WORDS: ALISDAIR GRICE
“We find ourselves again at another crossroad, which side will you be on when they write our history?” Jason Aalon Butler screams live on anti-police protest song ‘BITE BACK’ during their most recent live ‘demonstration’ in late October. The poignancy and relevance of these lyrics is not vacant, and is in fact a direct response to the recent uprising following the death of George Floyd on May 25th earlier this year. In what feels like an eternity ago, Butler took to the streets of hometown LA for 13 days and nights to protest with the BLM movement against the abhorrent police brutality present in modern day America. Following this visceral experience he entered the studio immediately after with a head full of lyrics and a bursting need to voice what he witnessed. The product of these 13 days and a subsequent 8 days of recording is FEVER 333‘s newest EP WRONG GENERATION, a scathing attack on the archaic foundations of the American police system and it’s consistent oppression of minorities.
Calling from his LA home, months ago the vicarious epicentre of protests following the murder of George Floyd murder, Butler appears relaxed, lucid and calm despite the civil unrest he has been immersed in over the last few months. When asked how he is, his composure contrasts with a transparent and honest statement. “I’m kinda living in this perpetual state of anxiety” he muses. “I’m really excited, I’m constantly trying something that scares me or challenges me, and that has fueled this livestream and the new attempts with proprietary audio technology that haven’t been done yet. It could be quite risky but I’m really excited about it, even if half of it goes right it will be cool.” The livestream is in reference to their six demonstrations that spanned October 23rd to 30th, the covid-safe ‘tour’ coinciding with the release of WRONG GENERATION.
“I’m kinda living in this perpetual state of anxiety…”
Speaking before the demonstration itself, Butler emphasises the power of the novel technology in connecting performers and audiences by reducing latency and creating a more intense ‘real’ live experience. This approach replicates the live experience as honestly as possible, as Jason states “I want it to feel like a tour date, all the fuck ups, you got that! There is no way to edit it”. Whilst the majority of the world is mourning the loss of live music, FEVER and their contemporaries are utilising current innovations in technology to crisply recreate the live experience as best as possible.
The resultant product was a resounding success, with FEVER being able to perform their newest tracks with all the vigour and intensity of a pre-pandemic gig. But these tracks were not created as vapid, sensationalist singles to piggyback on civil unrest, they were carefully crafted as active protest songs in retaliation to centuries of oppression.
As we begin to speak it is evident that activism isn’t a choice for Butler, but a necessity. He speaks with equal parts eloquence and competence about social issues, never afraid to affirm his points with real life examples and keen to touch on typically difficult subjects.
We begin with an abrasive yet heedful critique of the rock music industry in comparison to it’s big brother; pop. Butler draws previously unspoken parallels with the rock music industry and the pop industry, citing it’s novel and reactive approach to songwriting, be it the bizarre phenomena of diss tracks or the lightning quick response to current affairs, Butler argues that “’We are still holding onto a traditionalist orthodox view, keeping ourselves in the dark ages. Rock and roll is an evolution of something else, it’s always been successful when it can be allowed to grow, when it is adapting and reacting to its environment. That is when rock and roll is at its most powerful.” he states.
I can’t sit here and be a part of a movement and get paid to play around the world and then not show up. That would be fucking crazy.“
The conversation naturally moves towards the subject of the new EP, WRONG GENERATION a prime example of FEVER’s responsive artistic process and a direct retaliation to the wrongful murder of George Floyd. “I went out with family and friends, day and or night and marched and yelled and cried and laughed and was joyful and was miserable for 13 days straight, and on the 14th day I was like – I need to write something, and I wrote ‘BITE BACK.’” This track consequently became the first song on the EP, but the process did not stop there. “I wrote a song each day and the EP was done”. Disciplining himself and the band to finish a song each day proved an intense experience, but one out of necessity over choice. “I wanted it to be the most visceral, raw and organic it could be in that moment – I needed to finish each song each day”.
On WRONG GENERATION, Butler calls out racists, recounts his time protesting in central LA and pushes his music and platform as the soil for many young artists to blossom, mature and grow in solidarity. “This was the aggregate of some many other instances where we’ve seen black bodies stripped of their value, showing the lack of worth we are seen by throughout society” Butler stresses. From the thudding pace of opener ‘BITE BACK’ to the chilling, candid singalong anthem ‘SUPREMACY,’ we are met with an articulated barrage of 21st century rock and roll in a succinct 18 minutes.
