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Will Butler

May 12/2015
INTERVIEW Kieran Chrysler PHOTOGRAPHY Neil Mota HAIR Vanessa Furino

Most people will recognize Will Butler as the talented multi-instrumentalist and younger Butler member of Arcade Fire, whose charismatic on-stage persona makes him a hit at shows. But with the band’s hugely successful Reflektor tour now behind him, Butler is ready to branch out. This time, he’s going it alone with the release of his debut solo album, Policy – an eclectic eight-track collection influenced by Butler’s American roots. Butler recently talked with Georgie about political commentary in music, the value of reading reviews, and his thoughts on selling out.

G—So what ultimately convinced you to do a solo record?

Will Butler—Arcade Fire was taking a little bit of a breather after the Reflektor tour and the timing felt right after the Oscar nomination [Butler was nominated for Best Original Score for his work on Spike Jonze’s Her]. So I kind of knew I had a window and I had some songs I wanted to put out there.

G—Has Arcade Fire encouraged your solo musical pursuits?

WB—Yeah, and there’s a lot of us doing a lot of creative things all the time. Richard [Parry] is working on classical music lately and Sarah [Neufeld] is doing solo stuff. There’s an element of a community of artists and it feels very exciting to be in that community. Arcade Fire is very aesthetically satisfying work. [Laughs].

G—How much does your writing feel like it’s personal, and how much of it is commentary?

This album is like a book of short stories, so there are a lot of characters. But you’re still working out your own emotions or your own feelings or your own feelings about your feelings in something where you aren’t the main character. And I really care about all the characters, so it feels quite personal.

WB—This album is like a book of short stories, so there are a lot of characters. But you’re still working out your own emotions or your own feelings or your own feelings about your feelings in something where you aren’t the main character. And I really care about all the characters, so it feels quite personal. [Laughs]

G—Policy has some light satirical commentary on capitalism, religion and politics. Do you see yourself making heavier political music as your solo career evolves?

WB—I think so. It’s just what I’m engaged with naturally, so it would be surprising if it didn’t come out in the music. And I love a political song that really engages you emotionally, that’s not just like major punk rock, but that gets really gnarly and complicated – which a lot of punk rock can do. But my goal is to try and write it in a really gnarly way.

G—As an artist, do you think reading reviews is helpful or detrimental when it comes to writing?

WB—The reviews by themselves are not that helpful when it comes to writing if you’re just saying, “What do people think of me?”, but I think it’s part of the larger exercise of being in conversation with the world – of being in conversation with fans and critics, and people who like music who aren’t fans, or haters who are hating. I think there’s value in having a conversation about art.

G—What was the biggest takeaway of your pursuit of this solo album?

Having the responsibility and knowing if you screw up no one’s there to fix it! No, I’m certainly working with a safety net – I’ve got a really good day job I can go back to. But it’s nice to have the final artistic responsibility fall on my shoulders, and have it be on my name.

WB—Having the responsibility and knowing if you screw up no one’s there to fix it! [Laughs]. No, I’m certainly working with a safety net – I’ve got a really good day job I can go back to. But it’s nice to have the final artistic responsibility fall on my shoulders, and have it be on my name.

G—Recently at South by Southwest you sat in on a panel discussion to discuss artists making money off music in the digital economy. What’s your take on the whole “sell-out” phenomenon?

WB—I mean, I’m 32. So I’m an extremely grumpy old man. But what I said is I kind of don’t care about selling out, as long as the art you make when you sell out is good. But the sad thing about selling out is that it enables more people to have careers making bad art. It’s a tricky thing to say.

G—Do you think you will continue releasing solo records in the future?

WB—Yeah, most certainly. We’ll see what the timing is like – it will depend on what Arcade Fire is doing and what the world is doing and all that – but yes, definitely.

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