The Black and White Years - Little One
Got this note about family, love and death from Austin’s Scott Butler who I’ve covered a few times with collaborators Landon Thompson and John Aldridge.
This is Scott. I am an adult man who cries a lot, like a widowed duchess in a novel, a two year old in a fabric store, or someone five minutes into the movie Up. It’s not cute.
The work for our upcoming album Strange Figurines began in 2010. I had written a song which I called ‘Newlyweds.’ I demoed it and thought that it would sound better with a female vocalist - which is likely true for everything I demo. I asked my wife Adrienne (we were newlyweds at the time, after all) if she was willing to try singing it.
After 9 years together, it’s easy to feel that your partner cannot surprise you. It’s understandable. Once you’ve farted in front of each other, it’s sort of like ‘Oh, okay. I guess that’s that.’ I had never heard Adrienne’s singing voice. Not in the car, not in the shower, not in our blessedly rare (and strictly seasonal) visits to church - nowhere. Her mother swore Adrienne could sing, but …mothers… am I right? After a few drinks, Adrienne agreed to try, warning me that it would be terrible and not to laugh or be a total dick about it. She went into the bathroom - my very fancy isolation booth (with its very own toilet!) closed the door, and quietly blew my mind.
She didn’t have a great voice in the traditional sense, not like I put on the headphones and Bernadette Peters was in my bathroom. She had a great voice in the sense that it was honest, charming and disarming. Like my favorite Brazilian singers, it was soft and sweet and sounded like communication, not exaggeration or exhortation.
I sent the demo to the band with no explanation of what they would hear. When I got a response it was not the one I expected. Landon said, “Adrienne should be in the band.” It was as un-Yoko a response as one could get. So we did and she is.
For this album, we chose to work with local legend, producer, drummer and all around handsome dude, Danny Reisch. I could write an entire letter to you (which would look exactly like a middle school love letter, replete with hearts and unicorns in the margins) about the experience working with him. I will keep it short and say that he is the most talented person I’ve ever met – and brought out the best in me and the band. I am not an easy personality. I am a control freak, but I am a lazy control freak who throws his hands up at the slightest sign of compromise. Danny was able to navigate the band’s often-treacherous terrain with Sherpa-like poise. The end result is an album which contains easily our best work as a band, and the most finely tuned.
Since we began the process of making Strange Figurines, our little worlds have changed - deaths, births, marriage, major career changes, etc. My older brother, who was also my most constant critic and closest friend, died recently. The first time he saw The Black and White Years playing (our first very glamorous show at a pizza place,) he said, “Keep doing that Talking Heads-y sort of thing. That works for you.” I guess I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing. Months later, we were recording with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads and Modern Lovers. Stephen was the type of guy who saw right through to the heart of things and called them as he saw them, for better or for worse. We never discussed my band much. We seemed to talk about everything other than the band. After he died, my parents found all our albums and stuff in a box in his room. Did he like the band and not want to embarrass me - feel like he was jerking me off? Did he hate it and not want to offend me by criticizing my music the way he did everything else? I’ll never know. But he kept the records; at least that. I miss him. I cry a lot.
The song which I’m including with this letter is called “Little One.” It’s the first single off of our upcoming Strange Figurines – coming out January 21st. It’s about the impossibility of living up to the standards set by our fathers and their fathers. My dad is an engineer who has worked for the same company for over 50 years and raised 5 children. He was in the Army. My grandfather fought in WW2 and worked in a steel mill. I am a weepy adult who writes music, works in retail and has a baffling combination of self-loathing and narcissism. You see where I’m going with this?
I appreciate that you have made it this far into this letter. You win an ending! There are other songs on the album I like better, but this is the one which everyone else seems to like best. I hope you’re one of those. Enjoy!
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