We spoke with Shane Butler of Olden Yolk and Quilt about the release of a deeply personal single and his work with his many creative outlets.
You just formally released the first track from your split-record with Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood. The track titled "Beige Flowers" comes from unbelievable emotion surrounding the tragic struggle your mother had with mental illness. You sat on this song for a while. What made you finally feel comfortable enough to share it with the world?
Well, when I initially wrote the song, the lyrics were fictional. By the time I was getting ready to release it, the content of the song became a reality. I had absolutely no idea this would happen. At first it was too much for me to consider releasing the song, but the song has been haunting me for the last couple of years. At the time I recorded it it was one of my favorite sounding things I had ever recorded, so I was excited to release it, but it needed time to breathe. Recently, I’ve found myself in a position of writing a lot of material that I want to release solo, so I told myself I can’t release any new music until I put this one out into the public. Luckily, I still like the song sonically. It’s just time it got out there.
All of the proceeds from the release will benefit the organization Bring Change 2 Mind. How did you make this choice and can you tell us a little bit about the organization and what they do?
Finding this specific organization was all grace, I swear. I don’t know how else to depict it. When I was thinking about releasing the song, I decided I wanted to give proceeds to an organization working to bring mental health awareness into the public. Along with this decision, I wrote out some bullet points about why I was going to be releasing a statement about my mother, etc… so that I knew I was clear with myself about what I was doing. My publicist and I then started to look at some organizations we could get in touch with. We found a handful that were great organizations, yet none of them gave me that feeling…you know? That "this is the one" feeling.
Now, along with my music career, I am also a visual artist. One of the small projects I do is make these personalized portraits for people on commission. They are portraits of peoples "personalities" depicted through various objects, places, and people in their lives. Well, one day I was sitting and looking at organizations’ websites to try to decide on an organization to give to and I was having a bit of trouble. I was just thinking to myself “geez I wish I knew more…this one looks great, but it’s not the one” and then all the sudden I saw a little email tab pop up. It was from someone who had ordered a commission from me. In their description of their partner they were getting a portrait made for she said something along the lines of “my partner has been working in mental health with various organizations around the world for most of his life…” When I saw that my mind was a bit blown and I didn’t hesitate at all to act upon it. I wrote to her and asked her to put me in touch with her partner because I knew he was the one I needed to talk to. I told him about the song and the project and he sent me over a list of organizations he thought may be appropriate. When I went to Bring Change 2 Mind’s website and looked at their bullet points in their mission statement it was almost exactly what I had written down when I initially set off working on this project. I took that as a sign. They work primarily with erasing stigmas surrounding mental health issues. This is what I am very interested in working with at the moment.
How did the split-record come together?
Natalie and I have been friends for a while. We’ve always really bonded over our mutual appreciation for both weird folk music and experimental / noise derivative stuff. My friend Britton was running a small label out of Baltimore and he pitched us to do a split-record together. So, we did. We initially were going to do a 12” and have 4 songs each. But, we ended up deciding to just do a split 7” instead since we both had other records coming out around the time. She was finishing up a full length LP and I was finishing up Plaza with Quilt. Actually, one of the songs from our session I ended up turning into a Quilt song: "Eliot St." — there is another version of the song that is a slight bit different and has Natalie singing back ups with me. Maybe I’ll release that one some day. One of the songs from the session also ended up on one of her LP’s — "Bound To Earth" I think is the title of the jam; I play bass on it. There are also a few songs from the session that are yet to be released.
You are one of the founding members of Quilt. How has your time with Quilt impacted your Olden Yolk project?
Well, Quilt has been going on for a long time. We founded that band over 8 years ago. And, for the last 5 years or so Quilt has been my priority. And, I have been happy about that. I didn’t want to spread my energy too thin with that stuff. So, I put solo music on hold for a while. Yet, right now I am very excited to jump back in to doing more solo music. It’s such a different process for me.
Between you and your Olden Yolk project and John Andrews with his Yawns outfit, the Quilt folks seem to be exceptional at forging their own path while still being able to come together to create great stuff. How does the band manage sifting their unique creative out into and also reserving capacity to produce more stuff with Quilt? Is it a therapeutic practice for everyone?
They are very different processes. There is something very special about a band dynamic. Especially when there is true collaboration happening. You can’t substitute that for anything. So, when it is time to do “band” stuff it is time to do “band” stuff. When it is time to do “solo” stuff it is time to do “solo” stuff. I think we all just need to assess where we’re all at at any given moment.
What ways do you create differently with Olden Yolk than with Quilt?
I guess I would say that the approach is a bit more “experimental” at times with Olden Yolk. I have a lot of fun just fucking around and looping stuff and adding a lot of texture and noise to stuff. But, then sometimes it’s similar. Like I’ll just write a song I really like and say “okay, there it is.” I don’t know. I would say in general that I am able to more easily access some of my more dissonant inspirations in a solo project than I am in the group. I have room to be a bit more transgressive at times in certain aspects; which I like. I can be a bit looser. Also, I think the whole "band" thing is much bigger than just music. It is also the art and things that surround a project. I spend a lot of time working on my visual art and I am excited to be able to weave that more into my solo project. Making flyers, drawings, videos, etc…
Like you mentioned earlier, you run a business creating awesome hand-drawn portraits. How did the @portray.me start and how does it impact your creative palette?
Haha. It keeps me drawing! Which is a good thing. I do a bunch of visual art projects along with music. That is just one of the projects I do. It’s been a really good way to keep myself in the practice of drawing though. And, I have been really happy with people’s reaction to them. It seems they are great gifts which makes me happy. It’s been such a personal and intimate project and I love that. I am always happy to be in touch with people about doing them.
What has been inspiring you lately to create new music?
I’ve been really interested in different forms of phrasing recently so listening to a lot of rap and different poets read. I love Robert Ashley so I’ve been revisiting that stuff. I’m still obsessed with Kendrick. Found these old tapes of Judy Grahn reading and some others of young Allen Ginsberg in NYC; his phrasing when he was younger is off the walls. Also, just been keeping up exploring as much new music as possible from a wide array. My girlfriend has been a huge inspiration. She is a fantastic writer & poet and we have been writing to each other a lot which has been a big help for me. She recently turned me on to Tucker Zimmerman which I love. Also, my friend Keegan in Brooklyn has a fucking insane record collection, so I’ve been over to his house a couple of times recently and I just tell him certain vibes I’m interested in and he comes up with these crazy obscure records and lays em on me. Recently Jonathan Halpern was a big fav. I love his insane lyrics about leaving society and just the noises and stuff that fly through the recordings. I am coming upon a series of songs right now I am writing that I am very happy about. Maybe they’ll be out sometime soon.
Are you focusing more on the Olden Yolk project right now or will you shift gears back to writing for a new Quilt album in the near future?
Right now focusing on solo stuff and some visual art projects. Maybe some Quilt soon though. :-)