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Butterfly Child - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 5 / 2 / 2016

Butterfly Child - Interview


Irish dream pop maverick Butterfly Child, AKA Joe Cassidy, has released his first album in seventeen years. He speaks to Malcolm Carter about his extended hiatus, and the other projects that kept him busy over the preceding years

When the ‘No Longer Living In Your Shadow’ single (a piece of shimmering pop heaven) appeared in 2012, it gave a glimmer of hope to Butterfly Child fans. They had been waiting fourteen years for a new album, and now a new full-length might be on the cards. ‘Soft Explosives’, the last Butterfly Child album, came out in 1998. As time moved on, it seemed less likely that we would hear more rich, melodic pop from the band that helped define the sub-genre ‘dream-pop’. The sudden appearance of new music under the Butterfly Child banner was a welcome surprise. Belfast-born Joe Cassidy, the musician at the core of Butterfly Child, had not quit music altogether during Butterfly Child’s extended break. Now based in L.A., Cassidy was involved in an number of different music projects, many of which passed by Butterfly Child fans. Three years on from that single, Cassidy has finally followed-up ‘Soft Explosives’ with ‘Futures’, a full-length album which, while retaining most of the that ethereal feel of Cassidy’s previous work as Butterfly Child, builds and expands on the three preceding albums. There are moments of pure pop scattered throughout ‘Futures’ not least in ‘Holding On’; Cassidy’s yearning vocals, a simply gorgeous melody, background vocals from the Webb Brothers and, as if that wasn’t enough, a contribution from Glen Campbell’s son Cal. ‘Futures’ is more than a return to form from Cassidy; it ranks as his most satisfying collection of songs to date. It is something of a cliché to say that there are new discoveries with each listen of an album, but it’s true for ‘Futures’. Even after repeated plays, when you feel you know the songs, there’s this feeling that you are discovering something new each time. We asked Cassidy about what he has been creating musically during Butterfly Child’s hiatus, if he had plans to follow-up ‘Futures’ and if he felt that this latest album differs in any way from the previous Butterfly Child releases. With ‘Futures’ attracting attention and favourable reviews from music publications and websites it seems that this time Butterfly Child have gained the attention that its beautiful music deserves. We’d like to thank Cassidy for taking out the time to reply to our questions. PB: It’s been seventeen years since you released an album under the Butterfly Child name, but you’ve been busy with other music related projects in that time. Can you tell us a little about those? JC: The interesting thing is that is that I never actually stopped writing Butterfly Child music. Or my own music as it were. I recorded a lot of material after Soft Explosives and played a bunch of shows in the US as Butterfly Child. But there were clearly seismic changes going on in the music business. It was becoming less likely for a project like Butterfly Child to get support from a label; especially since I am known for being a bit of a label killer in some circles. Not due to money specifically, but more just bad timing. So I was just feeling out the ebb and flow of creativity in Chicago rather than trying to release another body of work at that time. I was doing so many different kinds of music with so many people that I thought I would put all the Butterfly Child stuff on the back burner for a little bit. At least regarding a full record. Even if it was just subconciously. The most significant projects in the last seventeen years are a project called Blue Eyes with a dear friend called Roger Fife. We knocked out a bunch of tracks. That is ongoing and who knows if we will ever release anything officially. Then I did a thing called Musicola with my friend Greg Suran; just big pop songs. Then I started another side project called Assassins with four very talented people in the early 2000’s in Chicago. We literally got signed after a few shows to Arista, via L.A. Reid weirdly enough. We made a record I am very proud of called 'You Will Changed Us', that Stephen Hague worked on with us. Inevitably L.A.Reid got fired and we had to move on. So after that I thought I should get a job writing music which brought me to Los Angeles. I have been working out here producing artists, writing for commercials and film etc. And I have another project I am involved in called NØISE which the artist Shepard Fairey, which is a part of that. We are finally getting out there officially in 2016. PB: What prompted you to return to recording in 2012 (with the ‘No Longer Living In Your Shadow’ single) as Butterfly Child? JC: That is a strange story. I knew the director and the screenwriter for the film 'Warrior' that Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte et al were in. They had heard a track that the National had performed live in Paris called 'About Today', with a string section etc. I was asked if I was interested in