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: Chesya Burke Investigates the Harlem Renaissance in THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA

Posted on: Jan 29th, 2016 By:

chesya1Atlanta author Chesya Burke finds a mystery in 1920s Harlem in THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA, her debut novel  from Rothco Press which has its launch party Friday Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Charis Books and More in Little Five Points. The innovative and much anticipated story features as its protagonist feisty would-be detective Jaz Idewell, daughter of the first African-American officer in the New York Police Department, and as her best friend a young Zora Neale Hurston.

Chesya has been turning heads with her short fiction, unabashedly bringing an African-American  woman’s perspective to horror and spec-lit. Her first story collection, LET’S PLAY WHITE, came out from Apex Publications in 2011, and other recent publications include “In the Quad of Project 327,” in CASSILDA’S SONG, an all-women authors’ collection of stories inspired by Robert W. ChambersTHE KING IN YELLOW which featured in HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE.

ATLRetro was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at STRANGE CRIMES and enjoyed it so much we couldn’t help but make her Kool Kat of the Week.  We caught up with her recently to find out more about the book, the festivities at Charis and what’s next for this innovative author.

strangecrimescoverATLRetro: What’s the “secret origin story” behind how you came to write THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA?

Chesya Burke: STRANGE CRIMES isn’t much of a secret. A fellow writer and I thought that a black woman detective novel would be fun to write, Harlem would be a great setting and now there’s my Little Africa. Which I hope captures just a little of the real Little Africa.

How much of an impact has Zora Neale Hurston’s writing had on you personally, and did you feel at all intimidated bringing such a literary icon onto the page?

I love ZNH! Just love her. I love everything about her. Researching her, reading her biography, her own story, written by her, true and false—she was known to…subvert the truth when she saw fit—was fascinating. I’m a huge fan and I enjoy her work. I’m not sure how much influence she has on me, probably quite a bit, but less than some authors such as Octavia Butler. I think what I take most from Hurston is dialogue. She really got to the essence of rural black dialect.  I hope I can be half as good as she one day! 

I was nervous to write about Hurston. I have this idea of the woman that she was in my head, but it’s not real. I had to realize that I could never get the real Zora on the page, only a bit of the mystery of her as I could imagine.

Zora is not the only real-life character from the Harlem Renaissance. Briefly, can you tell us about a few of the others, such as the enigmatic Madam St. Clair, who also appears in your story “I Make People Do Bad Things”?

There are so many. I researched a lot for the book. Stephanie St. Clair, Bumpy Johnson, Anderson Charles and several others. Even her father, Rueben Idawell was based on the first black traffic cop in NYC.

chesya3What did you do to research the book, and what was the most challenging piece of information to find/fact-check?

I’ve been to New York a bunch, and I went to Harlem specifically to do research. I spent hours and hours in the museum, walking the streets and just trying as hard as I could to get a feel for it. But, of course, I hadn’t been to 1920s Harlem, so I looked at old articles and pictures and newspaper clippings from the time. That’s where I got the name, “Little Africa.” I hadn’t [known] it was called that until I read it in a newspaper from the time.   

Jaz, the protagonist, is the daughter of the first African-American officer in the NYPD. Are there any lessons that you hope readers will bring to the present from your depiction of race and justice/injustice in the Harlem Renaissance?

Racial injustice and police brutality have only changed in measures since the era of the novel. We don’t have to read historical novels to see this. Anyone reading STRANGE CRIMES will see parallels. And that is unfortunate.   

Your acclaimed short story collection LET’S PLAY WHITE is horror/spec-lit. Especially over the past decade more African-American horror writers have risen to prominence from Tananarive Due to Victor LaValle, and some would say that Toni Morrison’s BELOVED is one of the best horror novels of all time. Are you encouraged by more diversity in the genre community or do you still see significant challenges/barriers for writers of color?

Of course. I hope that in the future we will see even more.

You just completed a master’s thesis at Agnes Scott College about Storm of Marvel Comics’ X-MEN and started a doctoral program at the University of Florida-Gainesville. Is it challenging to be both a graduate student and an author?

Oh. My. God. Yes. It’s most difficult because it seems that I’m being pulled in so many directions and both careers are doing relatively well. But it’s the problem to have, so I’m not complaining. Love every minute of it!

letsplaywhiteYou still consider Atlanta home, though. Is that why you wanted your official book launch here at Charis? Can you tell readers a little about the festivities on Friday night?

Yes. Atlanta is home. Always will be. The book launch is on Friday and I will be reading from STRANGE CRIMES. Charis is also home and is the perfect place for the release party of my first book. I’m also reading at Agnes Scott College on Wednesday evening!

What’s next in fiction for you? The end of STRANGE CRIMES seemed to hint that you might have a sequel in mind?

Yes. I’m working on the next book in the series. At least, I should be. I’m working on a few short stories and comic stuff. Most of it, I can’t talk about unfortunately. 

Any other current or “lost/forgotten” writers you’d like to recommend to ATLRetro readers?

Octavia Butler, who is not lost, but everyone should know about. Maurice Broaddus. Jennifer Brissett. Victor LaValle. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Kiese Laymon. Shane McKenzie. Laird Barron. I know I’m missing lots of people. 

Chesya talks more about THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA and other works in this recent interview on THE OUTER DARK podcast on Atlanta-based Project iRadio.

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