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Meet Ryan Sollee - Lead Singer of The Builders and The Butchers
Photo: Mel Brown
Like so many teenagers before him, when Ryan Sollee was fifteen he asked his parents for a guitar. Due to his less than perfect grades, they turned him down, but young Sollee was not to be deterred. He went down to the garage and built one from scratch with some of his dad's fishing line and some balsa wood. "It sounded horrible," he admitted, "But my parents were so impressed, that they broke down and got me one. Either that or the noise was getting to them." Equipped with that sort of musical fire, Sollee eventually moved from his native Alaska to Portland and formed his latest group The Builders and The Butchers. With darkly complex narrative lyrics, and a folkie Americana sound, The Builders and The Butchers are often compared to their Portland buddies the Decemberists. They will be headlining the Spaceland on Friday night supporting their sophomore disk, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. Ryan was kind enough to speak with us yesterday evening as he was strolling along the beach with his fiance. (We're not sure why, strolling sounded much more fun.) Here is some of what was said.
So how did you guys get together?
We were all friends who were playing in different bands that were all winding down. One night we started playing around with different instruments. It was just a super super casual sort of thing. You know just another thing to do.casual one guys song. We practiced a few times and played on the street, but it wasn't until we did this Halloween house party that we really consider ourselves a band. It went pretty well.
Where did you get the name the Builders and the Butchers? I like the way it incorporates both construction and destruction in the same title.
(laughs) Thanks. Honestly, we wrote down a long list of names and that was the one nobody hated. I wish the story was more exciting than that.
Photo: Mel Brown
Is your band a democracy or a dictatorship?
Well I write the songs, but it's more of a democracy than anything else. Everybody has veto power, but they have to really to speak up and say, "I fucking hate what we're doing," for it to happen.
Tell me about the title of your latest album, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. Are you guys in need of some salvation?
(laughs) Ah no, we didn't do anything all that bad. We just felt it fit the duality of the band. You know our the songs are really dark but there is always a little glimmer of light in them.
Was the dreaded sophomore album easier or harder than the first one?
Well they were both challenging in different ways. The first was recorded over the period of months. It took forever because we had all the time in the world to do it. Whereas this one we recorded and mixed in just ten days.
Woah, why so fast?
Well, we had this wonderful producer, Chris Funk, who's in the Decemberists, and he was super nice, but also on time and really really on it. I mean, he was super organized, so we all had to step up.
There's this lyrics that I've been meaning to ask you about in your song "Barcelona." Why will every child turn to stone when the sun goes down?
That song is really a melded out of a children's story I had read a long time ago. I don't really remember most of it, but in that story if the children don't get home by a certain time, they turn to stone. I thought that was really creepy.
It is really creepy. Speaking of which was is your song "Hands like Roots" inspired by?
Oh that's an old song. It was was recorded for the first album and re-recorded for the second. The theme though is a common setting in a lot of our songs like in "Short Way Home." Both songs are about bad people going into the basements and doing bad things.
Do you have hands like roots?
I don't think so. (laughs)
What town is "Devil Town" modeled after?
That's a really good question...of all the cities...um....this is going out in LA isn't it?
Yes, it is.
Uh...well then....nevermind. (laughs) Does that answer your question? I mean, it could be any town where there are a lot of bad things going on.
Photo: Mel Brown
All of your songs have very complex narratives. Do you find the story before you find the story before the song or the song before the story?
Most of the time I find the story before the song gets written. I'll usually have some kind of idea about a story I want to tell and then the song kind of takes shape around it.
What is your favorite thing to do in LA?
There's a Thai restaurant right next to the Spaceland. It's sounds silly, but that is our favorite thing to do when we're in town. It's excellent place to be.
What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen in the audience?
We did a tour with Amanda Palmer and her fans like act out parts of her songs while she sings. It was crazy. At one show there was this huge Chinese dragon moving through the audience. We were so impressed.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
Depeche Mode, but that's just the tip of the iceberg...
Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
Pancake Breakfast. They're just awesome.
If you were throwing a party in Heaven who would you have headline?
Sam Cooke is popping up for some reason. I think he'd do well in heaven.
And who would you book for a party in Hell?
Um, Tom Waits, I guess. I think that would be a good. He'd probably really enjoy it.
Okay final question. Finish this sentence: If you're in Alaska you simply must....
Go ice fishing! See the Northern Lights! G trout fishing. Make fun of Sarah Palin.
But she's not the governor any more.
That doesn't exclude her from jokes!
Well, thank you for talking with us, Ryan.
Be sure to catch The Builders and The Butchers at the Spacelandthis Friday night. Doors open at 8:30pm. Tickets are $10.
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