Long Live #KingButch

by | Sep 14, 2020 | MUSIC

Butcher Brown’s new album, #KingButch, is almost here. Recorded inside their home studio, Jellowstone, the record marks a milestone for Black musicians in funk, hip-hop, and R&B genres from the River City. 

#KingButch is on the horizon. The latest record from Butcher Brown, which releases virtually on September 18th, is everything the band’s fans have come to know and love about them; yet it’s distilled, extrapolated, and refined. 

The new album, their first for the Concord Jazz record label, is an eclectic and electric compilation, with songs as diverse as the five members of the band. The musicians’ versatility melds into something entirely original. Its tracks are an amazing feat for any band — with any amount of resources, or access to the world’s best studios. It could be assumed upon listening that this is the case for #KingButch, but the uninformed listener may be surprised to learn that it was recorded at the band’s home studio, Jellowstone

Jellowstone is the home studio of Butcher Brown’s DJ Harrison, and it’s served as an integral part of the band since its conception. Along with the members of Butcher Brown, Jellowstone is that “other entity” that has consistently brought a distinct, sonic uniqueness to their studio albums. The confluence of band and studio makes every Butcher Brown record sound unlike anything else. 

“There’s always been a natural vibe there,” DJ Harrison said. “We’ve all lived here at different points in time. It’s like a home base for us, a central meeting place.” 

A workplace is essential to any band. It allows the artists a creative space, free from judgment or distractions. Jellowstone gives Butcher Brown a place to shut off the outside world, ignite their inspiration, and exercise their talents together as a uniform outfit. 

While this era brings the same lineup of players into the same studio, what makes #KingButch different from its predecessors? The progressive sound on this record had something new thrown into its creative process. That influence was the introduction of Chris Dunn: co-producer for #KingButch and head of A&R for Concord Jazz. Corey Fonville, the band’s drummer, had a lot to say about their newly-budding relationship with the record label. 

“In the conversations I was having with Chris Dunn, everything I showed him from our previous work was done at Jellowstone,” Fonville said. “He loved the vibe of all those records — even the things that never came out — and he said, ‘I want the sound of whatever I’ve been hearing all these years.’” 

Dunn didn’t just suggest, but outright insisted, that the band maintain the sonic integrity of their discography to date. That meant recording at their home studio. 

“Obviously, that meant a lot to me,” Fonville said. “And I’m sure it meant a lot to Devonne — DJ Harrison — and everyone else, too. We’ve spent so much time [at Jellowstone], and a lot of history was created in that environment.” 

DJ Harrison offered a verbal window into day-to-day life in the studio. Pulling back the curtain on the magic of Jellowstone, he discussed the creation of #KingButch. “It’s a constant energy from the time we get there to the time everyone leaves,” he said. “We all come here with a central purpose, trying to get to the finish line with the same end goal. We’re all hyped up to see the possibilities we haven’t pursued. We’re trying to create something new; something fresh that we all like.” 

Behind the scenes, the band is creating concepts, writing lyrics, and coming up with new melodies and musical phrases. Fonville helped explain where some of these ideas originate, and how they move from the bandmates’ minds (or voice memos on their phones) to what we hear on the record. 

“Our sessions are always organic with songwriting ideas,” Fonville said. “We might bring something in, or we might just create on the spot. Marcus might say, ‘Yo, I might rap this,’ or ‘I might add some vocals on it.’ We don’t overthink compositions. We come in there with fresh minds, and then whatever makes sense, we try to execute.” 

An interesting note about #KingButch is that it doesn’t give us one similar tune after another. Instead, it’s a healthy mix of psychedelic/groovy instrumental jams, straightforward R&B, funk, and even hip-hop bangers. Many of the lyrics and vocals on the rap and hip-hop tracks are provided by the one and only Marcus Tenney, aka Tennishu (pronounced “tennis shoe”). Tenney, who also contributes trumpet and saxophone to the group, put in his two cents about his lyrical process, and how his writing fits into the greater sonic tapestry of the band. 

PHOTO: Butcher Brown by Jacob Blickenstaff

“On the rap songs, I wrote a lot of the lyrics,” Tenney said. “The inspiration for ‘Gum In My Mouth’ came from the audio clip that’s on the actual track. It ranges anywhere from how I’m feeling that day to the vibes the music gives me. It changes from day to day.” Tenney was clear and concise as he spoke, not dissimilar to his vocal tracks on the record. “When I write lyrics, I have to hear the music first to make sure it’s all pinned together.” 

Bassist Andrew Randazzo provided some background on the last few years of Butcher Brown’s career, during which in new members to form the group we know today. After guitarist Morgan Burrs joined the band and Tenney became a full-time member in 2016, the lineup changes brought new inspiration.

“2016 is around when we started writing and recording some of the songs [on #KingButch],” he said. “There were probably 30-40 tunes recorded over the past few years, which then culminated into what made it on the album.” 

