Atlanta’s own Butch Walker has always been one of those rock-stars, who gives it his all. Whether putting on crowd pleasing performances, producing hit radio records for himself and others, or giving to charity, including performances at 2007 and 2008’s 500 Songs for Kids benefit; Walker can be counted on to show up. However last month, Butch Walker fans received some very unfortunate news when the rocker announced the cancellation of his One Man Band tour, except for scheduled Atlanta dates. He admits it was not a decision that came lightly.
“I think it pissed a lot of people off,” says Walker. “But it was either going to be them or me. Canceling the tour was a very hard thing to do, but we did decide to cancel and wait until fall. I’ve always tried to put fans first, and instead of being selfless I had to be selfish. It was tough.”
Like most performers, Walker’s tour was supposed to be based around the release of his new album Sycamore Meadows.
“It’s hard to know if a record is going to go smoothly or not,” says Walker. “I was happy with about half of it and I didn’t want the tour to compromise the record.”
Sycamore Meadows is not just another Butch Walker album; it is the first since a devastating wild fire claimed Walker’s California home like many other Malibu residents last fall. The title of the album is named after the street where Walker’s house was located. Although Walker says he is planning to return to the studio August 1 to put the finishing touches on the album, this is not a project he is approaching lightly.
“The fire took most of the stuff I had been working on for [the new album],” explains Walker. “It’s crazy when a thing like this happens to you. You’re taken back and you look at things differently. I had way too many clothes and things that didn’t matter. Some of it was just stuff, but some was memories, family heirlooms, master recordings, and guitars, including the first one I learned to play on when I was eight. But no one died and no one got hurt.”
It is impossible for such an overwhelming event not to impact one’s life, but Walker has also found changes in his music as well as some new motivation.
“It did make things in my music change. I couldn’t write before the fire. I only had a couple songs, and some actually had fire metaphors in them, which was a strange foretelling. Those songs definitely took on new meaning,” says Walker. “After the fire the flood gates opened up and I starting writing. I no longer felt numb or complacent. It’s just odd, before the fire I had been thinking “is this all there is”. Life had become more about the destination then the journey. I had worked so hard for so long and pretty much got everything I wanted. There were a lot of brutal lessons for me to learn after having it all taken away. It really put me in a precious place for this record.”
That precious place has also found Walker savoring the recording process as well as exercising patience to make sure that Sycamore Meadows is pure quality.
“I was used to banging records out in two weeks and right now I’m really guarding of my songs,” says Walker. “I don’t want them to be judged or taken the wrong way. I’m just being careful.
As Walker continues to finish up Meadows and reschedule this tour for the fall, there are two important dates on his calendar: July 25 and 26, when Walker takes the stage at Center Stage in Atlanta. Atlanta was the only city spared from the tour cancellation. As one of Atlanta’s favorite native sons, Walker understands the impact of his performances in his hometown and greatly appreciates it.
“I couldn’t cancel Atlanta,” Walker says. “I don’t play Atlanta as much as it is.”
Since he has not been rehearsing for a tour, Walker admits that it will be a different pace then some of his past shows.
“I don’t know exactly what I’m doing,” jokes Walker. “There will be some special guests and jamming; it should be a great time.”
Staying true to his appreciation of devoted fans, Walker promises that both nights should be an equal treat for those planning on attending Friday and Saturday.
“I hope [both concerts] are not the same; I’m not usually a creature of habit,” says Walker. “Whether or not I’ll improv the set list or do other things, I’ll have to figure that out. Sometimes shows are more laid out, but I end up changing it more with my mood. I plan on it being more loose. I don’t want to bore people if they don’t know the new stuff. I do guarantee that there will be both new and old stuff and a lot of people coming up and jamming from the past and present. There might be some audience participation too. I might pull some people up from the audience to play with me.”
Walker’s reputation of being the constant showman should not disappoint, when he pays Atlanta a visit. His history for playing with past band members, including the Marvelous 3, and other musicians he has helped produce will have fans guessing who’s going to join him. Although Walker could not confirm any potential stage guests, he did guarantee that some of his “friends” will be there.
“I can pretty much guarantee that there will be people there that I’ve played with for years, some I’ve never played with and some guys who I’ve only played on records,” shares Walker. “[The show] will be a little treat for real fans and good time for first timers.”
Although Walker made his name as a performer and musician, recently he has found additional notoriety as a producer. Having produced hits for Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, and many others, Walker has the unique opportunity of sharing the spotlight on and off the stage.
“I really like both. I love being on stage as long as it is my own terms. I don’t enjoy it when I have to, or it’s some radio station showcase that doesn’t fit me. But being on stage is the best feeling in the world,” says Walker. “You also can’t beat the feeling of people getting into music making. I also like helping other people make pieces of work they can be proud of. They make songs and they turn out being good for their careers. I love both. The producing though keeps me more grounded.”
Walker’s impressive knowledge of “music making” and his ear for producing a hit was one of the reasons that he original left Atlanta.
“I still live in both [Atlanta and California],” explains Walker. “I could never call California my permanent home. I still have a house and studio in Atlanta, there is just nothing in them right now. I do go back half the year and spend it in Atlanta, always have. California is beautiful and great and horrible, but it is also my livelihood. It’s no different then transferring cities for a job opportunity. I mean my day job is producing records. Atlanta spring boarded my career and I wasn’t too excited about coming out here, but there were too few opportunities for me in Atlanta.”
Atlanta’s unconditional support for Walker and Walker’s love of Atlanta always make his homecoming shows special, and this weekend it should be no different.
“I miss my hometown and I want to make these two nights special,” says Walker. “The first night as much as the second.”