writing something like it with a similar arc/ theme, but when I heard it I was instantly reminded of an old Butterfly Child song I had written but never finished when I was eighteen or something that was only every recorded on 4-track called 'No Longer Living in Your Shadow'. I started working on finishing the lyrics, recording it properly and rewriting it significantly, but life got in the way and I never submitted it for the film. Then when I started talking to Guy from the label Dell’Orso, I played a rough demo to him and he loved it. So we decided to do 'No Longer Living in Your Shadow' and 'Elsewherelse' as a 7” single. PB: Did you plan at that time to follow the single up with an album at some point? JC: Not at first. The plan was originally to do a retrospective, get the John Peel Sessions etc out there and dig out some tracks that had never been released. Then it became a whole different thing after we did the single in 2012. It all just evolved from that point really. The spark was there and I knew I had someone like Guy on my side who could give me his honest opinion as a long time Butterfly Child fan who I trusted impeccably. It was just meant to be. PB: A lot has changed in recording and getting the music out there in the time since the last Butterfly Child album. Would you say it’s easier now or did you find the process more difficult? JC: Well, it is certainly easier to make a record now and obviously any idiot can post a track online within five minutes. The Butterfly Child albums have never had a problem with flying under the radar in terms of getting them “out there” so that is nothing new. I just write songs. And I understand how the business works and how the internet is everything these days. I do what I can to get the word out there. But to be honest, it is just as hard as it always was. There will always be an endless fog of rubbish to fight space with. The only real difficulty at least with recording is that since most of us have studios at home these days, you can get stuck in the myriad of options. Is mix #107 better than mix #09? Should I add a three-part harmony before the second bridge? The unlimited options can be a hindrance. That is one thing I try to remember. Try to keep it simple if that is what the song needs. However, if the song needs 96 vocal parts, I have no problem going there either. The only difficulty with 'Futures' is tha,t other than having a few friends guest on it, I was engineering, producing and mixing everything. So that took a little time as it was a lot of work. But it had to be done that way. I didn’t care if sonically something was a little off. Having control over every detail gave me the ability to really put my fingerprint on the whole album. From the ground up. PB: Do you feel that ‘Futures’ differs in any way musically than your previous albums? JC: Yes. It is the first album where I looked back musically speaking in order to move forward. I have hundreds of songs sitting around (and I am constantly writing) but I didn’t want to come back and release a big pop album or something. I just wasn’t feeling that way as this album was being written. 'Futures' felt like the right songs for me to release at this time in my life. I certainly wasn’t trying to channel anything from the early 90’s period. But when we were initially thinking of doing a retrospective, I had to listen to everything that I had done. From the H.Ark!/ A.R.Kane days, the Rough Trade era, the Dedicated era and then Soft Explosives with HitIt!. That clearly had an influence. Maybe like meeting a long lost friend, noticing how much they had changed and still loving the tiniest of details about them. PB: Apart from a few guest musicians, am I right in thinking that you handled most of the instruments and production yourself? JC: Yes, it had to be that way. I have always been a bit of a control freak with my music. Not necessarily in a bad way, I just know what I want. And though others could do a far more professional job in engineering, mixing or playing certain instruments, it is easier for me to do it. It was a real joy having some dear friends who have always been supportive of what I was doing playing on the new album to really add that extra touch and tinsel. Matt Walker (Morrissey etc) did a superb job on drums on a couple of tracks. Oliver Kraus took my string arrangement on 'Beauty #2' and made it sublime. Merritt Lear did a gorgeous vocal on 'The Only Sound' and the strings on 'No Longer Living In Your Shadow'. And, of course, the Webb Brothers singing the background vocals, Cal Campbell on additional guitar/ percussion and Brian Liesegang (NIN, Filter) playing additional keys on Holding On was a moment. Some of my favorite people performed on that song. PB: Mentioning the Webb Brothers and Cal Campbell, how did that collaboration come about? JC: I have known Justin and Christiaan Webb since my days in Chicago. We met up around the time the Webb Brothers' 'Maroon' album came out and we just became close, both musically and as friends. They are like family to me. The whole Webb clan are insanely talented and lovely people. Then we all ended up randomly moving to Los