Celebrating the release of the “Hiding Plastic Spiders” 7-inch EP via the Great Big/Pretty Ambitious Records, Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters play a set of cinematic, piano/accordion-driven tunes that evoke all sorts of imagery plucked from eras gone by. Earlier this week Bützer took some time out to talk about what he does.
Your new 7-inch has two covers …
Yeah, it is a little weird to do an alternate cover, but we had already decided on the whale thing. Then Guy Maddin said we could use some of his artwork, and I don’t know when we’re going to do another 7-inch, so we’re doing a limited one — something for fun.
How did you hook up with Guy Maddin?
I scored a film called Bird Catcher in 2006, which was directed by his assistant, C. Hefner. Guy saw it and liked some of the music, so I got his email address and we just started talking and have been friends via e-mail over the years. He’s cool, and he gives me good feedback on music.
You were on NPR this week and you mentioned that you like to think of your music as being somewhat modern. Tell me more; I’ve always gravitated toward the antique qualities of your music.
I think my music is nostalgic, but I’ve never gone for a retro sound. I use old instruments, but compositionally speaking, I look to Erik Satie a lot, and use simple melodies to evoke certain things, but I never think I’m writing old-sounding music — I don’t want to fall into that thing where people think it’s of a specific time and place. Like back when all of that swing stuff was going on and people were wearing pork pie hats and dressing like they’re from a certain era … There’s no longevity to that, so we’re not drawing from a specific thing. That said, a lot of things I do sound French and Spaghetti Western, and there are a lot of film references.
I start getting calls whenever some sort of gypsy band is coming town and they need an opener — something that has an accordion, or sounds old fashioned. When we started out everything was sort of “oompa oompa” and Tom Waits-like, but now we’ve gotten into writing textured and layered instrumental music. I always look to guys like Andrew Bird, and someone like PJ Harvey — musicians who go for a singular sound as opposed to wanting to be in a genre. For us it’s taken years to get any interest. It would be safer for us to play steam punk festivals and things like that, but I’ve never wanted to get lumped into a scene of any kind.
Those kinds of genre affiliations can drastically limit the public’s perception of what you do.
Right, Andrew Bird used to have Bowl of Fire, which was sort of a Squirrel Nut Zippers off-shoot, but now he’s become an indie heartthrob, and he’s just Andrew Bird. He doesn’t get compared to anyone else all too often, and that’s what I would like.
You mentioned Erik Satie, and I’ve always thought of him as an influence on what you do — more than just the music.
Yeah, especially when I first got into instrumental music, and was reading about his life and his sense of humor. He’s the artist that I relate to the most, and he was an outsider when he was doing it — using the fewest notes possible to get your message across really effectively. “Trois Gymnopédies” — those are three of the most beautiful songs ever written, and they’re so simple, and so elegant. He’s always been an inspiration for me.
I’ve often thought of him as the beginning of so-called alternative music as well.
Yeah, I read that he would dress crazy and wear all purple, and classical music people weren’t into what he did; like there was too much of a sense of humor to his music. I’ve always thought of him as a rebel and an outsider for his time.
He brought quirkiness to a new level … Tell me a Jeffrey Bützer joke.
Did you hear about that new sitcom with the fugitive psychic that is also a dwarf?
It's called "Small Medium at Large."
Thanks, do you like the songs on the 7-inch?
I do, but it’s difficult to criticize what you do because it’s so different from a rock or a hip-hop album. It’s music that settles into a different part of the brain that isn't prone to knee-jerk reactions. You have to let it sink in, and I don’t know if it’s the beta waves or what, but it places some demands on the listener. You have to think about it more than pop-oriented music.
One night I met Neil Hamburger, and he told me he's friends with Tom Green. When Tom Green started out with just a cable access show everybody liked it because it was so different. He wasn’t famous then, and anyone who discovered him, liked him. I tend to think that I’m sort of at that level, because I’ve never had any really bad reviews, just one neutral review. Critics seem to like it because there are no lyrics and it evokes certain imagery, so it’s fun to write about.
I think if I were more popular, it would turn around and I’d get a lot of shit on Crib Notes, and everyone would hate me. But I think because it’s pretty and I am where I am, people either don’t like it and ignore it, or they say really nice things about it.
where do metal bands find the fonts for their names?
"an illustrated guide…
What about the Billy Squier Metropolis score? Stroke me, stroke me....
Thanks for this wonderful news. Radar defined synergy. The band was greater than any player…
Second Hand Swagger!!
Totally original!!! Love love them!
The Quaildogs for sure!
It looks fun cheers