Editor’s note: This article was originally published January 27, 2014
The Black and White Years celebrated the release of their latest CD ‘Strange Figurines’ last Friday at the Parish. It’s the band’s first release in over three years and it represents an evolution for the band. The album is primarily a collection of love songs, rendered with lush electronic orchestrations and ample shimmer. The show was a success, clocking just 30 heads short of a sellout less than 24 hours after a snowstorm shut down the entire city.
We caught up with singer-songwriter Scott Butler and guitarist Landon Thompson to talk about the show, the new album and how the band is doing these days. You can read the full article here, but here are a few extra excerpts from our conversation.
On the three year break between albums
Butler: We spent about a year rehearsing new material before we really started recording. We were demoing and working on new material.
Then we got in the studio with Danny (Reisch) and spent a year recording, so it looks to an outside observer like 3 years off but for us, at least the last year the album’s basically been done.
It’s been a wild ride and we’re so glad to have something new to show people. As a writer I’ve been writing constantly this entire time but nobody ever gets to hear any of it so it’s good to be able to release some music and be like ‘Guys, I haven’t quit. I’m not lazy.’
On life getting in the way
Thompson: Each of us kind of had brushes with family passing and stuff like that. That kind of stuff, life stuff, kind of takes the wind out of your sails when it comes to something like an art project.
On the band’s near breakup and rejuvenation
Butler: At the time that we released ‘Patterns’ in 2010 there was a feeling, at least among the band, that it was probably the last thing that we were going to do . We’d been having a lot of personal problems throughout the recording of ‘Patterns.’ We were really not getting along. We were really not speaking that often. So when we decided to release ‘Patterns’ it was very much sort of a ‘well the album is done let’s do one last hurrah and see how it turns out’ and lucky for us in rehearsing for that we sort of found a new life.
Thompson: I think personally it was just getting together and (getting past) all the (expletive) vibe like you know worrying about money, or where we’re going with this and just getting back down to why we were doing this in the first place, which was we all enjoyed playing music and we enjoyed each other’s company outside of the stresses of what might have happened in our first album.
On dissatisfaction with the band’s highly successful 2008 debut album that was produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison.
Butler: It just sounded completely different in every conceivable way than the way I imagined our first record sounding. It was so slick it was so well-produced, but my sensibility has always leaned a bit more honest and lo-fi and not beautifully produced and poppy.
Thompson: When we say we don’t like it, it’s because we’re looking at a very detailed (version of it). You see it day to day. You live it and it’s the material that you’re consumed with. But to an outsider the difference of kind of how we imagined it and the way it turned out might not be so drastic.
Butler: All that being said it sounds great. It was very well produced. Very well thought out. They did their job very well. It was just not at all what I wanted. Had they given me what I wanted we may not be talking right now about it. So I say all of this with an acknowledgement that if we had released the lo-fi album I wanted maybe nobody would ever have heard of the Black and White Years.
On the new album and the inclusion of Butler’s wife Adrienne Butler as a guest vocalist
Butler: I’m in love with it. I feel precisely the opposite about it that I do about the first record. It again sounds nothing like I imagined it but this time in a good way.
We’re really happy to have (Adrienne) on the record and I do think it gives the entire record, even the songs that she’s not on there a different feeling. It definitely is full of love songs. Most of the songs deal in some way or another with relationships.
As a writer it’s interesting to me because I do not write love songs. This has been traditionally something I’ve stayed away from actively. Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, they’ve done love songs so well. I’m never going to refine that. I kind of always felt like there were plenty of bands doing love. I spent the entire first and the second album talking about the end of the world and ecological collapse and things that were just not romantic at all and so for me it was refreshing to write about such nice things as love and relationships and such things.
On the Austin music community
Thompson: It’s a fact that we wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for the Austin music community because every dollar that went into making the album is money that we made off of shows.
We just worked hard. We didn’t take a dime from shows for about a year or two.
Every penny that went into (the album), about 90 percent was from shows that we played (in Austin) —people just buying tickets or tee shirts or whatever. And we’re thankful for the community that comes out to the shows. We’re really lucky to be doing it in Austin because we wouldn’t find that same kind of interest in Dallas or Houston or pretty much any other city really.
The Black and White Years do not have any gigs currently scheduled in Austin, but they plan to maintain an active gig schedule during South by Southwest.