By Ashley Dean
It would be reasonable to assume that a member of a Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed, stadium-packing band would have a lot of comparison anxiety while making his first solo album. But, amazingly, that’s “not really” the case, said Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, who released Policy in March.
“There were two things that were in my brain, and one was just that I thought the songs were really great and I thought people would relate, if not to all the songs, at least some of the songs,” he said. “And it’s just my first album. If it’s my best album, that’ll be a shame.”
There are hints of Arcade Fire on Policy, but what Butler made puts distance between his solo work and the grand productions of Reflektor, The Suburbs or Funeral. It’s eclectic, lively, fun, charming, a little oddball and raw. It sounds like he went into the studio bursting with ideas, and to hear him talk about his sources of inspiration, that’s absolutely true. He mentions Fashion Conscious Suicide, the Rip Offs, Randy Newman, John Lennon, Robert Johnson, 1940s big bands and his “very underground” college radio station all as reference points and influences for Policy.
What didn’t make much of an appearance on the album was his love for “really gnarly political songs” or even something like the songs he wrote based on Guardian headlines just before the album’s release.
“It was experimental in the sense that you have a hypothesis and you try things and see if it works,” he said of the week he spent writing songs about the news. It was an exercise in writing songs that are more story-based, but it was also a chance to emulate his favorite songwriter, Randy Newman.
“He’s not afraid to speak for the underdog and he’s not afraid to speak from the voice of the really powerful, awful people,” Butler said. “That’s what I listen to a lot of and I’m sure I’ll aspire to that someday.”
For now, he’s more interested in contrast and surprise. The lyrics on Policy are not always as cheerful as the blue-eyed soul or Kinks-ian weirdness that carries them. A couple quiet songs aside, Butler sneaks some somber and poignant stuff in under cheerful cover.
“I like contrast and I like, in poetry, I feel like every line of a poem should make you see something new. It shouldn’t be exactly what you think can happen, when you know what word rhymes with what word. You want a twist each time you cross a line or cross a stanza,” he said.
“You get a much more interesting three-dimensional picture of the world than [you do] just hammering home one idea. Hammering home one idea at a time is a great way to write songs, but I’m not at that point.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the “great recipe for pony macaroni” he mentions in “What I Want,” the secret it a little nutmeg. “But not too much. Too much and it tastes like Christmas.”
HeyReverb.com is The Denver Post’s music blog.
If you go
What: Will Butler of Arcade Fire
When: 8 p.m. Monday, June 1
Where: Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer St., Denver