Having his solo debut tank might have been the best thing for Butch Walker's career.
Not too many people bought 2002's Left of Self-Centered — the album sold barely 20,000 copies, according to SoundScan — but many of those who did adored the smart riff-rock from the guy who used to front the late-'90s power trio Marvelous 3. Not only did Walker sing and play all the instruments except drums, he also produced, mixed and engineered the LP. Such versatile qualities appealed to a lot of people, not least of whom was Avril Lavigne.
"Obviously, it was a very unpopular record, but a lot of musicians like that record," Walker said. "They were like, 'You played it, you produced it, you engineered it ...' I think it showed people that I could do a lot more than just sing in tune. I have a theory that the only people who bought that record were other artists because I started getting calls to do records after that."
Lavigne rang him up last year and asked him if he wanted to get together to work on music. Three days in the studio yielded three songs, including "My Happy Ending," the second single off her latest album, Under My Skin. Besides co-writing the song, Walker produced it and two other tunes from the album; most recently, the pair collaborated on Lavigne's version of the "SpongeBob SquarePants" theme for that film's soundtrack (see "Avril Lavigne Gives Squishy SpongeBob Song A Harder Edge"). Soon other musicians followed Lavigne's lead, and the onetime alt-rocker — whose years spent slugging around in stale-beer dives were hardly distant memories — was a sought-after commodity. His work on new albums by the Donnas and Simple Plan even earned him the title of "Hot Producer" in Rolling Stone's annual Hot Issue.
"That was really cool but really strange," Walker said, "because after that people started to introduce me as 'the producer Butch Walker.' And I'm like, 'Uh, I make albums, too.' "
Anyone who caught Walker opening up for Lavigne on her last tour, which ended Thursday, is aware of that. His latest, Letters, which dropped in August, is a soaring mix that incorporates a variety of influences for a style of lovelorn pop-rock that's unlike just about anything else on the dial. The LP's first single, "Mixtape," provides a good indication of where Walker is coming from.
"I had a friend who used to make me really cool mixtapes back when I was a kid," he explained. "She was sort of gothy and dark, very Daria-like. She didn't have a lot of friends, but I thought she was cool. I ended up befriending her, and she made me see the light musically.
"She was the kind of person who didn't mind putting the Cure and the Crüe on the same tape," he added.
With Lavigne's Bonez Tour behind him, Walker is heading out on his own for a brief headlining tour before the holidays. After a few months on the road with Lavigne, Walker hopes to see the faces of some of his new fans in the audience.
"I would have never thought in a million years that I would appeal to an Avril fan," he admitted. "But I'm glad that I do because a lot of them aren't jaded or cynical or have any preconceived notions of what a band is supposed to be because it's their first concert! They're just [music] lovers.
"I can come off the stage feeling like I sucked," Walker added, "but they'll be like, 'That was the best thing I've ever seen!' And that makes you feel good after playing in punk clubs your whole life and being booed, hissed at and told that your last record was better."
Butch Walker tour dates, according to Epic Records:
- 12/6 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 12/7 - Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
- 12/9 - Philadelphia, PA @ North Star
- 12/10 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Fun House/Theatre
- 12/11 - Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
- 12/12 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/Smart Bar
- 12/14 - Milwaukee, WI @ Mad Planet
- 12/15 - Minneapolis, MN @ Quest Club
- 12/17 - Nashville, TN @ Exit/In
- 12/18 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
- 12/19 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
- 12/20 - Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club