In the build up to recording this debut, “The most exciting Scottish talent to emerge in recent times” (BBC Scotland’s Roddy Hart) Rory Butler has opened for the likes of John Paul White (The Civil Wars), folk legend Richard Thompson, Paul Weller, Lucy Rose, Eric Bibb, and Ross Wilson (Blue Rose Code). His first single ‘Black and Blue’ was included on Apple Music’s Best of the Week and Spotify's New Music Friday playlists. The track peaked at #6 on the Spotify 'Viral' chart and made it onto key ‘New Music’ playlists in Brazil, Germany, Portugal and Sweden, bolstering total world-wide streaming figures to over 800,000.
Written and recorded between his hometown Edinburgh and London, Rory created ‘Window Shopping’ to channel his frustration at cyber addiction and the subsequent detachment from reality and human interaction it creates. The songs examine how certain digital platforms have led to desensitisation from what should be shocking, nonchalant feelings towards real world issues, and a warped perspective of reality.
Armed with his guitar and a tongue in cheek sense of humour, Rory’s songs dance on the dichotomy of happy tunes with a serious message. Rory veils his anguish and exhaustion at social media and trash TV with metaphors and introspective questions directed at the listener asking to examine their relationship with the digital world, and to be mindful of how to spend time connecting to others, “My main issue is that it implants a negativity in impressionable young minds. It can be damaging to younger generations where there is an ideal and image that is difficult to aspire to, and its modelling young people an impossible reality. It equates to addiction. I’ve even been caught up in it, and I resent it.”
Assisting with a few co-writes on the album (tracks 7 & 8) was Crispin Hunt, chairman at the Ivors Academy and ex-vocalist of Brit-rock band Longpigs, who befriended Rory when he lived in East London for a short time, “Crispin was a guiding figure for me in the early days, and a trusted adviser. I would play him random bits of guitar work and he could piece them together and direct me to melodies, or vice versa. They’re the oldest songs on the album, and I feel like working with him had a lasting effect on my approach to songwriting.”
One song that gives a vivid example of how Rory sees social media’s numbing effect is ‘That Side Of The World’. In the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, many will remember the devastating image of a young child washed up on the shores of a Mediterranean beach. For Rory and many others, this was a wakeup call, “I was hit by how the image triggered an emotional response to the crisis. It’s easier sometimes to remove myself from a reality, no matter how terrible, if it only appears as statistics and data on a page. The photograph seemed to have the impact of making things heartbreakingly real. I often struggle with how strongly I can feel about things, and yet how far they have to go before I act. I guess the song is a reminder not to let that happen.”
‘Mind Your Business’ was inspired by a photo series by Eric Pickersgill called ‘Removed’, in which the photographer brilliantly captured people going about their everyday life glued to their phones, then edited the devices out of their hands. The result is a comical showcase of gormless expressions and the perfect example of people disconnected from their environments. Rory’s analysis is one of exasperation, asking questions like ‘How can I keep my guard up baby?/ When I’m living online?/ I am living on it./ Every last minute on it,/ every single second on it,/ I don’t know…’
Rory’s effortless songwriting really stands out, and it’s easy to tell it is a key focus for him. From starting each song as guitar pieces, he weaves together lyrics and themes influenced by the feel of the tune, using emotion to guide his thoughts, “Most of the time the lyrics are informed by a feeling of nostalgia I get from the music, because the guitar part always comes first”.
His guitar work is equally as impressive, as he had no formal training and learnt to play completely by ear from listening to John Martyn, James Taylor and Nick Drake. The absence of theory training has aided Rory in his own writing by allowing him to create from a self-proclaimed “place of ignorance.” The ‘ignorance’ breaks down any barriers of how music should be written, making room for songs created purely by intuition.
This intuitive approach, whilst yielding a brilliant selection of songs, did cause an exercise in theory practice for the musicians brought in to record the album. However, whilst learning the tunes was something of a process, the recording sessions flowed organically and wrapped up in a mere 4 days. Initially capturing live full band performances at London’s Konk studios, the only overdubbing came from brief backing vocal performances by Rory recorded at the Slate Room when he returned to Edinburgh. Instrumental to getting studio time and recruiting the musicians was the organisation Help Musicians (HMUK). Chris Sheehan who runs Karousel Music was another friend made by Rory during his stint in East London, and another figure who could see the great potential in him. After putting Rory in contact with the organisation, he was selected for a grant that covered recording and musician hire. Rory also worked with Gothenburg based artist Cameron Watt to create an abstract portrait of him for the album cover, satirising the ‘selfie’ photo.
Rory’s upbringing certainly helped direct him towards being a musician. When he was growing up, his parents ran a recording studio at their home in Edinburgh, and Rory has vivid memories of a revolving door of musicians and bands coming to record. The profound effect it had on him sprung into his mind when recording this album, as he stepped through the doors of Konk studios to see an old-school analogue mixing desk in the control room, “It was a classy place, quite a step up from most studios I’d been in. In a way it had some nostalgia attached to it, albeit sexier. The analogue desk made me feel quite at home from the old days. It just felt right and aligned with the feelings of nostalgia already written into the music.”
The other early career experience that had a huge effect on Rory was being invited to perform at the John Martyn gathering. The music festival-like gathering has been taking place over three days for a number of years to celebrate the life and music of John and, seemingly out the blue, in 2016 Rory was invited to play a set by none other than Danny Thompson and the family of Ralph McTell. A dream come true for Rory, who counts John Martyn among his greatest influences, he has been asked back to play every year since.