STUDIO TO STREET: Jeffrey Bützer

Jeffrey Bützer

On his third full length, Collapsible, Jeffrey Bützer can be found moving away from the melange of gypsy-inflected folk, toy piano pop and spaghetti western instrumentals that have come to define his music in pursuit of a more refined sound rooted in French pop and minimalist piano. That’s not to say the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has abandoned his eccentric quirks entirely. Backed by his longtime band, the Bicycle Eaters, and a cavalcade of guests, Bützer still finds plenty of room for the toy pianos, accordions, glockenspiel, melodica and other percussive instruments that have populated his songs in the past, only here they’re used as colorful accents to his other otherwise brooding, gray-hued compositions. The 16-track LP is also Bützer’s first work to incorporate vocals, a decision driven partly by the beauty of (Bicyle Eaters bandmate) Cassi Costoulas’ voice, and also by the contributions of collaborator Lionel Fondeville, a French singer and lyricist whose decision to deliver the lyrics for the album in his native tongue helps drape the record in a veil of mystery and romance.

This week I got the opportunity to speak with Bützer in advance of his release show tomorrow night at the Goat Farm. We spoke about his new record, his love for cinema, and some of his favorite spots in Atlanta.

Collapsible is your first record to feature vocals. Why this particular record? How did the writing process differ from how you’ve approached things in the past?

With this album I really wanted to move away from the sort of gypsy/klezmer/waltz-y sound I touched on with the previous two full-length albums, but I didn’t want to suddenly sound like a different artist. I wanted it to sound like an evolution. I have always thought about adding a singer at some point. But this set of songs just felt incomplete until Cassi and Lionel were on it.

Were all the guests on the record by design or were some a fortunate accident? How was it working with such a variety of artists?

When we started, it was going to be a solo, mini album. After Lionel wrote and sang on most of it, we added Cassi to do the shows, then she joined the band. Some of it was by design. I had wanted to do something with Bill (Taft), Don (Chambers), and Brent (Hinds) for a while. It was really great. Collaboration is something I value more and more as I get older.

You’re known as a bit of a cinephile and much of your music has a soundtrack quality to it. Is that something you consciously think about when you’re writing music?

I do. I normally never think about music when I write, as funny as that sounds. That isn’t to say I write an album like I would a score. That is a different part of the brain I think. But film is a big part of my artistic world.

How did you come up with the album title?

It is written on a lot of dress forms. My father was a dressmaker—we had a few in my house growing up. I thought the word suited the album well for several reasons I won’t bore anyone with.

Should we attribute any significance to the record’s distinctly French focus? Why did you decide on that particular language/direction?

I love France. I tried out French singers as far back as 2005. It is a language I love to hear spoken or sang. I think French film and culture has just made its way into my brain and hands, and I write stuff that sounds “French” whether I want to or not.

One of the things I find interesting about the record is that it conveys this airy, almost minimalist ambiance and yet it’s layered with so many different sounds. Was it a struggle to find that balance between the diverse instrumentation and your minimalist aesthetic?

Thanks. Yes, I think a lot of the songs are almost folk-ish in terms of structure. They are a bit simple. Hopefully in an Erik Satie kind of a way. I attribute the nice way it is layered to Lionel’s vocal arrangements. And (Bicycle Eaters bassist) Matt Steadman’s skills as a producer. He is the unsung hero of this record. I could go on and on about how great he is.

How does Atlanta help define your music?

At one point I wanted to write a book about how surroundings influence your work. I was thinking of Beefheart living in the desert, Guy Maddin living in icy Canada, and Fellini in Rome. But that requires research and a lot of spare time I don’t have to sit around and “ponder.” So, in short: I really don’t know. I like living here. I will say that the people I have gotten to work with since we all, for one reason or another, ended up here has changed my sound for the better.

You have a few guests on this record. If you could collaborate with any Atlanta artist who would it be and why?

I would like to work with Adron, Clay from Subsonics, or Shannon Wright. They are all really amazing songwriters and guitar players.

What’s your favorite spot in town to catch a flick?

The Tara is probably the nicest theatre I’ve ever been to, anywhere.

What’s your favorite venue to play a show?

I like the Earl and the Goat Farm. They’re both very nice, and sound great. And the Earl feeds us. That is a big plus.

Give me your favorite Atlanta restaurant and your go-to dish.

I’m not a very fancy eater. A pepperoni pizza from Antico if I’m in the city. Dave Poes BBQ is the best barbecue I’ve had anywhere in the USA. Memphis, Austin, North Carolina… HA! You have nothing on Dave’s food. And I could never pick one dish. But if I had to, I would go with their St. Louis pork ribs.

If you were ever to leave the city, what’s the one place you’d always want to come back to?

After the last question I got hungry, so Dave Poes!

Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters will celebrate the release of Collapsible tomorrow night at the Goat Farm. Supporting him will be Ben Trickey. Doors open at 8pm. Admission is $8 for a ticket and download code or $10 for a CD and ticket. Purchase tickets here.

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