September 10, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips
There’s an adage often used in the music industry that suggests that the cream will always rise to the top. That given enough time, if you’re good enough your music will find a larger audience and ultimately succeed. However, if that was true, Melbourne based guitarist composer Cam Butler would be an internationally recognised artist making a decent buck out of his incredibly alluring music. Of course, there’s still time, and Cam is a patient man, but I defy any music loving being to listen to Cam’s latest recording Dark Time (Symphony No.2) and not be effected emotionally by his majestic and beautifully constructed soundscapes. Those already familiar with Cam Butler’s music will know that he’s no one trick pony. Three equally fine solo albums preceded this one and as guitarist and main songwriter in legendary Melbourne instrumental trio Silver Ray, Cam, along with Julitha Ryan and Brett Poliness delivered many an epic and passionate album, not to mention the numerous fabled live performances over the years in pokey little Fitzroy pubs. Silver Ray’s current, and sorry to say probable final album “Homes for Everyone” deserves to be in any real music afficionado’s record collection.
Both Silver Ray and Butler’s solo music has at times been described as other-worldy and perhaps there’s the rub. As beautifully strange as the music is, it doesn’t conform to the modern mainstream’s notion of what music is supposed to be. It’s not wrapped in an easily digestible package which falls into the category of ‘buy me in bucket loads’. Given half a chance it might, but if it wasn’t for community radio airplay and independent record stores stocking their albums, you’d be struggling to hear them at all. Butler’s not the kind to push his own barrow either. “I’m an artist and I say that without being a dickhead, that’s what I am, an artist not a businessman at all,” said Butler. ” For me to garner other people’s interest in me, I just can’t do it. It’s really hard. But that’s how things happen for you in Australia. You have to be a bit of a shmoozer and that’s just not me.”
If any medium seems ideally suited to Cam’s music it’s film. His recordings are constantly referred to as being cinematic. Yet to date, as much as he’d love the opportunity to write for film, no offers have been forthcoming. Ironically, Butler is not a major fan of the movies, certainly not the Hollywood variety and believes that music is a far greater communicator of emotion.
“Music is designed to have a mood, which means it is saying something. There is so much music that doesn’t say anything. People might say it’s cinematic, well that’s because it’s saying something. It’s trying to convey a feeling. A lot of music that I hear has no feeling about it. I get called cinematic, but if you put on Debussy or something like that, they weren’t writing for movies, but there’s a whole mood associated with that. So I’m writing in that tradition, trying to communicate something. But I would like to do some music for film … a good film and create a mood, a real atmosphere, something really powerful. I’d really like to do that.”
Cam’s latest solo album does feature his unmistakable musical signature but wasn’t approached in the same manner as previous projects. Rather than compiling the album from tunes written at intermittent intervals and in various frames of mind, Dark Times was born out of one single mindset.” I did write is as a cohesive thing,” explains Cam. ” There are little themes that go though the whole record … similar keys. E minor features prominently. The soundscapy things are loops of sounds that are already on the album that I have morphed and changed. I wrote it as a whole thing. I don’t know whether it comes across like that.”
Cam’s main tool of his trade is a Gibson electric he found in the Trading Post several years ago, which he has since modified by including a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. He runs it through a Blues Deluxe amplifier. “I have it just on the edge of distortion,” he says of his sound. “I actually have it up really loud but play really lightly so it has that thickness about it. I suppose its clean but there’s a darkness about the tone.” His pedal collection consists of a Holy Grail reverb, Head Rush sampling pedal, a wah pedal, and distortion for his ‘crazy feedback’. However it’s his loop unit on which he creates much of his magic, particularly when he plays in duo mode with local drum stalwart Mark Dawson.
“When I play with Mark I have this other loop, an Electro Harmonix 2880. It came out last year. Four separate tracks so you do four separate loops and mix them on the spot, which is fantastic. It’s a work of art itself and has a great sound, better than what you put into it.”
Cam’s only other piece of kit is a Maton 12 string which he has also fiddled with to suit his style.” There is no octave on the bottom E. I use one E and there’s no octave on the G. So there are only octaves on the D and A and I turned them around so that when you hit the strings you hear the lower octave string first. Makes it a bit of a warmer sound.”
When Cam’s bending notes on his Bigsby it’s not hard to draw comparisons to the likes of Duane Eddy and Link Wray, however Butler quickly dismisses the association. “Essentially what you’re saying is the melodies played on the bottom E string, but that’s just a sound. When I was a kid I liked Jimmy Page, the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin. But I really like McCoy Tyner’s playing (John Coltrane’s piano player). I like that comping style. I was inspired by that when I first heard it in my twenties. Also Ed Keupper but not so much Link Wray.”
Like many veterans of Australia’s rich indie music scene, Butler struggles to sustain a professional music career but he is one artist you’ll never see compromising his artistic integrity to slot into someone else’s expectations of what he should be doing. He’s particularly unimpressed with the copycat mentality that pervades the music industry.
“We live in an era where conformity is the fashion,” explains Cam. “It doesn’t matter how many people are playing, if they are all going to sound the same, then what is the point? They may as well give it up. People have to find their own way, otherwise they are fakes, or faking it in some way.”
Sadly Cam’s band Silver Ray may have played their last gig. Drummer Brett Poliness has a severe form of tennis elbow which has prevented him playing seriously since the end of 2007. Plus, as good as the band is, they haven’t managed to make things happen in an economically sound way. Both Butler and keyboardist Julitha Ryan are emphatic in that they would never consider continuing with another drummer. We may have lost one jewel in Australia’s indie music scene, however we still have the opportunity to support the band’s major composer in his solo career. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to at least listen to Butler’s music, in particular his beautiful new album Dark Times (Symphony No. 2).
“I do feel that you can’t push these things,” says Butler pragmatically of his career. “Sometimes they naturally find their own way. I feel like I need to just keep playing my music and making records.”