An outspoken and instantly recognizable voice, letlive. frontman Jason Butler is reigniting the fire of modern punk rock with the band’s unequivocal message to the masses. One of music’s most unmistakably charismatic frontmen, the band has been tearing up stages across the country all year on Warped Tour and alongside bands like Every Time I Die and Bring Me The Horizon. idobi writers Alex Rudisill and Alexa Gallo spent some time with Jason at their appearance at South By So What?! to discuss the current state of music as well as his personal musical background.
You guys have the Renditions series currently in the works. You’ve already re-released the first track, “27 Club,” which features Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die. Can you explain the concept behind the release and what made you decide to do it in this way?
Essentially the whole idea is to show that there’s a sense of comradery that we’ve forgotten in music. There’s a sense of this intrinsic bond between the artist and other artists and patrons of the band. I feel like everyone and everything is music is just so self-serving; everyone is looking out for #1. I think that this Renditions series is a really cool way for us to exhibit our appreciation for people, whether they be in bands, they like our band, or they’re the janitor down the hall. If someone believes in what we’re doing, we wanna include them. We’ve been taking photos at the end of each show, then people will tag themselves in those photos. We’ll have someone with a bag over their head to allude to the Renditions countdown we have. We’ll go ahead and pick names out of those people that tagged themselves and put them in a lottery. Eventually, we’re gonna choose someone and we’re not telling them what to do, but they’re gonna present want they want on the album. They can sing, play guitar dance, do spoken word, and just think outside the box with shit I can’t even think of. We will, in fact, integrate that into our Renditions full release. We’ll be releasing everything in singles intermittently throughout the year and at the end, we’ll culminate it with people who listen to letlive. being on our album. Keith Buckley is also the shit.
Tell us about The American Dream Tour.
It’s going super well. This tour’s been so ill. The bands are so tight, real nice people. I love Bring Me The Horizon as a band and as people. I used to hate Bring Me and I told them! They’re so dope and they put on bands that they care about. They’ve done so much for us that people don’t even know. They’re the reason we’re on Epitaph – because of Oli. Although people might have their presuppositions regarding that band, I’ll go to bat for them any day. They treat us so well. Whether or not the disparate element between letlive. and Bring Me The Horizon is ubiquitous, it’s there. We’re not from the same world originally, but we met. We’ve been following the same line together and they’ve been backing us for years. They’re offered us tours in the past and we’ve never been able to take them because of schedule conflicts. This year, we were able to and, literally, what better tour to be on? They released Sempiternal and just smashed it. I believe that is an actual piece of work that should be recognized in this scene. All these kids in a bunch of different band shirts that look similar with a bunch of haircuts and uniforms that look similar. If you want to pay attention to a band was the genesis of this scene, I think Bring Me The Horizon is one of those bands. I’m not denouncing or negating any other band, but I’m just speaking from what I know currently. That band is, in fact, trying to make daring moves that other bands aren’t doing and I love that. There’s a danger that’s missing in this scene and they’re with it. Northlane, who were on the tour earlier, is ill too. I saw them again when we did our headliner in Europe; that band is sick. Their sound guy stayed on the tour to do sound for Bring Me because he just killed it. All the crews are dope: Bring Me, Of Mice, and Issues. They’re all homies from back in the day. We’re homies with a lot of unlikely combination of bands, like Pierce The Veil. They’re my fucking boys.
This tour is obviously much larger than your previous tour, where you played much smaller rooms with Every Time I Die, Code Orange Kids, and Angel Du$t. How do they compare?
I don’t have a preference when it comes to room size. What I would like to do is I would love to play a smaller room after playing all these big rooms and vice-versa. I know everyone in the vein and ethos of punk rock want to play smaller shows all the time. I’m not gonna front – I like this big festival shit. I think we’re just lucky to be playing shows in general and we just wanna do that. The fact that we get to play in front of such a large crowd just makes it that more accessible. Whoever wants to listen can listen.
After this run, you guys are doing a co-headlining tour with Architects.
That shit’s gonna be dope. Just another band that I’ve personally believed in for a while. As far as this music is concerned, they’re trying to blaze another trail both sonically and ideologically, which is important. Music is a vessel, this autonomous entity where you can say something. Motherfuckers are just spitting bullshit into microphones because they think that’s what kids are gonna wanna listen to for the next two years. They want them to buy their merch and they wanna get signed to all these labels. Although I find Epitaph to be the best, and not just because I’m on it, but because I think that they’re one of the most righteous labels for a reason. I feel like so many people are out there just taking this privilege and just fucking throwing it away because who fucking knows what they want. Maybe they want some strange flash in the pan success, some sort of notoriety from a scene that is fleeting. I miss the substance.
