R&G Interview // Ryan Sollee – Builders and the Butchers

R&G Interview // Ryan Sollee   Builders and the Butchers
Ryan Sollee (r)

The five members of The Builders and the Butchers escaped subzero winter temperatures and endless dark winter days in Alaska for long and rainy winters in Portland, Oregon. It’s no wonder that the band was originally named The Funeral Band, at which point the only requirement for their songs was that they had to be “death-themed.”

The Builders and the Butchers initially used a DIY approach to music, playing street corners and outside of venues in the Portland area, honing their craft before bringing it indoors to paying audiences. Their music is a mix of folk-rock, gospel, bluegrass, and Depression-era blues.

Butchers’ frontman Ryan Sollee is a talented, storytelling singer-songwriter taking cues from his heroes Johnny Cash and Tom Waits and expertly singing dark tales of hell, murder, the Devil, blood, rain, and drinking your sorrows away.

I caught up with Ryan last month after the Butchers’ performance at Lollapalooza.

R&G Interview // Ryan Sollee   Builders and the Butchers

R&G: I understand it was raining during your set at Lollapalooza. I imagine that the rain didn’t really faze you, since you’re from Portland.

Ryan: No, we’ve played in the rain quite a few times. It’s always actually really fun, because people kind of are irritated at first, but then they get used to it and can have fun with it.

R&G: How did the audience respond to your performance?

Ryan: It seemed like there was a good response. There were some people dancing around, clapping, and singing along.

R&G: This is the band’s first headlining tour. Do you feel like there’s more pressure on the band in this role than there is when the band is the supporting act?

Ryan: Definitely more pressure and it’s more disappointing when not very many people show up. When people show up, it’s really rewarding, because you know exactly what you have as far as fans. You’re not depending on some other band.

R&G: Chris Funk of The Decemberists produced your new album, Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well. Can you tell me a little about his involvement on the record?

Ryan: He approached us a while back, saying he wanted to play some slide guitar on our next record because he’s a fan of the band. Then he just kind of came in and said, “Hey, I’d like to produce this.” Of course, we were like, “Yeah. We could definitely use the help,” and we’re big fans of The Decemberists and what he does for them, so we brought him aboard. We sent him demos and he went through and gave us ideas of what he thought would work and wouldn’t work, different things. It was a very open working relationship. If we didn’t like something and he did, it got scrapped, and vice versa. He liked to call it a “good meeting of the minds.”

R&G: Your debut album had a lo-fi sound. How would you describe the sound of your new record?

Ryan: Well, they were recorded and written in different ways. The first album was songs that we wrote while playing on the street, mainly, and so they were written to have a lot of urgency, so people would immediately get engaged in them. When you play on the street, that’s what you’re aiming to do. On the second one, the majority of the songs were written after we’d been playing on stages, so it was a little different feel. It’s definitely more of a studio record, and it was assembled in that way.

You explore a lot of different themes in your music, but death seems to be the most prevalent. Do you have an obsession with death?

Ryan: Well, I guess it’s just the thing we all have in common, right?

R&G: Yes, death is inevitable.

Ryan: Yeah, and so, I think, honestly, in a really basic way, we can all relate to that, and a lot of music that I like explores that. It’s something good to think about and come to terms with, I guess.

R&G: It has nothing to do with the weather in Portland? [laughs]

Ryan: [laughs] No, I’m not some kind of suicidal, depressed person. I just think it’s an interesting topic.

R&G: The majority of your songs are fictional. Do you purposely avoid writing personal songs?

Ryan: When I first started writing songs, I was writing a lot of really personal songs and just didn’t think much of them. Like any writer, I write songs with little bits of truth in them,
but mainly I find it interesting to write mostly story songs.

R&G: What are your thoughts on music in the digital age? Specifically digital distribution, social networks, and the death of the CD?

Ryan: I think it’s marginalizing the record, at least the thought of what a record is, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing because so much music is more readily available to people; they can find out about bands a lot easier and come to a concert when that band comes to town. The band ends up making a lot more money than they would have selling a CD if their concert numbers are really good. It’s just a shift in money for bands. The idea of an album is going away, except for the purists who prefer vinyl.

The Builders and the Butchers, Manchester Orchestra and Brand New are playing the Hollywood Palladium on October 17th and 18th. To purchase tickets click here.

The Builders And The Butchers – Black Dresses
The Builders and The Butchers – In The Branches
The Builders and The Butchers – Down In This Hole (Daytrotter Sessions)

The Builders and the Butchers – Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well (eMusic)
The Builders and the Butchers – The Builders and the Butchers (eMusic)

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