THE DEVIL AND GOD…
If you’ve got any expectations about letlive.’s ‘If I’m The Devil…’, you’re in for a surprise. And that’s the point.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Phil Smithies.
“I’ve got to this point that could be dangerous or could be great, where I just don’t want to do anything that doesn’t speak in volumes. Whether it’s frightening, confronting or just cool, whatever it is, I just want to create art in my section of letlive. that makes you want to feel something,” starts letlive.’s instigator, Jason Aalon Butler. “Whether that’s good or bad, I want it to go on the spectrum of way left or way right.” The middle of the road was never really an option.
With the band’s fourth album Jason finally got to do what he’s always wanted, “which was clearly the unexpected but also to plant my feet in the ground and say, ‘See. This is what letlive. is. What you should expect from letlive., is to not know what to expect. For me, this record is about opening up that door, seeing if we can walk through it and how far.”
From the marching drums of ‘I’ve Learnt To Love Myself’ (which would sound right at home on Fall Out Boy’s ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’) through the A Tribe Called Quest beat-heavy influenced ‘Who You Are Not’, to the Nirvana-meets-Keaton Henson classic rock’n’roll shimmy of ‘A Weak Ago’, the band’s new album sees them go further than ever before. It doesn’t feel like a departure though. “It’s all just stuff that’s been waiting to get the proper representation and I think we finally did it with this record.”
“There’s this whole idea that music has to be something other than music. That’s dumb. These divisions we create, we call it punk or soul or pop, I just don’t care anymore. At the end of this letlive. thing I’d like people to look back and say, ‘They just wrote music, man’. I know the moniker under which we’re placed sometimes and I know the moniker under which I believe in. If it’s good music, it’s good music. Some of the most punk rock shit has been done by people who have never wanted a mohawk.”
Haircuts be damned, letlive. have always been an inclusive band but with ‘If I’m The Devil…’, the door is wide open. Everyone is welcome. “It doesn’t have to be a sonic expectation that we meet anymore. At least, I like to believe that. Maybe people think that’s bullshit but I think it’s just growing with the people who listen, that care about letlive.. We’ll all evolve together.”
And as for the backlash, well. “I actually want to feel trepidation and I want to be afraid when I release a record. Like, ‘Oh fuck’. Even if you completely condone what you’ve done, I want to feel a sense of risk. I want to know we took a chance and whether it worked or not, it really excites me to know that we did.”
‘If I’m The Devil…’ is a record unafraid of extremes but it’s also the least abrasive thing letlive. have put their name to. Considered, nuanced and delicate, it’s a reaction to Jason wanting, “to focus my efforts. To focus the frustration that may have been felt across the last two records and find a way to utilise that. To improve on things as opposed to just bitch about them. I want to be more concentrated in the movements that are being made with letlive. and again, speaking on behalf of the band, when we wrote this record we wanted a heavy record but not heavy in a traditional sense. We wanted this musical weight to fall upon people. When you listen to it you get a heavy heart. You feel a weight on your psyche and that’s what we did.”
Creating ‘If I’m The Devil…’ was not easy and because of that, an unspoken panel was created. Each and every moment of the record had to be agreed upon by the committee of all four members of letlive. and “a lot of stuff didn’t make it.” The difficulty spread the band “pretty thin, emotionally and personally. We had to tackle a lot of things before we went in so we could be that vulnerable with each other in the recording process. You have to trust each other in what makes it and what doesn’t and y’know, to this day there are things that I personally think should have made it and personally think shouldn’t have made it but the collection, the body of work, that’s correct. We did it. I’m really proud of everybody, of their performance and what they did on this record.”
It’s not just sonically that ‘If I’m The Devil…’ has opened things up. Letlive. have always taken on the world at large and fought for their place within it but, for the first time, this record doesn’t hold anything back.
