Winds of Change

an interview with Biff Butler (Geezer’s son) by David Lee

Hello Joe,

Here is an interview with Geezer Butler’s son, Biff. If you do want to post it on the site you can get a photo from http://www.apartment26.com or from Gloria Butler if you have contact with her.

Take care,
David

I once had a conversation with Jason Bonham in which he told me that being the son of LED ZEPPELIN’s John “Bonzo” Bonham was equal part’s curse and blessing. “. . .of course the association will open up some doors for you but there is another door right inside of that one that doesn’t exist for other people . . . ” is how he related it to me. Biff Butler, son of one of the founding fathers of heavy metal and bassist for the legendary BLACK SABBATH, Geezer Butler, is in a similar situation. The difference here being that in Biff’s case not only is he daring to enter the same profession as his famous father but is set to do so on the very same stage! It is still far too early to predict the outcome but if APARTMENT 26’s five song Demo is any indication, all doors that are now closed to Biff and his band, will be blown clean off the hinge.

APARTMENT 26, (the name is taken from a recurring visual in several of David Lynch’s films), is likely to be lumped in with bands like MACHINE HEAD, FEAR FACTORY and NINE INCH NAILS, and for appearance’s sake ORGY, but just as Biff is his own man, this group is it’s own distinguishable entity. Where MACHINE HEAD and FEAR FACTORY pummel the listener, each in their own way, APARTMENT 26 is content to just smack you around for a bit if for no other reason than to wake you up enough to think for yourself. Similarly, where Trent Reznor’s NINE INCH NAILS has an almost inhuman feel to it, APARTMENT 26 is as organic as the technology involved will allow. The music is delivered with all the latest bells and whistles yet it still has a human heart. The balance between the creator and the instrument is what sets this band apart from all others.

Despite Biff’s heavy connections, (besides his dad having practically invented heavy metal, his mom is one of the more powerful women working in the industry guiding the careers of her husband, her son and GRAVITY KILLS among others), he and his band are the lowest on this year’s OZZ-FEST totem pole. This is a band that will have to earn their keep every night in front of an audience that knows absolutely nothing about them. I, for one, have every confidence that at the end of the day, this band will be making a good many fans on this trek across the Atlantic. The music is strong, the attitude is right and the heritage is undeniable. This is the dawning of a new day for heavy metal and you are among the first to watch the son rise.

Biff phoned in from England where he and the rest of APARTMENT 26 are in rehearsals for their appearances on this year’s installment of the OZZ-FEST.

DAVID LEE Strange as it may sound, your mom sent me your CD, that has to be a bit of a novelty in the business?

BIFF Yeah.(laughs)

DL Actually, that has to have been the greatest help to you in starting your career with APARTMENT 26?

BIFF It is. Obviously, I see quite a lot of her so I can just kind of have my finger right there on the button without having to catch my manager only occasionally.

DL I have read that the CD came from sessions that were only intended to produce a couple of songs but kind of metamorphosised into this EP.

BIFF Yeah, it was to be sort of a quick demo really and we seemed to gel with the guy that we where working with, the guy from GRAVITY KILLS. It turned out that he had all of the ideas that we already had, it wasn’t anything too new and everything worked so well that we just did one song right after the other. We actually recorded another song that didn’t make it onto the CD and we could have just carried on for ages but due to time restrictions we had to come back to England. It all went very well.

DL How long ago were these songs recorded?

BIFF I don’t know, about three months ago, I guess.

DL So, since then have you compiled any new songs or ideas for songs?

BIFF Yeah. Actually, we already have quite a few songs together and since recording the CD we haven’t really been writing too much. I mean, the guys have written their own stuff and we have all been writing little things, I suppose, ideas for new songs. After our experience in America, we just got so much inspiration from working in the studio there that we really didn’t bother making anything of it because we had to concentrate on the live element because of the OZZ-FEST thing coming up.

DL I don’t know if I should envy you or be afraid for you having chosen the OZZ-FEST to make your American public debut. I mean, these will be your first live performances, right?

BIFF Yeah, pretty much. We have done quite a few shows as we are now but when we go to America we are going to get a drummer as well. We have never played with a drummer before so, in a way it is almost like having a new band. For our first show to be this big OZZ-FEST tour is quite overwhelming.

DL Are they going to rotate the acts on the two stages as they did last year?

BIFF Yeah. We will begin by opening up the second stage but then, eventually, we will be opening the main stage and sometimes being penultimate on the second stage so we will sometimes be playing ahead of these bands that are so far superior (to us). For instance, we all worship HED PE and to be playing after them is just ridiculous!(laughs) It is quite weird really.

