Bangers from Down Under #7 – The Butlers: Milky goodness for your eardrums
Upon introduction to The Butlers, I wasn’t a massive fan. After hearing that Mako Road were performing at a charity gig in Christchurch I jumped at the chance to see them, not paying much attention to the other accompanying acts – including The Butlers. But I was very pleasantly surprised when they appeared on the makeshift stage area and began to play some cracking songs.
The five-piece band is formed of Walt Robberds (vocals, rhythm guitar), George Berry (vocals, drums), Brad King (lead guitar), Jordan Kennedy (bass) and the masked saxophonist Stingy Hooligan. Hailing from Sumner, Christchurch, the boys have made a decent name for themselves locally and across the country. Their sound, which they describe as ‘milky goodness,’ combines aspects of jazz and surf with the reggae-rock style that is so prominent in Kiwi bands, and somehow it works. The band has released two albums: The Halfway House (2017) and The Butlers (2019), and one EP, Frederick’s Friends (2017).
Starting as usual with the band’s biggest hit, it becomes apparent how influential jazz is on their sound. ‘No Good Nina’ from their 2017 EP is a soft, soulful track driven largely by a guitar thick with reverb, a creeping bassline and quiet cymbals. Lyrically the track is quite simple and lends itself well to being catchy (it won’t take you many listens to sing along to the chorus), but it also allows Berry to showcase his deep voice, which is perhaps richer and fuller in comparison to Robberds’ thinner but pluckier voice. I particularly like the contrast in voice this band produces, using it to create interesting harmonies or different textures to various sections of their songs.
Another popular song by The Butlers is ’91 Unleaded.’ This song has a much more surf feel to it, stemming from the rolling guitar riffs and drum fills. The song is equally as catchy as ‘No Good Nina’ despite having a very different feel to it as soulful aspects are swapped for more up-beat rocky techniques. However, on the album Halfway House, ’91 Unleaded’ is followed by another of the band’s hits, ‘Are You Sure,’ yet the two songs feel like two very distinct genres: surf/soft-rock vs. jazz/soul. The band pulls both sounds off; ‘Are You Sure’ is a great track, emphasising Kennedy’s bass with the bright sounds from the guitar and the shrill cymbals, really showcasing the excellent vocals by both the band’s singers.
‘Why Do I Keep Coming Back’ from their latest 2019 release is a really interesting mix of jazz and reggae – the wah pedalled guitars that run through the verse and chorus blur into an electronic-organ-like sound in the bridge, bringing an unexpectedly smooth middle to the track. ‘Leopard of Sweet Dreams’ is the biggest track from the album, opening with Hooligan’s ‘milky’ saxophone playing, interspersed with periods of ambient guitar effects and sharp drumming.
The Butlers have served me, someone who has never cared much for jazz or surf, a jazz-reggae-surf-rock fusion that I didn’t ask for, but will definitely be returning to for some time to come.