BUTTERFINGERS The X-Press Interview

With tracks like Yo Mama, Piss On Ya and I Love Work, Butterfingers exploded onto the scene with Breakfast At Fatboys in 2004 and they were that band that you either loved or hated with their pisstake version of hip hop. Fifteen years later, they are touring around Australia with the Perth shows starting in Dunsborough tonight, Badlands tomorrow night and Bar1 in Hillarys on Saturday. KAREN LOWE spoke to ‘Evil’ Eddie Mark Jacobson about the album, Aussie hip hop and auto-tune.

You guys will be heading out on tour again next year to celebrate 15 years of Breakfast at Fatboys. When you first wrote the tracks, did you ever expect that people would react the way they did? And indeed, still love them after 15 years?

No, not really. When the writing process was happening, for half the album anyway, the band wasn’t even together yet so it was just making stuff in my bedroom for friends doing what I thought was cool. Then it changed I guess, when it came to the recording. When we started recording I was like, “this is banging,” like every song was a single it was so good. I felt quite confident after all the stuff was already kinda down. But in the writing process, not really, I was just messing around.

What songs from the album are you looking forward to performing the most?

I’m looking forward to playing Piss On Ya, a lot of people disagree with it but it’s got a female MC in it, and we’ve got Fresh Violet on tour with us. It would be rad to bust that one out. It used to be a real crowd favourite but we couldn’t really play it on tour unless we cut the song in half. So that’s gonna be cool to bring back and Speak Your Mind which has got a kazoo solo in it. We used to do the kazoo back in the day but we haven’t toured with a kazoo for, I can’t remember, a long time. People used to bring their own kazoos to the show and play along with us for that bit.

When the album was first released, was there ever any backlash about any of the songs/lyrics? And has anyone reacted badly about them now in this day and age?

No. Surprisingly we’ve not really had any outrage pointed at us. I don’t know, it’s been fine even though it’s pretty crude some of it. I think people on the whole kinda realise that its all fairly tongue-in-cheek, it’s meant to be super fun.

Have there been times where you have written something and thought, “wow, that’s too much, even for me?”

Yeah. Yeah plenty. I keep most of the stuff that I write unless it’s really, really terrible and then I burn it. There’s heaps of stuff that I would never release and it’s not because I’m a terrible person but I’m good at business and try to censor myself or whatever. It’s more like sometimes you write something and when you read it back, you can honestly say to yourself “I’m not going to say that because I completely disagree with it”. It’s not worthy of release.

Being on tour can be tough on mental health and general well being. How do you guys go with touring and do you have any strategies to keep each others spirits up?

Well we’re a pretty well oiled machine at this point. The strategies are really just logistical kind of things. I just try to make sure that everyone can get enough sleep, late check outs wherever we can get them and trying to make sure we don’t have flights that we don’t have to get up early for. That’s the first thing that’s going to start killing the vibe. If everyone’s really tired then everyone’s gonna get cranky. Really trying not to fly before midday and then when we get to the next venue or airport. We carry all our own backline which sounds annoying but we’ve got it to a tee where it all sits under the baggage allowance so we’re not paying extra. But one of the really annoying parts of touring previously was always having to go from the airport to the backline company and picking up the backline.

It’s just a long and annoying process and then you have to do it all again the morning before you leave and then you’ve gotta do it again the next day when you arrive at the next place. It’s so time consuming so we cut that out and we carry all our own stuff. We try to get a couple of schooners in before any real work starts so we usually hit the venue or somewhere near the venue at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and have a beer.

Aussie hip hop has a unique way of either unifying people or causing all out war as people either tend to absolutely love it or hate it. What drew you to hip hop in the beginning and why do you think that it has such a polarising effect on people?

Hip hop really drew me in because I was previously pretty solidly into metal. Then hip hop came along and it was like, I just found it so refreshing and so surprising. It has the similar teen angst aggression kind of a thing to it like metal does. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good release for people and can save a lot of actual real life violence. I just found it really refreshing, I was fascinated by it. I really like the sound of it and the lyrical skill. Really good rappers are mind blowing when they’re on fire. That was the original draw. I think it can be viewed as aggressive because a lot of it is and, just like metal, it can be misunderstood.

Most of the metal community that I know are really, really gentle, nice people but the music they listen to is absolutely brutal. It’s not really the same with the hip hop community because of the lyrical content regarding crime and stuff like that; some people can tend to glorify that kind of thing and wanna live that kind of a lifestyle. I think in a way the music, and this goes for all music, it becomes identified with a class of people or whatever. I think a lot of people don’t like it initially before even the music part is involved because they can’t identify with the music or want to be involved with people that listen to that kind of music.

Things have probably changed a fair bit now but back in the day you didn’t listen to hip hop unless you’re breaking into cars and doing graffiti and smoking crack. When it comes to the music itself, it might be too bass heavy for some people. Some people like folk acoustic stuff and something with a big swinging bass line is not their jam.

So many hip hop artists seem to turn to auto-tune these days. What are your thoughts on it?

Funny you should ask. Our most recent single has auto tune all over it. It is a rock song with rapping on it which is kind of the first time we’ve done that. Well we’ve dabbled but this is the deepest exploration into that. I’m not against it. I’m not particularly a fan of T-Pain or all the mumble rap. I still think that auto tune itself is a tool to be used for certain things but it can be overused but I decided to use it on our track because I think it just suited the lyrical content. It’s not the traditional type of track that would have auto tune on it but the song is called Bullet To The Head and it’s about being frustrated and being so inundated with communication. Being so connected to the iPhone, and emails, notifications from Facebook, you’re just constantly receiving information and it’s all digital information so it seemed to make relevant sense to me that auto-tune’s on the voice. That’s me being affected by technology.

What bands do you currently have on rotation in your CD player? And are there any bands that you just didn’t get until you saw them live?

I’ve been listening to the new Logic album a little bit, that’s pretty cool. I saw a film clip yesterday for a new track from Mammal and I’d never really been across them before. I realised they existed and not really heard their music. The song I saw, the clip, the song’s call Dead and it was banging. I stumbled on it and it was pretty rocking. I gotta say, I have seen Ezekiel Ox perform solo before and I guess that was the first thing that put them on my radar. His show was him and a loop machine and he was really good – really entertaining stuff.

What was the best advice that you were given when you first started out? And what advice would you give to someone who was starting out now?

I don’t know, I think there’s an Eminem line… it’s not advice but I take it as advice. He’s got this line that says “I make music for me, fuck what you like.” It’s a joke in the track but I really think that you have to have that attitude to write anything good. If you’re trying to please people without pleasing yourself, that’s the important thing – you can do both. You can please yourself and other people but if you’re trying to please other people without pleasing yourself, you’re not going to write quality material.

You have to make sure that you think it’s good. I remember seeing some dance music that I thought was terrible and I was like, I could write this crap. I could write something like this and have a hit. So I sat down and tried to write a dance track that I thought was on par with this cheesy pop dance music that I was listening to. I successfully created the song, used all the elements that are required to write a song in that vein but I couldn’t feel it because I didn’t like it. I couldn’t convince anyone else that it was good because I didn’t think it was good. You have to love it.