Instead of Waiting for Compromise, Butch Walker Changed the Rules of Music
At 45, Butch Walker is still the best kept secret in music. He is somehow both a story of overwhelming success and an integral character in the ongoing fight of the underdogs. Most of all though, he is a story about having heart and believing in himself.
Walker tasted success in the late '90s when his band Marvelous 3 blew up the radio with their smash hit, 'Freak of the Week.' With the victory came all the glitz and glitter of fame. The venues got bigger, the van morphed into a bus and the band was rung through a late night television tour. Then, like most radio hits, 'Freak of the Week' became yesterday’s news. The venues became smaller, the bus shifted back into a van and the label stopped supporting the band.
And it seemed just like that, Marvelous 3 were finished. They would release one last album with zero label push and play their last show in Olympic Park in Atlanta, Ga., just three short years after being on top of the world.
Despite the sting of being deemed a replaceable part in the big machine of music, Walker would stick around the industry and would go on to prove everyone wrong by completely changing the rules of the game.
It wasn’t as if Walker didn’t understand how to write a hit single. He obviously did. He’d done it before.
It simply didn’t appeal to him as a musician.
Therefore, Walker opted to lend his songwriting abilities to other artists, trading hits for the financial means to fuel an unpressured solo career. Through 2004, Walker had his hands in the songwriting of huge hits, like Bowling for Soup's 'Girls All the Bad Guys Want,' SR71's 'Right Now' and Avril Lavigne's 'My Happy Ending.' He also found himself behind the soundboards for Simple Plan, Sevendust and Midtown. His success would catch the attention of Rolling Stone magazine, who named him 'Producer of the Year' in 2005. Walker’s production career then caught fire, with artists like Taylor Swift, Pink, Fall Out Boy, Weezer and Dashboard Confessional letting him polish their records, rocketing him to become one of the most sought out producers in the industry.
At the same time, Walker would find a freedom in songwriting like he’d never experienced. Without the pressure of solely providing a radio hit to fund his career, Walker’s personal songwriting would excel. It was like he had been given a free pass to select whatever songs he wanted based on nothing more than his own passion to record them.
For the first time in his career, he was legitimately an artist without bounds.
'Lettters' (2004), a far departure from the Marvelous 3, would reveal a personal and sensitive side of Walker that had only been glimpsed in the past. Tracks like 'Mixtape,' 'Joan,' and 'Maybe It’s Just Me' carried the bulk of the emotional weight and opened the door for 'The Rise and Fall Of ... Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites' (2006), a more polished and indie presentation of Walker.
With the ability to dive into the day-to-day heartaches of his life, Walker’s music approached an honesty and vulnerability that was -- and is -- simply unteachable. No longer hidden behind tongue-in-cheek puns and clever one liners, Walker’s career flourished, shifting from Sum 41 comparisons to Bruce Springsteen references.
His albums discussed breakups, cancer, death and growth. 'Sycamore Meadows' (2008) would reflect heavily on personal life, such as Walker’s house burning down. 'I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart' (2010) and 'The Spade' (2011) would follow suit, with Walker almost mocking the industry with his single 'Synthesizers.' His lyrics reflect his approach to his career as he cries, “For once / Just once in your life / Won't you do what feels right / Instead of waiting for the next big compromise.”
... and compromise he didn’t. Hi unwillingness to waver from his own values made all the difference and changed everything we knew or believed about Walker -- and music.
Feb. 3 will bring with it the eighth album from Walker, 'Afraid of Ghosts.' The record takes a heavy, alt-country turn, influenced significantly by his time with friend Ryan Adams (who also produced the disc).
Who knows what the future holds for Walker, but we know we can't wait to see what other tricks he has up his sleeve.
Butch Walker's Official Music Video for 'Bed On Fire'