course, what’s next for Blair Crimmins & the Hookers? 

We have a lot of great touring on the books for this year. There will definitely be new singles out this year and maybe a record. I’ve already been talking with some of my favorite local artists about the next music video, and I’ve got some other film opportunities in the pipe. Things are about to get real busy for The Hookers. I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can and never lose an opportunity to let the music take me somewhere new.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Is What It’s All About: Jeffrey Butzer and TT Mahony’s Jazzy Musical Tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s PEANUTS Score Comes to The Earl & The Earl Smith Strand

Posted on: Dec 16th, 2011 By:

Jeffrey Butzer channels Schroeder & Vince Guaraldi in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, his annual holiday show with TT Mahony.

Not just nostalgic adults, but kids, too, will get to enjoy Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahony’s jazzy musical tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS this year with the duo presenting it at two Earls – first at The Earl Fri. Dec. 16 and Sat. Dec. 17 (both 9 p.m.) and then at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta Tues. Dec. 20 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.). All shows will feature an opening instrumental set by Jeffrey’s band, The Bicycle Eaters, and surf favorites from THE VENTURES CHRISTMAS ALBUM  rendered by Chad Shivers and Friends.

The seasonal sell-out shows of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS are clearly a labor of love for Jeffrey, a musician/composer whose solo works tend towards the minimalism of the simple Christmas tree in the iconic Charles Schultz special. Inspired by melodic French musette, pieces on two albums SHE TRADED HER LEG (2006) and THE GARDEN OF SCISSORS (2009), both released by Lona Records, incorporate such eclectic instruments as accordions, bass drum, piano, glockenspiel and—perhaps inspired by a childhood admiration for Schroeder—toy piano. His band, the Bicycle Eaters, takes a different bend, inspired by Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores, klezmer and gypsy, the former suggesting that their opening set will be more than appropriate for a vintage art deco movie theatre like the Strand. He’s also down a film soundtracks (Raymond Carr’s WILD IS THE WIND), collaborated live with Molly Harvey of The Residents and has ventured lately into the world of live scoring to Buster Keaton’s THE BALLOONATIC. And frankly that’s just a small taste of the musical adventures of this diverse Atlanta performer and affirmed cineaste.

Today though, ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey to chat about A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, what to expect at The Earl and The Strand, and what’s next for him with The Bicycle Eaters and as a solo composer/musician.

How old were you when you first saw A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS on TV and what did the show and its music mean to you when growing up?

I don’t remember a time NOT knowing who Charlie Brown was. It is like Bruce Lee, Elvis or Grandma, something that seemed to always exist to me. Growing up, it was always my favorite special. I liked how blue it was. Both literally and figuratively. Cartoon music in general affects you strangely. Like Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott with the Looney Toons, I wasn’t aware of them until I was older and started playing music. But again, it is hard to remember a time when I didn’t listen to that record every year.

How did you and TT Mahony get the idea of developing A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS holiday show, and for how many years have you been doing it?

This is year four. I approached TT after he played a Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits/Nick Cave tribute show I worked on. He is an amazing piano player, very witty , too. I had kicked around the idea of doing a holiday show in the past but never really knew a pianist that could handle Guaraldi. Robby Handley is the best upright bass player I know. Great hair, too. And here is an odd fact about TT. He can jump really, really high. I’ve told him he should find some way to compete. I once saw him jump from the ground onto the top of a Toyota.

I understand last year’s shows were packed. Were you surprised that so many adults were so enthusiastic about music from a 1960s kids TV show/Christmas LP? What kind of comments did you get after your performance?

Yes, we were hoping for the best, that our fans and friends would enjoy the show and hopefully some new faces would come out. But the response has been overwhelming. Last year we had to start doing two nights. As far as comments, the one we get the most is “Can you do an all-ages one too…for the babies?” The reason we haven’t is because. the mood we set in The Earl seems to really suit Snoopy and the gang. It is cozy, dark, and has energy almost like a rock show. We are really looking forward to adjusting it for a sitting crowd at The Strand. We love the room. It is like a miniature Fox Theatre. And playing for children will be a blast. My 2-year-old son Francis dances every time he hears “Linus and Lucy.”

What audiences can expect at The Earl this weekend?

Cookies, dancing… It is basically a big Holiday Party with 300 of your closest, newest friends.

What are you doing at The Strand to make it even more kid-friendly?

The show will not change much. We do have a kid’s choir with us at the Strand!

Why pair Peanuts with The Ventures?

Well, the albums were released around the same time for one thing. They are both classic ‘60s albums. They are both easy to dance to.

Jeffrey Butzer. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

And what about that opening set from Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters?

My band (The Bicycle Eaters) play Frenchy-Jazzy-Spaghetti Western-inspired instrumentals. We are releasing a limited EP at the show

What else are you and the Bicycle Eaters up to? Any 2012 gigs or recordings you’d like to tell readers about?

We almost all have children, so we’ve been laying low, only doing select shows. But we will have an official release for our new 7” at The Earl in March. I’m also working on a score for PETER PAN at The Center for Puppetry Arts. Then I have a solo record coming out named COLLAPSIBLE. Then off to play some dates inPoland.

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