Behind the Boards with Butch Walker: Producer Talks Taylor Swift, Weezer, Green Day and More

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The post Behind the Boards with Butch Walker: Producer Talks Taylor Swift, Weezer, Green Day and More appeared first on Consequence.

Behind the Boards is a new series where we spotlight some of the biggest producers in the industry and dig into some of their favorite projects. For the inaugural edition, we sit down with alternative rock-whisperer Butch Walker to hear about his work with Taylor Swift, Weezer, Green Day, and more.

Producer and singer-songwriter Butch Walker has been actively working in the music world for over three decades, and has seen firsthand the way the music industry has shifted across that time period.

The Georgia-born Walker got his start in the late ’80s with a glam metal band called SouthGang — when that band dissolved, Walker formed the power pop trio Marvelous 3 in the mid ’90s before becoming an in-demand producer, helming pop rock records with SR-71, Bowling For Soup, and Avril Lavigne in the early 2000s.

His production resume only grew in stature throughout the next two decades, eventually working on songs and albums with Taylor Swift (“Everything Has Changed” featuring Ed Sheeran), P!nk (I’m Not Dead), Weezer (Pacific Daydream and Ratitude), Katy Perry (One of the Boys), and many more.

Meanwhile, Walker’s seasoned career has allowed for bold and exciting personal creations like his tenth solo album, Butch Walker as…Glenn (out this Friday, August 26th). This time, he’s trying something a bit different: playing a character. The LP sees him take on the life and stories of an aging “balladeer who’s been playing bars his whole life to nobody” named Glenn. According to Walker, this is a project born not just out of the pandemic, but through the joy of collaboration — something that the superproducer knows better than anyone throughout his 30+ year career.

“It was inspired by my friend Morgan Kibby, who was in the band M83 and is an incredible artist,” Walker tells Consequence of the new LP. “We got in the studio over Zoom, and she wanted to make a record and had this whole concept planned out.” Walker explains that Kibby took on the fictional character of Sue Clayton, a Palm Springs-dwelling widow who works on the other end of a phone sex hotline, and introduced a character named Glenn that she corresponds with — hence, Walker’s impetus to create his own solo record, but from Glenn’s perspective.

Though Butch Walker as…Glenn has a greater emphasis on storytelling than Walker’s usual solo material, it also demonstrates a skill he’s been honing since his very first band: the ability to collaborate and bring the best out of an artist. In this case, the artist is Walker himself, but each song and album in his career was crafted with the joy of collaboration at the forefront.

Ahead of the release of his new solo LP, Consequence sat down with Butch Walker and took a deep dive into five songs or albums that he’s produced. Below, check out Walker’s breakdown of five standout productions in his storied music career.

Green Day – Father of All Motherfuckers

I was super excited, because I have a couple of years on [Green Day], but I’d be lying if I say that they weren’t a massive influence on me. I hadn’t heard Kerplunk! before, so when Dookie came out, I remember loading in with my band at the Hurricane Club in Lincoln, Nebraska to play to five people that night, of course, because there was a kegger at the Delta house down the street. We were nobody and we were touring in a van. We were still kind of lost as well, as a band, trying to figure out what our sound was and what our vibe was.

When I had heard Green Day, this was in the wake of grunge, so when post-grunge was happening as well, punk rock started having a resurgence and getting contemporized by people like Green Day. But I missed that from my youth, and it was so amazing because for some reason, as much as I loved that sound and that scene, it wasn’t me and it wasn’t my upbringing. I had come from garage rock, power pop, metal and things like that, and those are all things that are in Billie Joe [Armstrong]’s record collection from Green Day… so, cut to many years later, that had a big influence on me, shaping my band that would come out in the late ’90s and our live show and everything like that. I had been following their career throughout the years and being such a fan.

Then, my manager came to manage them a few years ago and the first thing that I did was text my manager and say, “Hey man, I’m here if you need someone to produce Green Day’s next record because you know I’ll fucking do it.” And sure enough, he was looking for a producer, because Billie Joe had produced the last ten years worth of Green Day records himself with the band and I think he was looking to find something that he wouldn’t normally do, because we all get trapped in our ways in the studio. So they hit me up, and my manager made the meeting happen. Obviously, it wasn’t a forced thing, my manager was like, “They may not dig it, they may not want to do it,” and that’s all cool and I said, “That’s fine, let me at ’em.”

So we met, we hit it off on the phone call, our record collections were the same growing up, pretty much, there were a lot of parallels between us and for what Billie wanted to do on the record. Keep in mind, as a producer, this is the ugly side, where longtime fans of a band hear that they want to “broaden their horizons” and do something different, and the first thing they do is shoot the producer. They hate the producer because the formula for their Coca-Cola got changed and they are very mad because of a band wanting to do something different.