DL I don’t want to scare you any more but I have seen HED PE recently and going on after them is not something to be taken lightly.

BIFF Yeah, it is somewhat scary.

DL Still, when it comes down to that night and you don’t want to do it you still will have to g. Just like THE WHO had to follow JIMI HENDRIX at Monterey.

BIFF Yeah, obviously the crowd will be a lot more familiar with all the other bands so there is a lot less pressure on them. They can just go out there and do their thing for their fans where as we have to earn our fans. Also, because we are doing a slightly different variation of metal music we have to make people appreciate the music as a genre as well as getting people to stop standing there and saying “Come on and prove it” because we are an unsigned band and because we are young and all of these other things. The pressure is really on us and to have to go on after such energetic live bands as HED PE is going to be quite daunting, I guess. It is also going to be quite fun because we get to watch our favorite bands like FEAR FACTORY, THE DEFTONES and HED PE for two months straight!

DL That seems to be the order of the day at OZZ-FEST for the artist to actually join the crowd for each others sets.

BIFF Yeah!

DL You mentioned that you are putting a new twist on heavy music and it reminds me of when I really got into bands like IRON MAIDEN and others from that era and how there was this absolutely anti-synthesizer aesthetic to heavy metal. That is no longer the case, in fact, it would seem to be exactly where modern metal is heading. I also think that what you are doing is a great example of that phenomena.

BIFF After listening to bands like PEARL JAM or SOUND GARDEN who always went for the sort of more striped down sound I just find that there is so much more that is dynamic with programmed drums and synthesizer and samples. For those elements to be in there, they are just ear candy, just more things to listen to. To have an amazing song and to have all these textures over it just means that you can go back to the song and listen to it over and over again and notice different things about it every time. To have all those different layers, I just find it more interesting. There are so many bands out there and so much music that there is really no reason to keep going back to the same song. If there is a reason, such as all of these elements to go back and discover over and over again, then people will come back and listen to this music again.

DL The thing that works for me with your music is that the songs are well written and a well written song will shine out no matter what is put on top of it. The problem I have with a good number of bands is that they use technology in lieu of talent and that is, thankfully, not the case with APARTMENT 26.

BIFF Thank you very much. I know what you mean though. We notice that a lot of bands, not naming names, but there are bands that would basically be a straight forward metal band and then because it is a trendy thing or they happen to have the equipment lying around in the studio will add a drum and bass loop for no reason, just to make it sound more modern. Or to warp their guitar through some funky processor just to make it sound slightly different but then you can spot those a mile away. Because we are not fundamentally a metal band, I mean, half of us aren’t really into that scene, we do really write it as it sounds. It is not as if we write these metal songs and just add all these other layers over it.

DL I was buzzing through your web site and I notice that you have this recurring theme of pushing the idea that people should start thinking for themselves. . .

BIFF “Stop being spoon fed.”

DL Yeah, and metal music has been very limited historically as to what people will accept as being “Hard” or “Heavy” or “Metal.” It was very refreshing to see somebody make a point to say that.

BIFF I think that for us, just as music fans, it is good to see, especially when this tour is being billed as SABBATH’s last tour and that it is really the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. So, for the biggest metal tour in the world to be including electronic acts, I think, is showing how much it has crossed over. Last year with LIMP BIZKIT being on the tour I think that the young people don’t see metal as a traditional sort of thing but looking more into the future of the whole thing. The whole barrier of genre restriction should be broken down completely because I don’t think it is the case any more. This one person is a metalhead and this one person is a technohead or whatever. People are just into whatever they are into, one day they will listen to KORN and the next they will want to listen to GOLDY or RONNIESIZE. Of course there is nothing wrong with straight forward metal or straight forward rap or whatever but I think that people are getting into a much more diverse kind of thing because there are so many genres out there.

DL When you get together to write from what aspect is it? From a jam or does something start from a lyric or how does it work for you?

BIFF Because of being so young and so new, there really isn’t a formula yet. We are trying to find a formula but there really are no set rules where we say “This is an APARTMENT 26 song.” or “This song is not.” We just use whatever we write, basically. We can’t jam a lot because we don’t have a drummer so the programmer, A.C., he will come in with a song basically written as a bunch of beats and keyboard programing and stuff and then the bass player and the guitar player will just write some riffs over it which will add texture, maybe the guitar player will add some noises over it which the keyboard player will make keyboard sounds as opposed to guitar noises. I will be sitting there during the whole process just commenting on which bits I like and don’t like and then I add lyrics after that.

