The Shutdown and The Re-Up: A Profile of Butch Walker

The Shutdown and The Re-Up: A Profile of Butch Walker

Madison Tovey, Writer, Editor-in-Chief

I leave Writers Workshop with the task of finding someone to interview. I figure I’ll interview my manager, maybe a teacher. But I remember my teacher saying that the worst thing someone could say to an interview was no, so you may as well aim high. I tell this to my mom, and she immediately gets the idea to interview Butch Walker: musician, producer, and Cartersville High School alum, class of 1988.

Being the fans that they are, both of my parents made sure I grew up with an appreciation for his music. So, I message him. To my surprise, he responds within 20 minutes. Though he currently lives in Tennessee, he’s in town visiting his mom here in Cartersville and says he’s happy to do an interview. While I appreciate the promptness, I now have to write all of my questions in one night. Luckily, I have the help of my family, who basically have his whole discography tattooed on the back of their eyelids.

Fast forward about 24 hours: the sound of the AC in my mom’s car is the only other sound I hear besides my own voice, giving myself a pep talk. I am definitely shaking with nerves and anticipation. I sit in the car for a few minutes so that I walk in at the right time. The right time being early but not be so early that it’s weird. I am about to interview the man who has worked with, like, every band I’ve listened to ever. But you know, no pressure.

As I walk into the coffee shop, he’s standing in line.  I am intimidated for a number of reasons. For one, I was just listening to an All Time Low song he produced, so I have, in the back of my mind, all of the projects he’s worked on. Like what he’s done as a musician, Marvelous 3, or what he’s accomplished as a writer and producer, some Green Day, All Time Low, and Avril Lavigne. Then I take in his height, which is tall even from my 5’9” perspective. Something redeeming though is he’s laid back enough to be wearing plain black vans, so I realize he’s, you know, a normal person. I do a little breathing, and I clear my head of all the other stuff.

We exchange a handshake, and he buys my coffee… the cup is totally not still sitting on my desk at home. I manage to calm down enough to get to my page of questions inside my notebook. Conveniently, my first question also counts as small talk. “So, I’ve looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find out. Did you go to Cartersville High or Cass High?” To which I found out Walker attended Cartersville High School for his junior and senior years and Cass High School for his former years. We’ll have to forgive him for that.

Now, in an age where you can randomly become famous overnight, I wonder, “What advice would you give to students at Cartersville High, who maybe feel the tension of being in a small town, that are wanting to pursue music?”

“Well, you have to be tenacious, but you have to have patience…because nothing really happens overnight.” he advises, “Stick it out, but put in the work and make sure that you focus on the things that will give you longevity instead of a quick rise to the top because the fall is just as fast.”

With COVID-19 pausing all of our plans, a lot of us fell in 2020. Between not being able to tour and losing inspiration, musicians fell the hardest. For those of us who spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic, watching whatever was in Netflix’s top ten at the time, we assume every artist out there hit a creative gold mine during their time inside. But I want to know, “Do you think that with COVID, it was easier to find inspiration, or did you find it more difficult to be inspired?”

“Well, I think for a lot of people, they were inspired and got creative, and then some people shut down. And I think sadly, I kind of shut down…For me, I kind of just hit a wall because I was so bummed cause I had an album that I was coming out with, which was this total rock opera, which was called American Love Story, that was this story of growing up in the south, you know coming from bigotry and racism [and rejecting that mindset].” He continued, “It was hard to put that out there [American Love Story], you know I sat on it for two years, got it on my schedule to come out for the spring of 2020, planned before the pandemic hit and that all kind of got thwarted, you know, everybody got shut down—touring, so I couldn’t tour on it, I couldn’t play shows on it, I just had to make the decision to release it without playing it… that’s tough… but it had to come out.”

Walker, just a week shy of our interview, played his first show back since the pandemic. I thought back to my anxiety about going back to school and wondered, “With doing one of your first shows back, do you think you felt a similar anxiety as to when you first started playing altogether? Or do you think you were just excited to be back?”

“I was more excited than nervous, I think because I was mainly nervous about the breathing thing [from getting COVID-19 one month before the show] …but I was really excited cause I’ve been a performer most of my life, if that gets taken away from me like it had in the last two years due to the pandemic and things like that, it really makes you appreciate doing it again. I was just extremely giddy and very happy to be on stage again and connecting with an audience.”

The pandemic was not all bad, though. I commented, “I think a lot of people needed that break, if not just for your own sanity… I mean, for a solid two months, we all just stayed inside and watched Tiger King.”

He laughed and responded, “This is very true. And the escape was real; everyone needed it. And I felt good having the rest of that time off cause I got to spend a lot of time with my family, lol which is something I kind of missed because I missed a lot of time touring while my son was growing up. The time at home, it felt good during a bad time to be at home watching movies every night with my son and talking about life… and just having the best time, cooking every night. It was very normal… and I’ve lived a very not-normal life. So, it was welcome, and I enjoyed it.”

After he answers, I’m reminded of who he is, and I ask,” With all the people you’ve worked with, do you ever find yourself getting star stuck?”

“Oh yeah definitely.” he answered, “I met Elvis Costello, who’s a singer, who obviously meant something to me; I mean I got a tattoo of him on my arm 20 years ago… maybe even 25.” he continued, “I ran into him on an elevator one time, at this hotel in Hollywood called the Chateau Marmont, and it was about midnight, and he got on the elevator with me, so it was just he and I. And of course, I made him very uncomfortable [laughs]. I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ Cause, you know, I’m not cool when I meet people, I can’t do that, I have my heart on my sleeve immediately. And so, I was like, ‘You changed my life!’ And of course, he’s English and has a kind of gruff demeanor, so he’s like aggressively trying to get off the elevator like, ‘Yeah that’s nice, that’s nice,’ and I was like ‘Call me!’”

I near the end of my questions and get ready to say goodbye. Now, in case some of you forgot the high-school-student bit of this article, I can’t drive. So, my mom comes back from her quick trip down the road to Hobby Lobby to pick me up and walks in right as I get my last answer. It has to be that weird mom sixth-sense thing, I think to myself. She manages to keep her cool during our farewells, and we walk out and enter the calm of my mom’s car. I now realize I blacked out for part of the interview. Hopefully, the details come back in time.

From the chaos of canceled…well, everything, to the mundanity of cooking in the kitchen, 2020 was hard. Though we aren’t exactly out of the woods yet, I think sharing moments where we can look back on 2020 with rose-colored glasses proves we’re on the road to recovery.