To Green Day’s credit, this vision was Billie’s. This was his vision. It wasn’t like I came in and said “let’s change it all up, let’s make a ’70s glam throwback record.” But at the same time, this was the kind of shit that he was into at the time, and it’s my wheelhouse. I love making records like that and those are huge influences for me too, I grew up on glam and power pop and metal and rock. So we had a great time making it and it was absolutely a collaborative effort. We spent a lot of time sending files back and forth — COVID was looming but it hadn’t hit yet. They have a very over-qualified massive studio in Oakland and of course, I have my sandbox, and I was like, “Hey, I work best in my sandbox,” and Billie would be like, “Okay, cool, I usually work best in mine.” So I was like, “Great, let’s send stuff back and forth and then we’ll get into the studio.”

So it was a combination of everybody live in the room in my studio, sometimes just one at a time and sometimes not at all, they would be up in Billie’s place sending files back and forth. I was stoked because obviously, it was their most successful record since American Idiot, in a time where you can’t follow that, you can’t follow a “lightning in a bottle” moment where a band sells 10 million plus on a record. Everybody’s waiting for you to top it and you just can’t. I’m not even saying sales-wise, sales don’t even exist anymore, so that’s not a factor, it’s more just radio hits.

You’re a band that’s a legacy band, a legend band now, and the radio is going to be obsessed with playing [Justin] Bieber and Imagine Dragons. So the fact that they had top five hits off of that record at all on Rock Radio was pretty awesome. But we did it on our own terms, and we did it without a label, and we did it without anyone in our way. I felt like it was a great ultimate punk rock “fuck you” record.

Taylor Swift – “Everything Has Changed (feat. Ed Sheeran) (Taylor’s Version)”

The first time we worked together, we did a few songs — Taylor works with several producers on records and they do lots of songs and they narrow it down to 12, whatever they are. And a lot of songs don’t end up on the record. So that one did, and it was a duet that she brought Ed Sheeran to sing on.

We did it in my studio and of course, a lot of the way I work is I’ll be building a track quickly to put the song together, whether it’s a demo or a final recording. It’s usually “to be determined,” but I try to make it sound as much as I want it to in my head and like a record from the get-go, and that was essentially just the raw version of the demo that I did. I would go back in and spruce things up and replace sounds with other things, but she felt like the magic was in the initial recording, which I respected and loved her for that. So that’s the version that’s on the first record.

I also respect her for doing what she did, which is re-recording her entire catalog verbatim, emphasizing that we needed to recreate it exactly. So [with Red (Taylor’s Version)], I hadn’t heard those tracks since I did them, which would have been over a decade ago, and of course, it was the pandemic, so we had to literally do it remotely — I didn’t even see or talk to Taylor or Ed once, It was all over email. I got the vocal from Ed, re-sung, I got the background vocals re-sung, and then I got vocals from Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol as well, and then I got the lead vocal re-cut by Taylor.

They all did it at their own studios, their own technology. They sent me their files and I recreated it completely from scratch, the recording I had done anyway. And luckily, I had played everything on the original version anyway, all the instruments, so I was able to do it by muscle memory because otherwise, if I had to play someone else’s part during the pandemic, it would have been a time-consuming nightmare because I would’ve had to sub out and find other players, maybe those same players.

But luckily, historically, I’ve always been with solo artists and the only guy in the room making the music, so I’m the band guy. So I re-cut the drums, I re-cut the bass, I re-cut the guitars around Ed giving me one acoustic track that he did, and I did the rest, including strings and stuff. To say it was “deja-vu” is an understatement. It was like, “Oh my god, it’s so weird, I’m hearing this all over again.” And there’s something fun about that challenge of having to match something that you had done before, so that was fun. Obviously, I was glad to be apart of it. I’m glad she called me back, she didn’t call every producer back.

The Aces – When My Heart Felt Volcanic

When working with younger artists, you are definitely finding — and this is by no means a bad thing — you’re finding the younger artists are still finding themselves, while you’re making the record. So while you’re making it, there can be a lot of back and forth about how they want it to be perceived, they can literally be driving into the studio and hear something on the pop radio or alternative radio that’s brand new and being like, “I want to sound like that.”

I remember working with Katy Perry and songs and style changed mid-stream while making her first record. She got inspired literally by something that had just come out that day. So some of it feels a little frustrating, if you’re not patient and not understanding of the fact that I too was young once and I too was waiting for my Green Day moment to come on the radio when I was loading in to play to 100 people at a bar, where I was playing funk rock that sounded like the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers and all of a sudden it’s like, “No, no, no forget all of that.”

