Tri State Indie has been keeping tabs on Matt Butler & The Everyone Orchestra for a while now. If you’re not familiar, the concept is different, but simple: Musicians from some of the biggest bands in the land (Phish, Lettuce, Kimock, Benevento, Umphrey’s, moe., just to name a few) come together, and, under the direction of Matt Butler as conductor, perform completely improvised sets of various sub-genres of rock music in cities and at festivals across the country. Oh yeah, there’s audience participation too. Not only is it one of the more unique shows with some of the best musicianship around, but Matt Butler is one of the nicest guys in the business and, with his Everyone Orchestra, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various partnered non-profit organization.
Matt, in spite of being knee deep in family life and organizing a mini tour, took the time out of his day to speak to us before coming out east for stops in New York, and his Philly show Friday night at Ardmore Music Hall, featuring members of the Trey Anastasio Band, Lettuce, Thievery Corporation, Umphrey’s McGee & The Bridge.
TSI: How’s the family, Matt?
MB: It’s good, everything’s good. We’re just kinda getting into the swing of school. It’s kind of my routine now. I take care of the family during the week and then I take off over the weekend to do my music.
TSI: Quite the schedule. So a couple years ago at All Good 2012, when we spoke you had mentioned it was tough to do a full blown tour with the Everyone Orchestra because of the energy and logistics that it takes. Now that you’ve been doing it pretty more and more, has it gotten any easier over the last couple years?
MB: Well I think when we last spoke I was just starting to work with my manager and the two of us kind of run the business. We bring different things to the table. It’s easier in the sense that I have a better team around me to pull it off and it’s really just as things have kind of evolved over time, more people are understanding of what we do so it’s become a little bit easier in the sense that they’re more dialed in on what the context is so we don’t have to go all the back to the beginning and how this is different from other super jams you know? I think we’ve had enough mainstage success at a number of festivals that we keep getting phone calls and relationships with the players continues to grow so there’s this stable of musicians who are interested. It’s always ebbing and flowing with who’s available but it’s always been growing as far as who’s interested. With all those things together, though, it’s still a lot of logistics. I mean with three shows, it’s kind of like a mini festival. And we’ve had a number of really successful runs and musically it’s super satisfying to be able to do two sets with the same group of musicians because it just gets better and better as it goes alon
TSI: One of the other things you said was you kind of saw your roll on stage with the other musicians is you kind of saw it as a coaching role and you made a lot analogies to your performances to sports. Now any coach will say that from year to year with a changing personell and a changing game, they have to adapt, whether it’s strategies or coaching philosophies. What have you learned as a coach and what has changed with your strategies or philosophies?
MB: Well I’m more clear than ever that my job is to not have any specific musical preconceptions other than make it dynamic, keep everybody engaged, and give everybody a chance to step up. Really generalized concepts of getting everybody to play fair but also challenge them you know? But the more I am just present in the moment, I think the better it is and the more I get everybody engaged in the whole concept of creating in the moment and being in the moment together. That truly is what makes this unique and what is the beauty of it. So I’m just trying to embody that more and more and more and I’ve definitely got that more and more and more.
You know it’s interesting, I starting to write this thing about EO earlier, kind of like, metaphorically speaking, EO is, and I’m saying this kind of out loud to sort of test the waters a little bit, but it’s a game of group composition through improvisation and the conductor is both referee and coach. I’m kind of playing a number of roles. One is like a volume knob. The other thing I’ll do is I’ll call another play like a coach. I’ll send someone else in. And another thing I’ll do is make sure… Let’s see, what’s the other thing…
TSI: Well as you’re leading, and I don’t know if this is where you’re going with this, but it seems like you have the ability to make up certain rules and enforce certain rules as you go along.
MB: Yeah I mean I think what I was going to say was I think the rules are responding to what is going on. Every lineup is different so trying to just respond to the needs of that lineup is one of the crucial pieces.
TSI: So you’ve got a north east run, and then you’ve got a couple shows in the California, and a stop in Arkansas, a Colorado stop in Novemeber and just kind of browsing the lineups you have some familiar faces and some new players to EO. Is there anyone in particular you’re especially excited to work with for the first time?
