Guitarist and Songwriter Shane Butler Unweaves the Music of Quilt
The loosely defined "Eastern" elements in your sound aren't just a matter of listening to George Harrison cuts on Beatles records. The band has deeper connection to those traditions. Can you talk about your affinity for those sounds and themes?
I have always loved Kirtan, Bhajans, Hymnals, and traditional instruments from many cultures / countries. Whether it be Celtic, Indian, Indonesian, Appalachian, or some divinely drunk man on the street singing his own form of urban traditionalism. I spend a lot of time with religious / traditional music of all cultures -- a lot of approaches, scales, instruments, and lyrics used in "traditional" musics continually offer me a pleasant spring of inspiration to drink of.
Harmonies are still a big part of what Quilt does, both on records and live. How do you think your singing together has changed over time?
It has changed and will continue to change. I personally have been spending a lot of time looking at group singing from all different places recently; both in rock music and outside of that tradition. I love shape-note / Baptist hymnal music from the Southern United States -- some of the harmonies used in those songs are insane. And some folk songs from Indonesia have been really inspiring recently in terms of harmonies / group singing. I guess we just keep singing together, learning more about singing, and then making new songs splicing what we learn and what we soak in and what we will be. There's no real answer to this. We sing together, and then we sing apart, and then together again. It was different on the first record, it was different on Held in Splendor, it will be different on the next record -- but there are a lot of similarities as well. It's really nice being in a band that all sings together -- it brings us together emotionally and sonically in a different way than if we weren't to do that.
The core trio of Quilt all write songs. How do you make that work? Have you ever strongly disagreed about the direction of a song or about a song itself? If so, how do you resolve those tensions?
It's always a different process. We aren't a very "tense" group of people. Sometimes there are more compromises and considerations than at other times; but with every song it's always a different process. It's really great having three talented songwriters -- I think it adds quite a lot to our compositions. Sometimes one person will write the core of a song and lyrics and we'll flesh it out, sometimes we'll improvise all together and write all the lyrics together to create a song, sometimes we'll talk about something and then try it out, sometimes a song just appears to one of us and we show it without any adjustments needing to be made.
You do a fair amount of looping with your guitar parts. Can you talk about the challenges of doing that? And maybe the unexpected advantages?
Well, at this point I mostly use loops as drones / textures underneath rhythmic guitar parts that I will play live. I am really into the work of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Tirath Singh Nirmala and a lot of other drone-based experimental composers...I like to create panning textures underneath guitar based songs when possible. It's challenging in a fun way; because it gives me a whole other level to work with when thinking about both our recorded songs and then creating those textures live.
How hard is it for you to capture some of the spirit of the album in the live show? Or is it harder going the other way around?
I really like our albums, and I really like our live shows. I think they are different in their own ways; yet the songs always remain intact. We write our songs these days so we will be able to play them all live; and when we play them live we get to improvise on them and flesh them out in ways we never thought possible when recording the album. I think a lot about that whole de Kooning idea of the painting really never being "finished." When the song is put into a recorded format it becomes "that recording" of the song -- but the song, even after being recorded continues to grow through every playing of it and through every listen. Spirit is there in both things.
What band do love that you think other people should love but maybe don't know? And why?
Soft Healer -- they are an incredible band from Austin, Texas, now living partly in Ithaca, New York and everyone should know about them. Why? Because they rip.
You've been on tour in Europe for over a month. How would you describe the difference between "old world" and "new world" audiences?
Well, sometimes in Europe one encore is not enough, and they keep chanting for more -- so then we need to make up songs on the spot or play the same songs we already played again. That hasn't happened in America...yet.