Interview with Dean Butterworth - Good Charlotte
Interview with Dean Butterworth - Good Charlotte
Dean is best known for being the driving force behind Good Charlotte who he has been a member of since 2005. However, the versatile musician has also written songs and played for Ben Harper and also toured and recorded with Morrissey, as well being an in demand session musician when he is at home in LA.
In 2011 not only was he out touring with his band but played drums on FOX TVís hit ďI Hate My Teenage DaughterĒ and the NBC comedy ďAre You There Vodka? Itís Me, ChelseaĒ and played drums on Nick Jr kids show ďFresh Beat BandĒ
We had a chat to find out how an English lad ended up in LA on his musical journeyÖ
How did you get into drumming?
I was born in Rochdale, England, I was probably five or six and I would set the pillow up and just play along to songs by The Beatles, Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I had this idea in my mind that this was definitely what I wanted to do. My parents separated and my mother went on a holiday to California where my uncle had moved and he was in the music business. He had a rehearsal studio in Hollywood, he was working with lots of bands and my mother went there and met this drummer, Patrick Shanahan, who used to play with Ricky Nelson and Ike and Tina Turner. At the time he was playing with this band The New Riders of the Purple Shade, it was an offshoot of a band that Jerry Garcia put together as a side project for The Grateful Dead. He did tons of things but to cut a long story short, my mother ended up marrying this guy and we moved to LA, and a couple of years later moved down to Laguna Beach. That was the beginning of the drums - my stepfather basically raised me, he was my father figure, and I got to hang out in a lot of studios when I was a kid. I was just around the whole scene and thatís how it started for me.
I remember being up in this studio in San Francisco, The Record Plant. They were making a record and I wanted to play the drum set so bad and my step-father said ''Hereís a pair of drum sticks and hereís two exercises, a double stroke roll and a single paradiddle. You canít play until you can get it to this level''. I just wanted to play the kit and he was like ''No, you need to work on this''.
You moved to LA when you were about ten years old, so for those five years you were just bashing everything?
Yeah, singing in the choir, listening to records. Every day after school I would just play along or sing along. I was just really into it. I remember even walking down the hall at school in Rochdale and looking into the band area of which I wasnít a part of and I saw this thing shining on the ground about 50 ft away, and there was a snare drum. I was very drawn to that, I didnít get to check it out, it was just this image, itís very vivid in my mind. Thatís kind of the beginning of it.
I thought when I got in this band I was going to get a Mercedes and I was going to have a house in the Hollywood Hills, but it just evaporated in a couple of years
Did you learn to read the basics there, how did you start learning to play?
At first I would sit down and my stepfather showed me a basic 8th note groove, the Billy Jean beat if you will - just simple grooves at the beginning. Then I got in a band at school, a symphonic band, learning how to read and then, through friends of my step-dad, I got turned on to different styles of music.
I remember when someone first handed me Romantic Warrior by Chic Corea and Return To Forever with Lenny White on and it changed my life. I was listening to a lot of pop records, listening to the radio things like that and this was just ''Wow, how is Lenny playing that left handed roll?'' I totally immersed myself into fusion and into listening to Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, a lot of jazz, big band stuff, then later on I started to get into drum corp and playing in the big band at school, writing stuff, and just reading.
What would you say was your first big break?
I did an audition for a band that was signed for Warner Brothers called Slap Back. I had been in a lot of bands that have had record deals, I thought when I got in this band I was going to get a Mercedes and I was going to have a house in the Hollywood Hills, but it just evaporated in a couple of years. But the one thing I got from all those experiences, the one thing Iím grateful for is the relationships I built. Iím really a personable person and I got to meet a lot of people and you connect all those dots over the years and eventually something happens.
The first international gig for me was Ben Harper, I love reggae music and I was playing a reggae gig down in Orange County and Ben came in. Heís very rootsy, across the board, his music is very diverse and heís really into reggae himself. We met and he needed a drummer, so he asked me and the bass player. I wasnít familiar with his music so I asked a friend if they had any Ben Harper records, I learnt a couple of songs, and the next day went in to play with him and he asked me to join his band. So that was the beginning of stepping away from bands that had been signed and went on little tours to touring all over the world. We put a record out called The Will to Live in 1997 and that was the beginning. That was a five-year run with him and we had a great time just touring around making records, on the road probably 10Ĺ months out of the year for about five years.
