Los Angeles post-hardcore band Letlive. have had a pretty amazing 2013, culminating with Rock Sound magazine naming their album, The Blackest Beautiful, Album Of The Year. We caught up with founder and frontman Jason Aalon Butler ahead of their recent gig at The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham for a quick chat.
BL — So, what’s your headspace right now? How are you feeling?
J — Yeah, I guess the closest to… it sounds so silly.. but the closest to euphoria I’ve felt for quite some time cos when you enter into a realm that you don’t expect or anticipate, it’s almost like a dream sequence, y’know. Every day people are showing up to these shows and not only are they showing up but they’re coming in fucking droves! People are coming and they’re singing and they understand and they wanna be a part of what it is that we’re doing It really is a dream that’s being realised in this moment and it’s fuckin’ crazy.
BL — You’ve been making music in some form for a long time now. You talk about euphoric moments. At what point did it start feeling like that?
J — Honestly, I think the first time was when we played Download. I’ve been playing music now since I was a kid. I started playing guitar when I was eleven. Then we started the band and we released a CD and that got some acclaim and then all of a sudden, at Donington Park in 2011, thousands of people were waiting to see what everyone had been talking about and even before I sing the first note I get into an altercation and as soon as we start there’s just this crazy exchange of energy between us and the crowd. At that moment I thought that this was something that could be significant for more than just the five people on the stage. It was just the mindset. Make music for people and not just yourselves any more.
BL — So did it feel like it took off more in the UK than it did back home?
J — In the beginning, yeah. Absolutely. Whatever that catalyst was, it existed here quite heavily and it was quite apparent that we were seen a little differently than we were at home. I’m not sure if that’s because the UK sees things the way we see them but we’re very grateful.
BL — After Fake History taking the band to such new levels, there was a lot of anticipation for the new album. How does that feel when you know people are waiting for it?
J- We’re not out there trying to tick boxes and adhere to what we think people expect of us. The way Letlive. works is that it’s very organic and it works on its own and if we, as a unit, feel like we wanna play this riff or I wanna write these kinds of lyrics then we’re gonna do it in confidence that people are gonna understand it cos it’s more than just a look or one song or one lyric, it’s this holistic sort of advocate of everything. We felt like people deserved a good fuckin’ record. So if we put everything we can into writing what we think is a good record we feel that our spectrum, within the five people in the band, is wide enough to appeal to the listeners.
We weren’t really feeling any pressure for it to do what Fake History did, on any level really. All we wanted to do was deliver a record that people deserved because it had taken so much time to write it. It was almost three years. And not to say that we were doing it to please anyone but, at the same time, we were doing it for everyone — ourselves and the people that are listening.
BL — And now that you’ve had chance to take those songs out on tour, do you feel like the new songs sit well amongst the old material and have just expanded the Letlive. sound?
J — I think that’s exactly what happened and I think that if people have familiarised themselves with the music, they identify with the music and now they’re existing with and through this music with us. Honestly, I feel like we provide a soundtrack. We’re not the champions or the conductors of the musical train or whatever the fuck you wanna call it, we’re just writing the soundtrack for something to happen, whether that be something as simple as someone saying they had a hard time growing up or something as grand as a fucking revolution, we wanna be somewhere in the middle there just writing a soundtrack for it, creating this forum for people to feel like that’s ok. It’s inspiring for us to be a part of that.
I feel like some bands feel like they’re entitled to have people come to their shows and they expect things but I feel like I’m just a music fan myself and I’m lucky enough to see the other side of the fence for a little bit, but I still just exist as a fan of music and art and I feel like we’re sharing it. We’re not just playing music for people. We’re sharing the experience
BL — You’re talking about breaking down barriers between you and the audience and I think when you witness the band live it’s very apparent that you do that physically as well as metaphorically. I know in Manchester you went to see a band up the street just before your own gig. How was that?
J — It was cool. You should never assume that people are gonna know who you are so I just walked in, waited in line and I was just chilling, watching this band that I wanted to see cos I liked a couple of songs and then people came over to talk and we got to talk about Letlive. and some people were saying they were leaving to come to our show later. I got to see one of my favourite current hardcore bands play; they’re friends of mine from home; this band called Hundredth, and I got to feel that feeling of…. It’s just you and the band… I got to feel that before I played and it’s so necessary to be able to go out and see a band and not have to worry about performing.
BL — Letlive. shows have built a reputation for being fairly crazy. Are there ever times when you feel like you just wanna stand on stage and sing without running around and climbing balconies etc?
J — This music not only compels me but literally takes control. It takes me and put me somewhere that I can’t exist at any other point in my life. With Letlive. it’s like the flick of a switch. I just go. It sounds silly but I give myself away for that hour and a half or whatever it may be. It reminds me that we, as human beings, can really push ourselves far beyond any limits we can see.
BL — I’ve seen you play small cubs and bigger venues with bands like Deftones. Do you ever feel restricted to do what you do in the live environment?
J — No. That’s probably why I get in trouble cos I never really think about that. I live my life, as a man, trying to be respectful to all things that exists around me but sometimes things are only there to restrict us and then, maybe, I don’t abide by some of the rules but I’ll try to explain myself afterwards. If anything, if it’s a big stage I just think it’s cool cos I get to run around more.
BL _ I guess now your live reputation precedes you somewhat. Are you finding that now people are telling you what you can and can’t do even before you get on stage?
J — Oh yeah! We’ve had it every single night of this tour. They’ll speak with our tour manager and they’ll come to me and say “This is off limits, this is off limits…”. I have driven myself two hours back to a venue to fix a hole in the wall. I will do whatever I can to amend the situation that I fucked up. But I don’t wanna hurt anyone. I don’t want the roof to fall on kids, I don’t want anything to fall on someone, but if I feel like I can stretch it to where I’m the only one who might get hurt I’ll take the risk for sure. I don’t worry about that.
BL — So, after this tour, what’s next?
J — We go home. I, personally, am gonna do some travelling. I’m gonna go to Brooklyn and Philadelphia and then fly from LAX to Perth, Australia and I might stop in China. Then we come back and start another tour with Every Time I Die in small venues in the US. And we should be coming back here before the summer.
BL — What’s the endgame? Is Letlive. what you want it be now or is it moving towards what you want it to be?
J — I think success is relative. Right now, I feel like we’ve succeeded. I feel like every single day that we’re still a band is successful. I’m just trying to see how far I can take everything. I’d like Letlive. to be viewed as something more than just a band; sort of like an idea.. an essence. I would love, some day, to be able to help with Letlive. , whether it be a charitable notion or helping people emotionally, I don’t know. I know that I wanna open up Letlive. to be something bigger than just a band.
I don’t really care much about being rich or having my name plastered all over walls or having accolades. I don’t really care about that. I’d like Letlive. to be important to more people than just the five of us in the band, y’know. That’s the endgame for me, I believe.
Interview & photos – Steve Gerrard