Updated: Mar 13
Portland -- Local dance-pop band Butter celebrated the release of its new EP, Nicotine, on Friday night with a live show at the Holocene.
The group, consisting of vocalist and guitarist Aaron Schmidt, bassist Thomas Shipley and drummer Jarrett Tracy, says that it’s been experimenting a lot with its sound in the year leading up to the release of Nicotine.
While the band’s always enjoyed a groovier, dance-funk sound, the new songs are decidedly poppier, with heavy synth sounds, hip-hop and R&B beats, and auto-tuned vocals.
“We started playing around with the production stuff and noticing that some of (the songs) would fit more in that pop sound than others and we kinda wanted to chase that down,” Schmidt said of the new releases after the show.
“It started off not really intentional but became very intentional,” Tracy added. “We started off not really sure what we were going to record but knew we needed to release some new songs.”
The experimentation ended up being an interesting push-pull between discovering a new sound for the band and that sound pushing the members to incorporate it in the live show. Because, the band says, the first rule of their group is, “No computers onstage.”
Butter endeavors to make the live performance authentic, not relying on computers or back-tracks to play the rhythms and other parts of the songs.
“We wanted to add some production aesthetics and do some playing with elements that we knew we couldn’t do live but that could really add to the recording,” Schmidt said. “But we try our damndest to make the live show as live as possible.”
This pushed the band to find ways to incorporate those sounds into the live show, and Butter recently added an auto-tune pedal and electronic drum samples that can still be performed live to add the poppier sounds off the tracks, rather than leaving those songs off of the setlist entirely or having them sound more rock than pop.
The band says it came from diligently working on the live show, really making it more “planned out, intentional and professional.”
The new EP, then, is a “new kind of business card for our band,” Tracy said.
The show at the Holocene, a Portland venue just across the river from downtown, was an early one with a 6:30 pm start time. Schmidt joked when the band first went on that, “We aren’t used to playing with the sun still out.”
They were supported by Portland hard rock band Pulp Romance, a heavier act that still managed to fit in with the grooving sentimentality of the night. Comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Jonah Poole, Kevin Pryles on bass, Ian Kelley on drums and Nate Martin on lead guitar, Pulp Romance warmed the crowd up with a setlist of psychedelic rock and bluesy guitar solos.
Pulp Romance wasn’t originally tapped to be Butter’s supporting act, however. The show was supposed to be opened by Portland R&B/Soul act Adebisi, but the group had to cancel due to legal issues stemming from an altercation with a Trump supporter in downtown Portland several weeks ago.
Two members of the band, vocalist Adebisi Okuneye and drummer Leopold Hauser, were arrested for allegedly assaulting a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat outside of Growler’s Taproom on Aug. 24. The case made national headlines as some media outlets framed the whole thing around a left-versus-right narrative that comes out of a city like Portland, which frequently sees clashes between Antifa and anarchists in the streets.
However, as details emerged in court documents, the case was revealed to be less cut-and-dry than initial reports showed. Video emerged appearing to show the victim, Luke Lenzner, picking fights with patrons at another nearby bar before the incident, and Okuneye and Hauser’s account alleged that Lenzner put hands on Okuneye first.
A Multnomah County grand jury last week dropped the indictment of Okuneye and Hauser, citing a lack of clarity in the victim's account of what led to the alleged assault.
Even though Adebisi was absent from the show at the Holocene, Butter took a moment during the setlist to say how pleased they were that the fellow Portland musicians’ case was settled.
The shadow of all of that unfortunate legal business didn’t loom large over the show at the Holocene, however, as Butter played the entirety of the new EP, accompanied by guest guitarist Shawn Thornhill (of fellow Portland pop-rock band DoublePlusGood).
The title track, “Nicotine,” is an escapist summer jam about being at an uncomfortable party or social function and “stepping outside for a cigarette being the only thing that can save your life right then,” Schmidt said cheekily while he introduced the song.
“Freakout,” probably the danciest song on the new record, is about the elation of finding self-confidence. “Round + Round,” the first track the band recorded for the EP, features a chorus that’s perfect for an anthemic singalong moment during the show.
Butter also performed the song “Paradise” with Mal London, a Portland hip-hop artist whom the group frequently plays with live as a backing band. They released the song as a joint single earlier this year.
The band's set was concluded with a cover of “Umbrella” by Rihanna and the crowd was denied an encore performance due to a firm curfew at the Holocene on Friday night because of an event happening right after the show concluded.
Butter plans to have a full-length album to release in the future, saying that the group had close to 15 songs to play around with before even starting on the recording of Nicotine. For now, though, they are happily celebrating the positive reception of the new songs.
“It’s a relief to have it out and done,” drummer Tracy said. “We were stressing about it for a while and it’s been very much a labor of love. But it was really positive to have it received like that live.”
Butter’s new EP, Nicotine, is available for purchase now and can be streamed online here.
More images from the show:
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