The Butchers sharpen their rock ‘n’ roll edge
September 26, 2007
Eighteen months ago, Trenton Allen, Josh Griggs, Jeremy Gould and Tim McMahon were a bunch of musicians not even looking for an identity. They were just looking to play. When Allen would host his weekly open-mike nights at Club Chelsea, the other three would jump onstage – even when it meant, as it often did, playing cover songs that they didn’t know, behind a singer they had just met.”We’d butcher our way through them,” said Gould, who would juggle chores – as a bouncer, and as the open-mike drummer – at Club Chelsea. “They’d ask us to play a song like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and we’d say, sure, we can probably figure it out.”That approach earned the group a name – the Butchers. But it didn’t lead to any identifiable sound, or even a stylistic destination. The band played covers ranging from hard rock (Hendrix and Led Zeppelin) to New Orleans funk (the Meters) to blues. About the only thing that united the repertoire was that it was all songs they had known from previous bands.”You know how it is when you get together as a band – you list anything you can all get through,” said Griggs, the band’s lead guitarist. “But over time you evolve into wanting to do something your own way.”
The Butchers have moved beyond merely desiring a sound to call their own. Sometime in the past few months, they turned a corner from a cover band with a mixed bag of familiar tunes to a group with a batch of songs nobody knew but that bore a unifying vision. If there’s a word that’s central to that vision, one that gets repeated when the quartet talks about their music, it’s power.”I like to think we put out a lot of power together,” said Griggs. “We’re not a jam band, plinking our way through the song. It’s a big, raunchy, rock ‘n’ roll sound.”There has been a casualty of the change in direction. Keyboardist Keith Ball, a skilled musician with classical training, amicably parted ways with the band to pursue a different path. But the remaining members are devout in their aim to play their own songs.”Right from the beginning, we tried to phase out the covers and start to do originals,” said Griggs, adding that the band went so far as to change their instrumental gear to alter their sound. “That’s where it’s at – if you do your own stuff, and put your heart into it, it’ll come out good. Instead of being lazy and following what someone else has done. Music is an expression; you want people to enjoy something new, not just remind them of something they’ve heard before.””I can play a Jimi Hendrix song,” said Allen, the band’s lead singer. “But that’s not my song. That’s not what I’m feeling.”The band takes at least one novel approach to its performances. There are groups, especially in the jam-band realm, that shun set lists, allowing the show to develop according to the moment. Other bands meticulously plan the evening’s sequence. The Butchers do both: Nights with no set list lean toward the jamming end of things; other shows are drum-tight.
The band hasn’t forsaken cover tunes completely, but it takes an approach to playing them that is similar to the way they structure their sets. A take on the Beatles’ “Come Together” is heavy and raunchy, a departure from the original. Their version of “The Ocean,” however, has much in common with Led Zeppelin’s, aside from the drum solo that Gould throws in the middle.How this formula plays in the valley, they aren’t sure. The early going has been promising; there are fans who haven’t missed a show, and who sing along with the original lyrics. On the other hand, they understand that there isn’t a huge demand for original music from a Roaring Fork Valley band, and there are only so many venues and so many gigs. Can they make it here without compromise?”No,” said Griggs. “Not unless you’re willing to play a lot of weddings for a lot of money, which are soulless, no fun. You’re background noise, and you’re saying, ‘Why am I here?’ We’re going in a different direction than that.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org