MEB staffer Rebecca Kravetz recently caught up with vocalist Jason Butler of the post-hardcore group letlive. They discussed the meanings behind the band’s newest album The Blackest Beautiful, the process of coming up with album artwork, and the “shenanigans” the have occurred on the Vans Warped Tour, to which they owe $10,000.
MEB: What is it like playing Warped Tour for the first time? Is it what you expected it would be like?
Jason Butler: Actually it far surpasses anything we expected. We did in fact anticipate to have a good time as we usually do on any tour, but something about this tour is, it sounds silly, it could just be like maybe slight naivety that exists in my young self still, but it’s enchanted. It’s crazy to be able to play something that you used to observe from afar as a patron and now we’re very much involved in the performance aspect as an act and it’s pretty incredible.
You recently released your new album The Blackest Beautiful this past July. How do you think it is being received?
Is it arrogant to say well? I feel like it’s been received pretty well. I also feel like there’s been some reception from people that don’t quite understand our sonic approach, but I’m okay with that. I think that there’s always going to be something about records or about art that you create that people don’t understand at first and perhaps it takes time, or perhaps they’ll never agree and that’s quite all right. I think that’s what art is. It’s all up to perception and most of the reception we have received positively has been overwhelming and we really do appreciate it.
Does the album have any sort of theme or collective meaning?
For the most part, what letlive has become is a band and what I have become is an observer of this world – a lot of sterilization and prosaic approach in almost everything. I feel like we’re out here trying to make sure that everything is safe and it’s not even so much safe for us as a people, but more so safe for – this sounds a little conspiracy-like – but safe for the powers that be and things that will benefit everyone except for those that are being provided the solace. For me, this record is a way to be candid and be very, almost crass, and abrasive in an approach where honesty is being veiled and people are being bated and muted in all senses, both emotionally and societal-ly. In a nutshell, the theme is homogenization. That’s why the whole white flags and the tie around the neck and the photography within it and also the literature within it all cover that theme.
How is The Blackest Beautiful different from your previous albums?
For me, personally it’s different because I was more so a third party in the last album. I was observing and I was watching and I was recalling things that I’ve seen and giving my take but not really including myself in the problems that I was contemptful towards. Now that I’ve done all my lamenting and I’ve told everyone how upset I am about everything, personally as the guy who writes the lyrics, I’ve included myself in the scenarios and understood that I might be very much part of the problem that I was so adamantly, diametrically opposed to. I need to start looking at myself, opening myself up and becoming even more candid than I was in my last record. Not to mention sonically as a band, we realized that there are elements to other music that we still very much enjoy [and] want to integrate in our sound as letlive, so we tried to do it as tastefully as we could.
You are playing two songs off your new album at Warped Tour, “Banshee” and “27 Club.” What is it like playing these new songs for the first time live? Have you noticed any fans picking up the lyrics?
Yeah, it’s enlivening because of that, because of the fans that pick up the lyrics. For us, first level on stage, we’re here and we’re enjoying it because it’s a new song and we get to play it and so it’s fresh for us. Seeing people understand what it is that we’re doing still and involving themselves in such a way where they want to learn what we’re talking about, sing the lyrics back and dance, and move and be a part of it, is nothing short of incredible.
You released a music video for your song “Banshee” on June 4. What was it like filming this video? Can you tell me a little about it?
It was very exciting because we believe that the visual component to music is quite stimulating in ways that you’d never see or be able to create in your own mind when you’re just listening to a song. Having a visual companion always helps out because it adds that sort of element that you might have had in your head but you couldn’t quite picture or conceptualize. That was really good for us and we want to do it as much as we can. I’m not sure how many videos we will make, but we’d like to make a lot for this record. Also it was fun. In true letlive fashion, we ended up breaking something on set which cost us some money, but I guess that was all part of what it is to be the band we are, still being as true to the moment as we can even when filming a music video.
How did you decide on the artwork for The Blackest Beautiful?
We all got together at a coffee shop on Sunset in Los Angeles, California. It’s a very – how do I put this – hip place. One of our favorite photographers lives in the area so we decided to meet up at this coffee spot called the Intelligentsia to hone in on all of our artistic values and our artistic sense of selves. That was a joke. I’m just kidding. That’s not why we went there. But we did meet there and we discussed what we wanted. Like what I told you about the theme earlier is basically what we laid out to our friend Jonathan Weiner who took all the photos and did all the artwork for the album. He’s one of our favorite photographers ever and we work with him as often as we can. We talked to him about what we wanted and how we wanted to do it and the first thing we said to him was, “At some point we want to be naked in our album.” And he looked at us and said, “alright.” Him not being taken aback, him not being surprised or thrown off by it was the perfect response. We were able to sort of provocatively yet tastefully incorporate all the elements and ideas we wanted with Jonathan when making the artwork. Again, we wanted to be visually shocking – no, striking. Not shocking. Shock value, I’m done with that shit. But being striking and sort of eliciting a feeling just by looking at a photo is a really big deal to us.
Have there been any interesting, funny or memorable situations that have occurred so far on tour? Any good stories?
Yeah, we owe about $10,000 to the Warped Tour because our tent caught wind and flew away and smashed into a bus. So that’s kind of funny in a really-not-funny financial way. Other than that, I think every night something happens. We’re a bunch of friends, we grew up together, we all play music together, so every night there’s something that we enjoy. I think in the letlive world you don’t quite understand it unless you’re right there so me telling the story wouldn’t be funny, but once you’re there with us, you get it. We try to be as accessible as possible so if you want to come hang out tonight, you can possibly catch some of the shenanigans that would be, not dangerous, but pretty fun.
What do you have planned for after Warped Tour?
I’m going to go to Hawaii. And then after that, we’re going to do a UK/Europe mainland headliner and then return stateside to do another tour where we will be direct support to a really good punk rock-type band.
Is there anything you’d like to add or say to your fans?
Yeah, just thank you. It’s an overused and exhausted couple of words, but thank you, just people who give a shit about what we’re doing is far beyond anything that I’ve ever expected. The fact that you sat here and thought about questions and took the time to take up storage space on your iPhone to talk to me is incredible. Anyone reading, just thank you guys and we’ll continue to deliver as long as you guys continue to be there with us. It’s sort of a holistic thing so thank you guys.