When you worked with Ben did you get involved in the writing and playing other instruments?
Yeah, I love writing. I played guitar, I play chords, I play piano enough to write, and I love to sing. So Ben and I would get together in a hotel room and write. I showed him a bunch of songs over the years and itís funny, after I got out of the band the following record, Diamonds On The Inside, he put one of the songs on the album that I wrote. He helped with the lyrics, it was co-written at the end of the day, but that meant a lot to me and I have a lot of respect for him for doing that.
For people who are reading this, thatís quite unusual for someone to give away a little bit of their rights if you like, especially when a drummer does it.
Yeah, for me, Iíve had a chance to write on some records, different records, rock records. Iíve done stuff for TV and film as well but itís something for me as a drummer and as a songwriter I want to do more.
How important do you think it is?
What I write is mainly pop, but I think as a session player to have any idea of understanding how a songís put together. You have to have that whether or not you play a guitar, piano or sing. Anyway, any one of my or your favourite drummers understands rhythm and dynamics and basic song form and how to chart that out in short or long form. Usually it would be short form if you were doing a session, so you can do it quickly because everythingís on the clock, and thatís why you get hired - to go in and get it done and make it great quickly and bring that energy. But for me I think itís important to understand how songs are put together - the feeling and the soul. It''s not just playing the drums but feeling it and being able to understand every other instrument, listening to everything else around you, even though youíre the anchor with the time. All that stuff opens your mind and soul to everything thatís going on. I think itís really important. Iím a student across the board.
Not much. I get called in to play on films, TV scores and records and have sometimes get asked for an input. I got to write on the last Goldfinger record - just little bits. Every once in a while youíll get a chance to get involved in the publishing. I worked on an Abbey Smyth track about 12 months ago and the producer who I work a lot with in Hollywood, heís like ''I want you to come in and do this, itís not that big, but weíre willing to give you a small piece of the publishing'' and Iím like, ''letís do it''. We call publishing ''mail box money'' because it just keeps coming in. Itís something that Iím working on and itís not as easy to do when youíre away on a world tour. But when Iím at home I try to write and try to get together and write with other people.
They wanted me to set up with my back to them and the control desk, so that was a little intimidating. We knocked all the five tracks out in two hours, maybe one to three takes on each track and we were done
When youíre out on the road do you sit in your hotel room and write?
Sometimes Iíll just mess around on Garage Band, you can just plug in, sing,
How did the Morrissey gig come about?
A friend of mine who I grew up with, Phil Goff, a great guitar player who I do a reggae gig with back in LA, is really good friends with Lee Gorman (BowWowWow). About 10 years ago Lee was doing lots of ads, like Pepsi and Barclays Bank commercials - these were just 30-45 second commercials. Lee decided that it needed live drums on so Lee asked Phil, ''do you know anyone?'' Phil called me and he said ''yeah, my friend Dean and heís English too'', he said ''bring him down, letís do it''.
We ended up doing these two session''s and itís just weird how sometimes things line up, like me doing the reggae gig in the club - I never thought I would run into Ben Harper there, then get the gig. Like doing these jingles with Lee and Phil, a couple of weeks later Alan White who used to play guitar for one of the main writers for Morrissey whoís from London, he called Lee and they wanted to go to Cherokee and cut some demos, getting ready for a new cycle for Morrissey. He wanted to have Lee produce the demos and they asked Lee if he knew a drummer. He said ''yes and he''s also from England''.
Next thing I get a call from Morrisseyís assistant - they gave me a CD with five songs on, no vocals because Morrissey wonít allow any vocals or lyrics on it. So Iím listening to these songs which goes back to that song-writing thing we talked about - I try to get a vibe from the melody. I got the tracks, charted them out, went in the next morning and it was the weirdest session Iíve ever done. They wanted me to set up with my back to them and the control desk, so that was a little intimidating. We knocked all the five tracks out in two hours, maybe one to three takes on each track and we were done. He was like ''that was brilliantí; I said ''it was a real honour to meet you''. Alan said he really liked me and canít believe how fast I did the tracks. Heíd never really worked with many drummers before; heíd always had a band. Then he invited me out a week later to meet at this English pub called the Cat and Fiddle, which is on Sunset Boulevard, we all meet for Vegetarian Shepherdís Pie and tea. So he asked if I was in a band, I said no, he asked if I wanted to be in his band, I said yes and that was it.