“I think we’re a political band like we’re an emotional band, like we’re a pragmatic band, just like we’re a progressive band,” continues Jason, quick to point out that his views are “a little more on the radical side” than other members of the band. “Letlive. is just a forum to talk about shit that I think needs to be talked about and right now, around the world, there are many things that are fundamentally wrong. Anything that imposes or encroaches on the way of life of another human being is just not right. There are people who want to say these things but they can’t. Luckily I’m in a position where some of my rights dictate I can say whatever I want without being censored, so I figure we use the platform to speak for those who can’t do it on this level.” ‘If I’m The Devil…’ also speaks for the individual.
“This is just how I feel. I’m not saying it’s the only way to feel and I’m not saying it’s entirely right. It’s not a sense of absolution. I don’t feel like I know everything and that I know the way to fix it but I’m just discussing what I know is wrong. That to me is ostensible, that to me is glaring. What is wrong is obvious and I want to advance the conversation so we can figure out how to fix it.”
“If you don’t want to join us for that ride, then maybe this isn’t for you and that’s ok too. But I do implore you to listen. To actually listen to what’s being said and I don’t just mean that lyrically. Listen to how Jeff, Lonny and RG are speaking with their instruments and how the songs are speaking to people. There’s a lot more to these songs than I think we’ve ever done. We’ve so deliberately created this music that there’s so much more intent with what we’ve done, so I would encourage people to listen before they turn it off. With every person that might fall off though, I think there’ll be new people who have never considered us before, maybe consider us.”
Drawing from a more colourful pallet and with a better understanding of how to communicate grand ideas, ‘If I’m The Devil…’ is letlive. at their most compelling. Like it or not, it’s catchy as sin and you can keep your punk rock guilt over that to yourself. “We didn’t write the record to lose a fan and gain four but that’s just the nature of the game. I had to come to terms with that years ago when we dropped ‘Fake History’. As an artist, you have to try and indulge yourself sometimes and I know that this time, I was able to indulge myself a little. I wanted to make this an emotional exercise as opposed to just an intellectual exercise and also, I wanted it to be more palatable.”
Aware that being accessible and catchy are dirty words in certain circles, Jason would like to let people know he doesn’t give a fuck. There’s a reason he wants to let people into the world of letlive. and it’s not for the sales. “I don’t give a fuck about selling a million records, I don’t care about making a million dollars. I wouldn’t mind it, that’d be fucking sick. I live in a capitalistic-based society so of course that would be helpful in some ways, but the reason I want this to be more accessible or widespread is because I think these are things people are thinking and can’t say. Not because they don’t know how, literally because they’re being silenced. ‘Cause they’re told to mind their Ps and Qs, to draw between the lines, to paint by numbers and that’s why I want this record to be more accessible. Not because I want to be on the radio ‘cause I’m not a wide eyed, utopian kid, I’m a grown ass man who knows for the most part, that’s a system in which I don’t really cater to and I don’t really worry about that right now. What I’m worried about is writing music that makes me feel like I’m being honest and that’s what we’re trying to create with this record. That was the idea, the vision was to speak to more people and we’ll see. We’ll see how many people listen.”
There’s a feeling of emancipation to ‘If I’m The Devil. that speaks volumes. “If you felt stuck in any way, if you felt trapped by your parents or your government or if it’s your sexuality or the hue or fairness of your skin, I want people to take away a sense of freedom. You’ve got to understand that letlive.’s got a white dude, a half-black guy, a black guy and a guy who’s of Lebanese descent. We’re pretty cultured as far as our backgrounds go and we all come from very different places. I want people to feel that for once, they were represented. Even if they felt like there was no one there that would ever speak for them, or understand them or experience what they’ve experienced. I hope what we have to offer is some sort of representation for those people.”
That raging sense of unity on ‘If I’m The Devil’ is also one that celebrates individuality. “Here’s the thing, and I’m really careful when I say this, but I don’t think we’re the same. I just don’t. We’re just not the same and that’s the most beautiful and interesting thing about humanity. We are not the same and we can find all these intricacies and beauties in our differences, That’s what I want people to really understand. Like, race. Race is a construct that was created in the effort of power so to me, that’s not a difference. That’s not a real difference to me but it has to be considered when you’re talking about racism and you’re talking about power, ‘cause those are the constructs in which we live.