Due to the speed of the output and turnaround of release, you can see the naturally relaxed and calm Butler tense up when reflecting back on the post-release feeling. “It was probably one of the most painful processes of my artistic and creative life for sure.”
“It was so concentrated; it was over 8 days after 13 days of every type of emotion guided by this seemingly lifelong frustration that I felt, and it took 8 days to finally get it out.” Purging his body of pent up rage from the bearing of institutionalised oppression is a familiar story for Butler, and extends throughout all manifestations of his art.
“I can’t be utopian in that moment, I thought I’d be happier, but there’s a lot more to go”.
Humble about his footprint and the ripple effect of his work, he kicks himself into a passionate speech and rips off the figurative plaster on his gaping wound. “At that point it doesn’t matter how difficult it is for me, it doesn’t matter how many miles I’ve walked, how much my voice hurt, it doesn’t matter how I felt, it doesn’t matter the toll it took, it has to happen – I can’t sit here and be a part of a movement and get paid to play around the world and then not show up. That would be fucking crazy. For me it was an inherent piece of the process, [every piece is] incumbent of each other. It was hard for me to get it out, it was emotionally and at times physically arduous, but there was no other way. It was inevitable, it had to happen.”
It becomes more and more evident throughout our chat that Butler’s inherent sense of being is defined by his ability to be an advocate for the underrepresented, and he is not going to be quiet about it.
After such an intense and sleepless project, the post-release blues hit Jason harder than ever, but marked a distinct moment of moving forward, one which he felt he had not made before, despite his continuous activism. “I remember saying to my wife, I feel like I’ve been dragging my feet due to a weight upon me for years, trying to step forward, trying to talk about facts and statistics, and a way of life for people that look like me. But I feel today is my first actual step with my foot off the ground – more people will see this and think, ‘What he’s talking about could be true'”.
Despite his years of performance with since-disbanded cult punk band letlive. and his ardent attitude on the subject, he makes it apparent that he has a lot more work to do, and so do we all. “I thought I’d be happier on this day” he utters with a bittersweet tone in his voice. “I was tired, I realised how difficult it had been and realised the toll it had taken on me.” He is momentarily preoccupied by this sudden awareness, having not had an opportunity to slow down since the beginning of this mentally draining process. He pauses, and cerebrates “I can’t be utopian in that moment, I thought I’d be happier, but there’s a lot more to go”.
“Alternative culture suffers from that affliction; just cause you’re an alternative person doesn’t mean you can’t be racist – if you’re gonna benefit off that platform you need to serve that platform.”
It begins to feel like Fever isn’t just Butler’s band. It’s his outlet, his platform for spreading his egalitarian view point and providing groundwork for others to flourish. Politically unsubscribed to either US party, Butler preaches his own sermon and beliefs based on his experience. This is especially apparent with his endeavour into a record label; 333Wreckords. Having recently signed black British punk duo Nova Twins, he is eager to provide these grassroots bands with the tools they need to blossom in a cut throat industry. “I wanna offer a catalytic platform for them I wanna see them win – black women in rock and roll is the future” he insists.
“This project (FEVER 333) is about the platform that we were afforded and what we’re trying to create, so people can enact the change they want to see in their own communities and in their own world”. His sympathies don’t extend to the greater alternative music community, stressing “Anyone reading this fucking magazine, you’re an alternative person, you have to understand what this really means and what the weight of the word really means. That’s not an excuse to be ignorant and it doesn’t make you impervious to racist behavior.”
His point highlights the especially controversial bandwagon trend of #BlackoutTuesday, where millions of instagram users posted a black square in solidarity with lives lost to police brutality in an apparent social media ‘blackout’. This global pageantry means little to nothing unless these same people are protesting, donating and supporting the movement they are aligning with. “Alternative culture suffers from that affliction; just cause you’re an alternative person doesn’t mean you can’t be racist – if you’re gonna benefit off that platform you need to serve that platform.”
Butler is evidence that we are all products of our experiences, negative or positive, regressive or enlightening, they all determine the direction which we take our life, and it is our responsibility to grab the reins and take the path that furthers the equality of all people. Fever 333’s newest EP is a brief eulogy for all the lives lost to police brutality, but stresses that the systemic problem is global and only we the people have the power to alter this discourse.
Wrong Generation is out now via Roadrunner Records.