I first met Brandon Butler when I was 18 years old and emo as all fuck. On the lawn outside some rundown Southern California venue, Butler talked to me about being in a band, but in a way I'd never heard a musician speak for it before. Butler, who at the time had just wrapped up emo-pioneers Boys Life and started the much louder trio Farewell Bend, was grateful of everything music gave him. I mean, truly and genuinely grateful. He was humbled. In between albums that few people heard, and the shows that even fewer attended, Butler was thankful and incredibly sincere. So much so, that I still remember our conversation to this day.
For those who regard emo as a soon-to-be-laughably-outdated genre of boy-oriented music, it's hard to ever associate it with both good music and credibility. A loose-knit band whose quiet/loud, start/stop, whisper/scream foundation spawned a million clones, Boys Life were in the right place (the Midwest) at absolutely the wrong time (mid-'90s)--missing the good ship emo as it set sail for profitability by a couple years. It never seemed like it was meant to be, really--Butler & Co. didn't fit in with the comfortable upper-middle-class emo crowd. His music was all there was; there was no Plan B, no real job or supportive mom and dad waiting for him after tour. His working-class emotions always came off more Springsteen than Dashboard Confessional, more concerned with living day-to-day than writing about his heart being broken. Simply put, he was quite possibly the only emo singer ever who could change a tire on a tour van.
What followed Boys Life was a series of criminally underrated bands, all of which found a re-invented Butler working just as hard on completely different genres of music. There was the burnout Hüsker-Düde rock trio of the Farewell Bend and the sprawling dust-bowl country of Canyon. His solo debut, Killer on the Road, rambles with the punk spirit of his youth, but still has the subtle restraint and beauty of his cold country work in Canyon. But it's as a live performer that Butler's true spirit shines. He's still the same shy and humbled man who took the time to talk to a very overanxious 18-year-old kid way back when. It's pretty hard not to like the guy, even if he might be indirectly to blame for all that emo.