MB: You know, just looking at this upcoming lineup, I’m really excited to work with Russ from Trey band. I’ve seen him play a bunch of times and I’m really excited to work with Hash from Theivery Corporation because I’ve seen him play a bunch of times and I don’t know the depth or the full bredth of what they all offer. So I’m excited to see that rhythm section just blossom over three shows. That’s a lot of time to get comfortable and be in this full on improvisational musical state.
Then there’s the whole bluegrass thing in Novemeber in Colorado. I’m just excited to sort of mix it up with more of an acoustic bend to it. I’ve done a number like that but it’s got more intent around the acoustic and bluegrass nature than I’ve ever had before. So that’ll be really fun.
I just love to mix it up. People always ask me what kind of music I like and I’m like well, I just like contrast. I don’t like any one kind of music all the time. I want change. I get tired of reggae sometimes and I wanna hear some orchestra, you know? I wanna mix it up. I like contrast, so having a bunch of different lineups out there in front of me gives me all of that.
TSI: Now that you’ve been around the country to various cities with EO, an act that requires a lot of audience participation and attention, do you ever notice a difference between audiences in different cities or in different geographical areas?
MB: Overall the audience is now more trained on what the concept is. Even people who haven’t seen it before are coming in with some sort of preconception that you’re gonna get to yell something or that they don’t know what thye’re gonna play. They have that kind of idea of it. But still there’s a lot of people who walk in and go what is going on? Who is that guy?
There’s markets like Denver which we play again and again and again because there are just so many musicians coming through there, it’s such a melting pot as it is, it’s such a great place to apply the concept so we’re just constantly mixing it up and the audience is there. They know what to exepct in that they don’t know what to expect. They’re ready to play the game.
TSI: Then after the new year you’ve got the Jam Cruise…
MB: Yeah I think this is my tenth year doing the Jam Cruise. I might be one year off. But my relationship with Jam Cruise, artistically speaking, is just a perfect place for what I do.
TSI: Yeah I imagine it’s a dream having these artists there, trapped, essentially, for the entire time…
MB: Yeah I’ve done it a few different ways. I’ve done a whole lineup where I’ve brough Fishman and Kimock and Jeff Kauffman and that was cool, but very expensive from the promoters stand point because instead of just bringing me you have eight people or something. But now they just kind of bring me and I work with whoever is onboard and we do one big special show that is tied into the greening and the positive legacy thing. You know, the whole cruise industry is questionable at best and I promised early on that I wouldn’t do this unless there was another purpose for me to be there, you know, bringing some light to both the port of call communities that we’re visiting and also the greening attempts and efforts. That some how we’re connected to that and supportive of it was kind of paramount for me to want to be able to do it. And ever since, that’s exactly why I’m there. We’re connecting EO with that cause.
TSI: Yeah you’ve raised well over $100,000 for various non profits you’ve worked with, or so I’ve read, is that number up to date at this point?
MB: You know, it’s definitely more. When we first did this, the majority of the shows were benefit shows. That was a real difficult thing to do to be honest. It wasn’t sustainable for us as a musical creative project. I felt like it was too hard, too difficult, to raise money every single time to raise money for a non-profit, as well as pull off the event. As we started getting hired by festivals, sometimes they already have a non-profit part that they’re raising money for or an awareness component and it’s more just bringing people together for intent. Raising money can be part of it and I’m proud of what we’ve done but it doesn’t have to be exactly the purpose of every show.
TSI: So when we spoke after you release the album, you had told me that, in your words, your idea was to do a series where I can move around the nation or the world using mostly regional players from that area just to see what we can create. How’s that going for you?
MB: Well that’s kind of what we’re doing I mean, though, you know I tend to use regional players and then bring some national players and have that kind of be the format. You know, this weekend we’re breaking into a new market. We’ve never played Buffalo. That’ll be interesting to see what comes of it. New York City and Philadelphia have been really kind to us. So it’ll be nice to go back to have a new market but a couple familiar markets too. Like the lineups, a little bit of new and little bit of old.
TSI: Any talk of doing another album?
MB: Umm… I’ve just been focused on other things. It wasn’t like a big financial boom. But it’s definitely a huge calling card, still. And it definitely was a huge educational tool to get people on board wit the concept. So, yeah, I’d like to do another record, I’ve just been focusing on the whole performing thing.
Thanks a lot, Matt! Appreciate the time and good look on this stretch!
Check out Matt Butler & The Everyone Orchestra Friday night at the Ardmore Music Hall. Tickets still available!