Speaking with the band as a whole, it becomes clear that this group truly does it for the love of making music. They have a compulsion to keep moving toward something new. The consistency of their recording process may differ from other groups; many artists write a new album on their own, and only use the studio once a year when they’re ready to record. But the advantage Butcher Brown has with Jellowstone allows their studio to be an ongoing workshop for songs on a regular basis.

Over the course of months and years, those dozens of sessions become something that resembles a record. The band then assembles that compilation of songs, zeroing in on favorites, and puts the rest on the shelf for later use. Jellowstone is Butcher Brown’s creative secret weapon — a laboratory of sounds and endless ideas. This is glaringly apparent in the diversity of songs on #KingButch

Burrs helped provide a timeline of the album’s creation. “We recorded in October of last year,” he said. “We finished [around] the day before Halloween, and that was the bulk of the record.” The songs were put to the test on stage long before their studio recordings. 

“We played so many shows between 2017 and 2019,” Fonville added. “We were on tour all the time, opening up for different acts. That was our opportunity to workshop this music. I always say that it was like an open rehearsal for people to hear these songs over and over again… by the time we got into the studio, we were ready. Everything was all lined up. It was just about editing, and figuring out how to make a more precise version of these songs.” 

Even as they release their latest work, Butcher Brown has not been spared the effects of COVID-19. Compounded by the sociopolitical climate and recent civil unrest, the band spoke on how the times have informed their process, and how #KingButch fits into it all. 

“My view on the political climate is that people are standing up for what they want to change,” Tenney said. “People are looking at the current situation and thinking, ‘This could be different, so let’s change it.’ I feel like that’s what we did with a lot of the music on this record — so this record, even though it was made before recent events happened, still speaks to that similar language. You have more options available than you may realize sometimes. You can change it if you really want to.” 

Butcher Brown’s process in the studio was uninhibited and fearless. The artists were unafraid to try new things, constructing and deconstructing new sonic structures. Fonville added his own perspective on how the album is relevant to today’s world. 

“We did it for the culture,” Fonville said. “This music is Black music. You hear the blues, gospel, the struggle — things we’ve been fighting for all these years. We recorded this material long before the pandemic, but I think if we had recorded it now, it would still be reflective of the times, regardless of circumstances.” 

Elaborating on their new partnership with Concord Jazz, Randazzo discussed their experience and what they anticipate this major label debut will be for #KingButch

“Being on a big label like Concord affords us some visibility that an independent release would not, so I think we’ll see a lot of benefits of the label relationship post-release,” Randazzo said. “So far, the biggest thing was having Chris Dunn in the studio. He came to Richmond to hang with us while we recorded, and he’s a co-producer on the record. Chris is not a musician, per se, but he knows music. He’s coming from a radio DJ perspective, and he’s worked with this label for a long time.” 

PHOTO: Jacob Blickenstaff

Randazzo pointed out that Dunn brought a perspective different from the band’s own, one that became essential to the process. “He knows records so well, but not from a music theory standpoint like we have all thought about for the longest time. He’s coming at it from the other side,” said Randazzo. “That was huge for us, to have him in the room. Moving forward, I think [Concord will help create] visibility and distribution. It will get to more ears, and because of the records they have, more eyes will be on us.” 

The stunning cover art on #KingButch was provided by abstract collage artist Lou Beach, who did artwork for pioneering jazz-fusion band Weather Report in the late 70s and early 80s. Concord was able to pull their resources together for Butcher Brown’s latest cover art. 

“We were at a meeting in January in L.A. and met with the team. That was the initial interface between Butcher Brown and Concord Jazz,” Tenney said. “We needed artwork, and one of the references we sent for artists we liked was Lou Beach. They said they’d see if we could get Lou Beach for #KingButch… In my mind, I was thinking, ‘This is some official label process you’ve got to do to get someone like Lou Beach. That’s not just picking up the phone.’ But as it turns out, it was. He lived right around the corner in Beverly Hills. We were in the middle of a meeting with someone else when we heard people talking out front, and it was Lou Beach. He just walked right in the room.” 

#KingButch marks the beginning of what the band hopes will be a long and fruitful partnership between Butcher Brown and Concord Jazz. It begins on an auspicious note, one unlike anything in recent memory to come out of Richmond. The tremendous feat that is #KingButch is something to be celebrated by the local music community, and fans of the band both old and new. 

Mitchel Bamberger

Mitchel Bamberger

Mitchel Bamberger is a writer and musician from Richmond, VA with a vast array of interests from environmental sustainability to poetry, music, and all things creative. As an active artist in the local music scene, Mitchel has a finger on the pulse of the thriving organism that is RVA music. This young writer is ambitious and advantageous, with a diverse background of creative writing experience in poetry, prose, songwriting, and most recently, journalism.

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