Angeles around the same time and shortly after that, I started meeting Cal at various get togethers. I was asked to do a bit of work with Jimmy Webb and the whole clan on their album 'Cottonwood Farm', and that is when I realised what a genius Cal is too. Incredibly gifted. Just like his dad. One story from those sessions I will share is that I was in the studio one night working with Jimmy on a very long ballad. It was not going well. At all. He was getting a little frustrated, which happens to all of us sometimes in the studio. Next second, the door opens and in walks Glen Canpbell and his wife. The mood shifted instantly and Jimmy nailed his whole piano part that we had been working on for a few hours in one take. And it was a twelve minute song. Incredible. When I was working away on 'Futures', Guy sent me a couple of bars of a string loop that he did with his friend/producer Richard X. I wrote a song around it and redid the strings, and I knocked out the song in a few hours. It felt like a Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell track – albeit the nursery school version. So I asked the Webbs if they would do back up vocals and Cal did some extra guitar/percussion. They all did an absolutely wonderful job. PB: All four Butterfly Child albums have been recorded in different places. Did recording ‘Futures’ in Los Angeles shape the sound or inspire you in any way? JC: Hard to say exactly. But there is no question that I have moved about as far as I can from my hometown of Belfast and with that there come moments of nostalgia and feeling homesick. Even musically. I don’t pay a lot of attention to what is going on in the world of music, especially the music scene in Los Angeles. Even though there are obviously some amazing talents out here. I live in the hills of Los Angeles. So I get to stay away from the “nonsense” part of the city if I choose to. But yes. Los Angeles is very pretty and I live in the quieter part of town. I am sure some of that kind of lifestyle has seeped onto the album. PB: You’ve built up quite a following since the debut Butterfly Child album. Have you had any reaction from long-standing fans about ‘Futures’? JC: Some fans from the old days seem a little mad that I don’t sing like a helium balloon anymore. But that happens. I don’t sing or write for other people. Luckily many seem to love it. PB: Are you going to carry on recording more as Butterfly Child now, or will we have to wait another seventeen years? JC: I may not be here in another seveenten years so I sure hope I finish another one before then. I would like the next one to come out next year or so. But you never know. You really need to believe in an album to do that. PB: During the years Butterfly Child was put on hold, you eventually released an album as part of Assassins, which was released in 2006. Is it true that you are currently working on a belated follow-up to that album? JC: We are trying to. It is a complicated situation. But there are a lot of great songs that we have that I would like to get out there. Assassins is a very different beast than Butterfly Child in that there are five of us. It doesn’t matter that I do most of the writing. That band is a team and everyone needs to agree on what we are aiming for in order for it to work. PB: Do you have plans to tour ‘Futures’; surely it would be an expensive project to try to recreate the sound of the album in a live environment; any thoughts about maybe touring a more acoustic version of the album? JC: Possibly. Offers for festivals and shows, especially in Europe, are coming in. And it isn’t about recreating the exact sound of the album. I am far more interested in taking these songs out live and doing something completely different with them. But yes. It will be expensive regardless, and someone is going to have to ban me from my recording studio for a few months to make it happen. PB: Most artists would name their current album as, if not the best thing they’ve done to date, then certainly one of their best. Where would you place ‘Futures’ in the Butterfly Child canon? JC: Well artists in general always get caught up in their “new thing”. I love the new album. Otherwise it would have never seen the light of day. But I don’t think of things in terms of “best”. I am proud of 99.8% of what I have put out as Butterfly Child. For better or for worse. They are all my babies and I love each one of them for different reasons. 'The Honeymoon Suite' was a more collaborative album and I love it for that. Richie Thomas is possibly my favorite drummer of all time and to have him as part of Butterfly Child at that point was truly wonderful. Pendle is so damn good at everything, and James Harris on bass. That was an incredible line up. Just astonishing musicians. We had fun on that one. At the moment I am working on the 'A Shot In The Dark' EP, which will hopefully come out in January or February 2016. Stephen Hague did a reworking of that track and I am also doing a few new songs too for that. And I am busy working on Butterfly Child album #5 which may or may not be released in 2032. PB: Thank you.

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