A lot of people don’t realize how long you guys have been a band. What changes have you noticed throughout the years?
To be honest, not that much. I’m not that jaded, although I sound it. I back kids doing what they wanna do because I remember when I was younger and listening to some shit like Sugar Ray. My girlfriend in middle school was like, “I love Mark McGrath,” and I listened to that shit because I thought that’s what you listened to. I feel like music works in decades and the eras are in decades. It’s similar to the ‘80s and the ‘90s, except with the music in the ‘90s, the trend, because everything is trending, was to be subversive and push against the grain. Deftones, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine. Motherfuckers talking about overturning government – that was mainstream! They were censored, but on the radio. That’s amazing! Now, there’s hifalutin or convoluted sense of whatever the fuck is going on now. While I do love that folky new stuff – Mumford & Sons is catchy as fuck and I can appreciate it for that – some of these bands are authentic and some of them are just so disingenuous. I think these kids, people, music listeners, and lovers of art aren’t stupid and can see the bullshit. Anyone who thinks they can ride the wave of bullshit, you’re fucked. It’s gonna crash tomorrow and I’ll be stoked when it does.
Your lyrics are obviously much more socially conscious. Do you think kids are losing sight of current issues these days?
Again, it’s a trend thing. When I grew up, when I was most malleable musically, was in the ‘90s. I was 11 when I first heard Rage Against The Machine, and I would sit on the radio and wait for K-Rock to play a block of songs; I’d have my tape in the cassette deck and wait to record that shit. What I would record was forward thinking, socially conscious, rather intellectually stimulating music. Not just rock, hip hop too. Backpack rap, Common, Pac, and even Biggie. People don’t understand that is was all clever shit. Now people are just regurgitating. This is starting to sound like some nasty diatribe on how I hate music, but I love music so much! I love people so much and the people who listen to music and even the people who are making bullshit music because they’re necessary when it comes down to people seeing the contrast in what’s real and what’s not. I love it all, but fuck a lot of it at the same time. They’re not losing sight, but they’re not being introduced properly by the ones they look up to.
Do you think there’s a need for my diversity in the scene, like more rock bands touring with rappers?
Oh hell yeah. The Family Values Tour was Xzbit, Messhuggah, Korn, and Limp Bizkit. That shit was so hard. Music is music and if it’s gonna speak to you, it’ll speak to you on different levels and come from different avenues. It’s not just one funnelled idea; it’s a soundtrack. Place the soundtrack accordingly to how you’re feeling or where you are environmentally. I grew up listening to soul and R&B, then I got into punk rock when I was 11 from skateboarding. I really felt that braid and commonality that existed because of that essence and idea that was like, “Get up and fucking do something.” That’s what music is; it’s rhythmically progressive. We started playing music because we wanted to evolve.
You’re teaching a vocal lesson today. Have you taught before?
I’ve done it a few times. My father was a singer so I grew up singing. I was all about Disney tunes, like Lion King. I played Simba when I was a senior in high school. I might seem like an angry dude, but I am and then I’m not. I think that the technique and art of singing has been so lost in this sub-genre and culture. If there’s anything I can offer to remind people that singing is an art and something you can learn, I’ll do it. Freddie Mercury was not a good singer; he taught himself how to sing. He is, without a doubt, to this day one of the most venerated singers in music history. He had that killer mustache and was probably a good kisser.
What advice would you give your students?
Do you. I know that’s super cliche, but truly, people are gonna tell you how to act, what to play, and how to play it. No one with one seminal act broke through and made a change, made a difference by taking the easy route or being safe. There are mainstream artists that are killing it but doing some fucked up shit. Lady Gaga is twisted, but she’s an artist and I respect her. My advice would be that as long you believe in the integrity of what you’re doing, no one can tell you otherwise. Not me, journalists, listeners – no one. That authenticity and that organic nature will assimilate to those who are listening and those who aren’t.
If you could assemble a tour with letlive. with any other acts, who would you want?
James Brown, Rage Against The Machine, Tupac because he’s so live, and Robert Johnson because I wanna know what he looks like! Everyone thinks that one photo of him is what he looks like, but no one knows if it’s really him. We’d for sure open.
Seems like you guys are pretty booked up for the rest of the year.
We’re booked up to the summer, then we’re gonna write a record.