You did two tours with him.
I did. We did a 2002 tour and then 2003/2004 we went into the studio and made You Are The Quarry which was his big come back album that came out in 2004. Then we did the world tour and it was a lot of fun. I get to play all those Smiths records and just interpret that. Those songs are great and all the players are great and all the recordings from the Smiths to Morrissey, thatís kind of the neat thing about playing with people that have already had stuff out, just to interpret somebody else. I really enjoyed that, it was a lot of fun for me.
There were no issues with Morrissey?
The tours were great - we got on really well. But we got off the road in November 2004 and then I got the call at the beginning of January (2005) from Joel Madden (Good Charlotte) whoíd also asked me to go and bail him out.
And thatís how the whole Good Charlotte thing came around?
I had met Joel about three years before and played with him on some sessions. The singer from Goldfinger is a producer and has produced a lot of records, so we were working doing pop stuff. I got called in from John, the producer, to work with Ashley Simpson, Hilary Duff and a lot of different people. So prior to me being available they called me because the drummer had some sort of issues. I was in the middle of a world tour and I couldnít go. Iíd been in the studio with Good Charlotte doing demos for the record called Chronicles of Life and Death, the third album. They said theyíd bring me in because theyíd worked with me, so they wanted me to demo the songs, even though I wasnít a band member.
Fast forward to January 2005, I get a call from Joel from Paris asking if I was still on the road because it was getting really bad and they needed someone to just go in, no rehearsal, and get it done. They sent me a song list. My first gig was without rehearsal, just a sound check at Radio City Hall. Iíd spent a couple of weeks in my studio going through the songs. They were live versions as well but they werenít very clear. We never met up. We did a video in LA for the next single. So I went in with the understanding of filling in. I was going to go back to Morrissey in October 2005 to do the next record. Things were going really well, the guys with Morrissey were great as well but there was a lot of big gaps in between work and these guys [Good Charlotte] were very, very active and then they made me an offer that I just had to say goodbye to Morrissey. It was a business decision I made and then that morphed into a year and a half later them making me an equal 20% partner.
In March I will have been with Good Charlotte for seven years.
I usually use clear heads on the toms, but I think I put coated on them. I do that a lot so I can write on them
So your first gig with them - did you walk on the stage with scores?
I did, I had this big wedge monitor and I had charts duck-taped to them. I think on that gig, I usually use clear heads on the toms, but I think I put coated on them. I do that a lot so I can write on them. It was one of those things, ears and eyes wide open.
At that stage, because youíve come into an established band thatís got quite a heavy fan base, did you have any issues with the fans?
In terms of everybody wanting to know what happened to the old drummer, everybody was really receptive to me coming into the situation. Thereís always going to be the negative crew that loved the guy that was doing it, but itís all worked out fine.
Was that the kind of advice you would say to younger people - be a team player, know when to shut your mouth and when to have your say?
Absolutely. I learned that from my stepfather. His whole thing was never give up practising because thereís always going to be someone whoís going to take your job. That for some reason just stuck in my mind.
A great lesson is that itís not about me, especially in music; itís about everyone thatís around you. Steve Gadd made a great quote "the space between the notes are more important than the notes", and never stepping on anyone. Thatís the ''less is more'' idea and that whole thing. I remember when I was a kid, I played a fill every bar then you watch someone like Steve Jordan and itís like he wonít play a fill in the whole song and Iím like ''that is the bomb right there'', itís unbelievable. I just saw him playing with John Mayer and he just played in the pocket and let things move around dynamically and just look for the space.
For the younger musicians I think itís all about how you deal with people, you can be the greatest player in the world but relationships are really important, not only in music - youíre not going to be the President of Nike if you donít know how to deal with people. Then you learn how to build those relationships and connect those dots. I think it starts from education and humility.
Words: Mike Dolbear
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