“I want everyone to know, we’re not supposed to be the same. I just think we’re all here, sharing and inhabiting this thing called Earth and before we completely fucking blow it up or ruin it, we need to realise we’re all here to coexist. And coexist with our differences. I think that’s the big message y’know. The beauty of our disparity is that we find things in others that we don’t have in ourselves and that’s how we become a society as a whole. This is talking globally, just trying to figure out how to be different together and be ok with that.
“Who knows man, it could never happen. That’s some Disney shit right there. It might never happen but I’m one of those utopian… what did Walt Disney say? ‘If you can think, it’s possible’, or something. It’s just what I believe. If people want to join in that thought process, they can.”
As optimistic and welcoming as Jason is, ‘If I’m The Devil…’ doesn’t shy away from reality’s bite. Confrontational and eloquent, the topics that find themselves in the crosshairs are tackled with no holes barred. This isn’t a new look for the band though, they’ve just realised there’s nothing to gain from being afraid. “I wrote a song for fucking ‘Fake History’ that was so unapologetic in discussing racism in America and I didn’t put it on the record. I was much more cautious when I was younger because of my self-consciousness and my insecurities but those are things that I’ve been dealing with.”
‘I’m The Devil…’ tackles topics that Jason has wanted to write about since the beginning of letlive.. “I wanted to say these things, I just didn’t know if I knew the right way to say them. I needed people to be aware of a sense of eloquence and a way to assimilate the idea without being ‘Yo, this is fucked up. We need to change it’, ‘cause nobody’s going to listen to a neanderthal rendition of police brutality or policy that needs to be changed, so I had to develop myself as not only a musician but as an activist. I had to figure out how people were going to listen. I spent years doing it.”
Taking part in protests and campaigns, the perspective comes from someone who’s been involved. ‘Good Mourning, America’ was written in the aftermath of a protest because “there was no better time. There was something in the back of my head yelling at me, you have to write a song about this because it’s one of the only ways that you, personally, can effect a change. A change that I so desperately want and that I complain about all the time. You can’t just talk about it, you got to be about it. There’s a lot of shit going down, and here’s the thing. It’s been going on forever but now people are aware, it’s one of those strike while the iron’s hot things. Since people are somewhat woke and listening, it’s time to really give them the cold hard truth. Those that want to be with you, will be with you and those that want to be against you, it’s going to be hard to change their mind but I’m ok with that. I’m ok with figuring it out as we go along.”
As charged, passionate and real as ‘If I’m The Devil…’ is, it’s not a call to arms. There’s more to it than screaming “Fuck the police” or “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. Instead, just like The Wonder Years’ ‘No Closer To Heaven’, Tonight Alive’s ‘Limitless’ and Architects’ ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’, it’s an encouraging cry for education. The start of a discussion, if you want to hear it. A demand for awareness. “Not in an offensive way but I think that the majority of people will be ignorant to a lot of the facts because that’s how this system that is extremely powerful and extremely processed works. They make sure people don’t know.
“There are physical, emotional and actual geographical restraints that stop people from protesting, but just being aware and hopefully investing themselves in something that does effect the collective consciousness, that is the change I believe in. I believe that there needs to be this collective idea that we are advancing these movements and changing them. It doesn’t mean everybody in the streets and fighting with political figures or authority. It’s a collective idea that goes beyond the politics, that goes with learning about yourself. That’s what I did with this record, that’s why I’m so comfortable with these confronting and uncomfortable situations. I had to learn about myself.”
From that, comes a self-acceptance. Like the opening track says, “I’ve learned to love myself, I’ve learned to love my self-abandonment.” “I had to learn about myself emotionally, intellectually and physically. I had to learn that hurting myself physically wasn’t the best move if I wanted to continue on, to be a father or be around longer than 27-30 years. Just learning about one’s self and understanding that there’s a beauty in our indiscretions, our imperfections and our flaws, that’s what makes us the beautiful species that we are.”
Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now – order your copy here. letlive.’s album ‘If I’m The Devil…’ is out 10th June.