So I think that one thing that made a big difference, working with [The Aces], was that they were definitely assertive and had confidence and were sure of themselves, even though they were still working out what their sound was. And that’s exciting to me. Sometimes it’s exciting to help them find their sound. I was also trying to steer them in certain directions because every producer is going to do that. I personally try to not, no matter what it’s going to come out, I try not to make them sound like me, but that can be hard to do sometimes, so your sound is going to end up smearing all over something.

But with The Aces, it was a good combination. They were great players, great guitar player, bass player, drummer, singer, she’s great. They just had this beautiful fresh-off-the-boat bond that was a sisterhood bond. They didn’t come in bickering or complaining or fighting with each other about petty shit, they were on each other’s side and very supportive of each other, and very excited. It was their first record, and I knew their A&R guy from way back because they tried to sign my old band, my old band that sounded like Green Day, so it was one of those full-circle moments.

Weezer – Pacific Daydream

Again, I was trying to let an artist do what their vision is and what they want to do, as opposed to trying to come in with a seasoned band like that and tell them how they should sound. Everybody is trying to get into the studio and remake Pinkerton, everyone. I know plenty of those people and I know plenty of times it’s been attempted. Again, lightning in a bottle, you can’t do it.

Secondly, Rivers [Cuomo] is not that guy. So Rivers will not go back and re-visit and redo a record that he’s already done, he does not. And he certainly has this Brian Wilson-like quality and child-like quality about him, so the fact that Pinkerton did have such an impact, but much later in the years, is something that he takes personally. There’s a glitch in his brain where it’s like, “I’m not going back to that. If they want to listen to that, they’ve got that.”

But the fans who are fucking awful will just hate everything they do if they don’t try to do Pinkerton, which is very narrow-minded and one-sided, but also, again, here we go, don’t shoot the fucking producer! Because I do what the artist wants me to do for them. Whether or not they think that’s true or not is on them. But when I went in to make a record with him on Pacific Daydream it was all very Brian Wilson, Beach Boys, Beatles, these artists. I was excited about that.

Because sure, I would like to make “My Name is Jonas” or something off the Blue record or something off Pinkerton, but I understand at least we’re not making “My Name is Nick Jonas,” because I didn’t want to make another pop album with [Rivers] (I did work on a record where I did one or two songs on it and it was his attempt to be a “popstar.” That was a real tough time for the band, for me, for managers, and for the fans).

This one was cool. Rivers brought in demos, I loaded demos into sessions and my work station and started coming up with sketches around it musically, and then the band would come in. I would say “check this out,” as a demo, and they would be like “oh cool,” and they would put their part on it and replace it and make it Weezer, and that’s how we made all of Pacific Daydream.

Except one song that I can’t take credit for, I didn’t do “Feels Like Summer,” that song was already charting and on the radio before they even started making a record with me. We were literally thinking that we needed to make a record because that song was blowing up. It was Rivers just getting a music track from some kid and wrote a lyric and melody over it. He’s a gem and he’s like the weather in the south, because you never know what you’re going to get. I do love him for that. So that’s Pacific Daydream.

SR-71, Bowling For Soup – “1985”

I was working with Jaret [Reddick] and the guys from Bowling For Soup on a record, and we had had so much fun working on their record before that. Their first record that had this song, “Girl All The Bad Guys Want,” which funnily enough, I had written as a funny tongue-in-cheek ballad one day. I played it for the A&R guy and he flipped out and was like, “Oh my god, can we re-record that as a pop punk song for Bowling For Soup?” And I was like… “sure?” I couldn’t see it fitting into my catalog for my songs in my own artist career, so I went in with them and we cut it and it was a hit.

So, when we went in to make the next record, the follow-up record, I just love those guys, and I love being in the room with them because we always had the most fun. Jaret and I always had the most fun writing songs together because it was like the funnier, the better, the goofier, the wittier, the better. So we’d gotten down to the point where my manager had heard this song by SR-71, which ironically, I had co-wrote their first and only hit off of their first album called “Right Now.”

So I co-wrote that, and that was one of the first things that I ever did that got me recognition outside of my alternative band that was touring on the same festivals that they were playing. So my manager sent me this track, which was a Japan-only release of a record that SR-71 did, and this song was buried on that release, and the song was called “1985.” The lyrics were a little different and my manager asked, “What do you think about this for Bowling For Soup?” and I said, “I think this could be great.”

So Jaret and I went in and we re-wrote some of the lyrics for it, and then we re-recorded it completely and did a version that would be very Bowling For Soup, and it blew up. It was really cool for them, I was very excited and felt like there was some cool justice for this bunch of beer-drinking, punk rock kids from Dallas, Texas.

Ed. note: Catch Butch Walker on tour this fall; tickets are available via Ticketmaster.

Behind the Boards with Butch Walker: Producer Talks Taylor Swift, Weezer, Green Day and More
Paolo Ragusa

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