DL When you wrote the lyrics to these particular songs, what state of mind where you in for each one? Did they come from a single stream of thought or where they collected from over a period of time?

BIFF It is never really a situation of just sitting down and writing an entire song. I have this notebook that I will have to turn to at three in the morning when I just can’t get to sleep and I’ll turn on the lights and write something down. Or I will be in some bizarre situation and I will write down all of these thoughts and then when it comes to putting lyrics to a song I will grab each of these thoughts that might be slightly relevant to each other and they will appear as lyrics. Usually, they will come as an entire verse and another verse could be about something completely different but I will have to rewrite it slightly just to make it fit. Most music is written in a more down or angry state but at the same time I will be slightly pissed off about something but I will write optimistically about something. For example, if you are talking to a girl and you are breaking up or ending the relationship, I will be smiling because I know that something good is going to come out of it, like a song lyric or something. I can be there, on the phone, breaking up with someone and then writing all this cool stuff down because it makes for good lyrics. I guess I am always trying to turn a negative situation into a positive.

DL Well, that is certainly much more of a mature attitude about breaking up with a girl than I have ever had!(laughs)

BIFF (Laughing)I guess it is easy to say that in hindsight, I guess.

DL Something that I have just noticed from looking at the bands bio is that everyone else has a first and a last name, how come you want to be known as “Biff?”

BIFF Well, there are two reasons, first, to not make the whole connection with my dad a huge focus and also I don’t like alliterated names. “Biff Butler” just sounds to me like a professional wrestler or a cartoon character or something. It sounds a bit goofy to me so, if I was known as anything else which didn’t begin with a “B” then it would have been fine, I suppose. I am not trying to create some sort of a “Madonna” or anything like that, it was just that the name sounded a bit goofy to me.

DL Well, I wasn’t going to let you get off the phone without asking you about your dad and since you have brought him up, not being the son of some incredibly popular and famous person, I have to think that having chosen to enter the very field that your father helped to define has to be a pretty heavy weight to bear? No pun intended!(laughs)

BIFF (Laughing)Yeah! Well, it has obviously got its amazing pros because of the opportunities that it has shown us IE: the OZZ-FEST and because of the connection of him and then my mom being our manager it just means that we get our music played to the proper people, a lot quicker. In that way, I suppose, as a band we are quite spoiled but at the same time it is not as if he writes our stuff or anything. Obviously, the opportunities wouldn’t be able to be fulfilled unless we were doing the stuff for ourselves anyway. At the same time it can be a bit restricting because people are going to be standing there at the OZZ-FEST sort of being overly judgmental about us, maybe sort of comparing us. In a way, I think, that it is sort of relevant as well because of how we will be opening the entire OZZ-FEST and they will obviously be closing it so it is like the whole thing has come full circle. That is how metal started, with BLACK SABBATH, and us being where metal is at today.

DL Your dad has had a very long career and that is rare in the business. Is longevity something that you are striving to achieve for both your music and your career?

BIFF Yeah. We obviously don’t try and sit down and write another “Iron Man” or “Paranoid” or something but at the same time, I prefer to have a song that will last. The real catchy songs and the real radio friendly songs are essentially “one hit wonders” and they are obviously shipping lots of units so more power to them but they won’t be on the air next year. There is not much there and once you have heard the song it might stick in your head for a while but there is nothing else to really listen to whereas when we try to make music, like when we are in the studio, we will come up with all of these little elements that when we listen to it with headphone, we didn’t even know they were there so it is stuff that we can come back to.

DL While I was looking at the website I also noticed your list of band that you claim as an influence, DEPECHE MODE, NINE INCH NAILS, BJORK I mean, I don’t think that anybody in these bands would have had much of an influence from SABBATH so I am wondering if maybe you intentionally moved away from some of the stuff your dad was doing? How did having Geezer Butler as a dad affect your taste or did it?

BIFF Well, actually all of the bands that I really listen to now, that is really just within the past two or three years whereas before I was really heavily into all of the sort of like, PEARL JAM and SOUNDGARDEN and then PANTERA and even heavier stuff like BRUJERIA or DEICIDE. I was, for a while, very much into heavy metal but I did obviously realize that at one point that all these bands that I was listening too where all influenced by BLACK SABBATH and yes that is my dad so it got a bit weird. No, I don’t think that it really made me shy away, it was just that I had been into metal for so long that I just, sort of, listen to other things and it brings other elements into this bands music so that we are not just coming up with regurgitations of other bands music. The bass player and the guitar player are very much up on today’s metal scene whereas myself and the programmer are more into stuff away from that which are the elements that we try to bring into the band.

