When I first started the Peenko blog, I never set out to predominantly focus on Scottish music, it was just something that I found myself getting drawn more and more into as I kept finding a wealth of great music in my own backyard. Butcher Boy were a prime example of a band that made me want to find out more about the Scottish music scene. At the time I remember heralding their last album, ‘React Or Die’, as being the new ‘Tigermilk’. Upon reflection I think I might have been a slightly over zealous with my praise, however, it is a great fucking album that’s worth hunting out if you haven’t already heard it.
Not being ones known to play conventional gigs, I didn’t actually manage to catch the band live until December of last year when they supported Belle & Sebastian at the last of their sold out Barrowland shows in Glasgow. Having waited a good long while to see them, they didn’t disappoint. Now with a new album due out later in the year I managed to grab a few words with their lead singer John to ask him about playing in ice cream parlours and what’s in store for Butcher Boy in 2011…
Would You Care To Introduce Yourself?
Hello Lloyd, my name is John Blain Hunt and I am the singer and guitarist with Butcher Boy. The rest of the band are – Basil Pieroni on lead guitar, Alison Eales on keys, Findlay Mackinnon on drums, Maya Burman-Roy on cello, Robert Spark and Fraser Ford on bass and guitars, Helena Flint on viola and Cat Robertson on violin.
How would you describe the music you make?
I hope it is kind and generous and has heart!
How did you start out making music?
When I was 19 I was out of work and I had no prospect of work… and in the absence of anything to do I taught myself to play guitar. I’d always loved pop music but I never considered myself to have any great aptitude for playing or understanding it… and I still don’t, really… but I really loved the process of writing – and my only ambition, once I could play, was to write for myself. I can play about five songs other than my own!
What process goes into the way you write songs?
I’ll generally sketch out the song – that’s the really easy part, the chords and the vocal melody. A second melody will generally come alongside it – usually a cello line, or the bass line. We’ll then flesh these sketches it out as a band… it really takes life when we work on it with Findlay, our drummer… and then, almost always last, I’ll finish off the vocal and the lyrics. I might have had a phrase or a chorus in mind, but the words are what colours the whole piece.
Who are your big musical influences?
There are hundreds of records I love – a tonne of things you’d expect from listening to indie records in the 1980s and 1990s, The Smiths, Tindersticks, Belle and Sebastian, Sebadoh, Felt, The Go Betweens… but as I get older I tend to look back more to the records I listened to when I was really young, pop records from the early 1980s. I find them really mysterious and magical. Having said that, the most enduring influence – and certainly the person I’ve cribbed the most from! – is Vince Guaraldi. Very little makes me happier than listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
What kind of influence do you feel that where you come from has had on the music you create?
Musically, I don’t think geography has too much to do with it – there’s maybe a Scottish chord change or two in there, and perhaps a folksy phrase, but if there is much more than that it’s not intentional! Lyrically though I’d say there is a more pronounced influence… a lot of my favourite writers are Scottish, people like Edwin Morgan and Don Paterson, and I admire the way they can invoke an implicit Scottishness without it being offensive or cloying. Those writers, and the film maker Bill Douglas, resonate with me a great deal more than much in the way of Scottish music.
Having previously played in ice cream parlours, bowling clubs and libraries, do you prefer to avoid playing more conventional gigs?
I think it’s a lot more fun! As musicians we’re unfortunate, in some ways, to all have day jobs – it doesn’t really allow us to tour to any great extent. However, on the other hand, it means we can try things we perhaps wouldn’t want to if we were running the band as a commercial operation!
Your previous albums have come out through with ‘How Does It Feel To Be Loved?’, how did you hook up with them originally? Will you be releasing your new album ‘Helping Hands’ with them too?
I knew Ian Watson through the clubs I used to run in Glasgow. Ian had come up to DJ a couple of times and I’d DJed for Ian too. When we recorded our first demo I sent a copy to Ian – I’ve always respected Ian’s opinions on music – and, at best, I’d hoped he might play a song at his club. As it turned out, Ian was planning a label, and he offered to put a record out for us. The first album went down fairly well and so we did a second but, as we approached a third Ian said that while he would put it out for us we’d perhaps be better advised to see if any other labels would take us on as his resources were getting stretched. I was sad about it but we were fortunate enough to be picked up by another London label called Damaged Goods. And so Helping Hands will be coming out through Damaged Goods in July. I’m really looking forward to working with them.
A couple of years ago you performed an original live score to Enrico Cocozza’s Chick’s Day at the GFT, how did that come about and do you have any plans to do anything like that again in the future?
I’ve got a checklist of places I want to play in Glasgow and the GFT had been high on that list! We wouldn’t have got anywhere by approaching them and just suggesting a show – and so we hatched this plan to perform a live score to a silent film! I’d seen Chick’s Day a few years before and had been floored by it – it was shocking and brutal but also very tender, and incredibly well made – and it felt perfect for us. A lot of the themes in it chimed with a lot of what we’d write about. We explained what we wanted to do and the GFT were very supportive of it… and so we worked on a score for the film – which came out at around 25 minutes of new songs. At the time, I loved the idea of it being absolutely of the moment – we wouldn’t record the event, and that the only way you’d experience it, or even hear the songs would’ve been to be there – but I softened after about a day! I was so proud of it – and, in the end, we’ve adapted parts of the score for our new record, and have used one of the pieces to close the album.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?
In the immediate term I’m finishing the sleeve for the album! We’re going to release a song called Imperial as a single, with a new b-side called Juicy Fruit. All being well, Helping Hands will be out in July. We’ll play the Indietracks festival at the end of that month and, hopefully, we’ll be able to arrange some UK shows around that.
Butcher Boy – I know who you could be
Butcher Boy’s first two albums Profit In Your Poetry and React Or Die are both still available to buy from the bands website. Personally I would suggest you check out React Or Die as it’s a cracking record.