August 1, 2008

Interview: Ryan Solle of Builders and the Butchers

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In terms of my Capitol Hill Block Party recommendations from last week, none was higher than my push for our loyal readers to head towards The Builders and the Butchers’ Saturday afternoon set.  Though, for reasons I’m still trying to piece together I missed the recommended set, I caught The Builders’ impressive live show earlier this year down in Portland, and absolutely couldn’t believe my eyes or ears.  Now, many months and many, many spins of their debut LP later, they’ve quickly elevated to the small group of bands I tenatively deem “favorites”.

Ryan Sollee, lead singer and guitarist for the motley, sometimes-fivesome was nice enough to give some solid answers to a few of my more burning questions on the more literary aspects of the Portland music scene, where the darkness in his music comes from, and oh so much more.

Enjoy.

Ryan Sollee :: Photo by kirstiecat

SOUND ON THE SOUND: First of all, where exactly does the name The Builders and The Butchers come from?

Ryan Sollee: It took us about 6 months to come up with the name, originally the band was called The Funeral Band, but we knew we needed another name. I think it’s this way with most bands, it’s the only name nobody hated. SOTS: How did The Builders and The Butchers come together originally?

RS: My friend Adrienne (Autopilot is for Lovers) and I wanted to start writing darkly themed songs to be played acoustic for people at large gatherings. I think the original idea for the band and what it has become is very different, we had a handfull of songs written and started played one night at the house where the rest of the guys live. From there we practiced for about a month and played our first shows at Halloween house parties and outside a Bob Log III show.

SOTS: How did you decided upon your onstage set-up? I saw you guys at The Willamette Week Best New Band Showcase and was blown away by the usage of two auxiliary percussionists?

RS: Since our first shows we’ve had the two drummers, it wasn’t ever talked about, one day Paul just put the bass drum on its side and there it was. We bought an old field snare for Ray at a thrift store. Other percussion has slowly been added to try to mix things up. I like the idea of two people essentially playing one drum kit.

SOTS: Along those lines, at what point did your “trunk of percussion” come in to existence? What made you want to include the audience as a part of your show? It makes for a fantastic experience, and I wonder if it just happened naturally or if you guys wanted to have a more inclusive show.

RS: The trunk came into existence the first time we hit the road and needed something to put all of our stuff in. Basically for the first year the band played on the floor totally acoustic which was great because we were literally “in” the audience. We’ve always tried to get people involved in shows, which is easy when you’re next to them yelling in their ear. Once we started playing on stages we realized that suddenly we were separating ourselves from the audience and needed a way to get people involved again, so we started picking up toys and things for people to play.

SOTS: The songs on your album seem to be sort of mired in this dark, almost morbid narrative, and I wonder where this focus on the seedier aspects of life stem from?

RS: I’m not sure where the dark themes come from, I think growing up in Alaska has a bit to do with it, in the winter there are days when the sun doesn’t come up and that’s pretty morbid. I’ve always been a fan of story songs and I like old gospel, bluegrass, and blues songs which are often darkly themed. SOTS: Similarly, and this might just be my overactive imagination, but it seems location-wise, your songs are rooted in maybe like a pseudo-Texas, or a Southwest, or some sort of dry, dusty locale. You’re from Portland, and I wonder what draws you to compose songs about such opposing locales.

RS: Again I think that certain settings lend themselves to certain themes and sounds. Given that many of the songs were influenced by music from the south, it would make sense to have them take place there.

SOTS: What are your feelings about this sort of hyper-literary scene popping up in Portland that sort of consists of The Builders and The Butchers, Norfolk and Western, and The Decemberists (to name a few)? And why is it that there seems to be so many bands with such strongly narrative songs?

RS: People always love a good story, that being said I think that the bands that I would call our peers in the Portland music scene write all kinds of songs and it would be wrong to say that the Portland scene is hyper-literal. I do think that there is a scene in Portland of acoustic based bands with non-traditional instrumentation, and if those instruments lend toward more literal narrative songs then that may be the case. Right now I feel great about the Portland music scene, all of my favorite bands are from here.

SOTS: What most inspired you during the creation of this album? Was their actual literary inspirations on the album? RS: When I wrote the songs for this record I was listening to a lot of gospel and blues music with a lot of call and response vocals. I also was working outside a lot so I ended up writing about nature quite a bit. There are some personal songs, “Bringin’ Home the Rain” is about an alcoholic family member. I don’t think there are any “literary inspirations”, however I do think that some of the songs were probably influenced, by a story I read or a movie I saw, just not in any direct way. SOTS: What’s next?

RS: We’ve actually just completed our second record and are currently in the process of finding a label, were hoping to have it out early next year. Between now and then we are going to try to tour as much as possible and write.

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