DL Do you listen to Dad’s music?

BIFF No, I don’t sit down and listen to it much because I have heard it so much so I don’t think that it is even necessary anymore.

DL Kind of like a song from a church hymnal, too familiar to appreciate fully?

BIFF Yeah, I mean, I look back at some songs like “War Pigs,” I mean, I love that song to bits but whenever I hear it, it is almost like how some people would hear a nursery rhyme because it reminds me of my childhood and just being in a massive arena and hearing this song. Or like, I suppose when my dad was with OZZY hearing “Crazy Train” it is like people are yelling “Yeah man! It is Crazy Train!” and to me it is like “Oh yeah, it is that song.” and it is just a bit different I suppose.

DL After having listened to your record and the two solo records that your dad has done I think it is fair to say that there are certain similarities there. Do you think that you may have actually had an effect on your fathers music?

BIFF Not to sound too pick about it but there was this one song on the first album, the one that Burt (Burton C. Bell) was on, there was a song called “Area Code 51.” There was a band that I was in previous to this one, which was basically APARTMENT 26 without the programer, and we had written a song that had the mid-section that went exactly the same as the mid section to “Area Code 51” so, that might have been somewhat ripped off from us, I guess.

DL So Pop ripped off his own blood for a song eh?(laughs)

BIFF Sort of, yeah!(laughs) I think that everyone is messing around with keyboards and samplers and stuff like that just as we are. As far as that whole solo band goes, I personally think that the singer on the second album, Clark Brown, is the most amazing vocalist that I have ever met or heard ever. Just seeing him live, he carries it off so well. He has just got the most powerful voice. The guitarist is also my cousin as well he is very much involved with our band and he even wrote some of the words on a song that is on the EP.

DL Which song was that?

BIFF On “Sliced Beats.”

DL Are there any more budding Butler musicians?

BIFF My little brother just had his first band practice, it wasn’t really his band it was just a little mess around thing, but when I told my dad that my little brother was having a band practice he almost fainted. He was just like, “No way!” So, I don’t think so.

DL Now there is a piece of trivia that I didn’t know before! O.K. so, you have the five songs on the CD which is going to be your representation to the business community but how are you going to get the word out to the kids other than playing on these OZZ-FEST shows?

BIFF We are currently in negotiations with a few labels and I think that we are looking to get signed by the one who would have chosen if we could have just chosen which label we wanted to be signed to. That is sorta looking concrete.

DL Can I guess?

BIFF Yeah, but I won’t say out of superstition. I would be interested to see who you guessed though?

DL TVT or NOTHING/INTERSCOPE?

BIFF It isn’t either of them actually but the guys at TVT, we know them pretty well and they have been mainly, sort of, advisors as for what we should do. But yeah, we are looking to do this OZZ-FEST and then maybe release something afterwards. Hopefully we will be signed by the end of the OZZ-FEST and go in to record and album but there are no official plans. We are going to try and post more stuff on the web site so that more kids can download stuff and hear it and we will have the CD available through the web site and available at the merchandise stands at the OZZ-FEST. Besides that, I don’t know how people would hear about us. The surprising thing is how many people have e-mailed us from the web site and want to be on the mailing list. There are people in America who I have no idea how they would have heard of us other than in magazine mentions of us being on the OZZ-FEST or from the OZZ-FEST web site. Word gets around, I guess.

DL Did you notice a measurable increase to the amount of hits on the web site after it was announced that you would be on the OZZ-FEST?

BIFF We can’t tell because the hits thing on our web site will not work for some reason. Actually, the web site has only been up since quite recently, it was actually announced that we would be on the OZZ-FEST before the web site went up.

DL So the answer would be yes!(laughs)

BIFF (laughing)Yeah!

DL Well, since most people are going to have to wait to hear the band is there anything else that you feel is important to know about the band before they come and see you?

BIFF I suppose that what every person would want their listeners to go away with is having a thing that they can go back to again and again and find new meaning to it. More positive meanings as opposed to any negative meanings, I guess. I find it really hard to go out and shout about ourselves because there are obviously plenty of bands, pretty much everybody, doesn’t have the fortunate position that we are in, to get out there and to be exposed like we are. I think that we just try to remain as modest as we can and try to not get too excited about it because we know that every thing is going our way so far that at any moment. . .

IAN SCOTT ENTERTAINMENT
MUSIC AMERICA MAGAZINE
9773 SANDYPOINTE FAIR HAVEN, MI 48023
810-725-6471

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