It’s an oddly sensational euphoria, being able to deem something so chaotic, raw and exhilarating as a truly cleansing experience. But, it is the only way to describe a letlive. performance. It can be argued that no other act on the planet contains the crafted balance of poise and passion that you see within the members of this Los Angeles modern punk outfit. It’s not a spiritual sort of cleansing, no. It’s far more transparent and directly impactful. And that is what appears to be the formula behind letlive. — transparency mixed with an unanointed sense of humbleness for how far this group has come in recent years.
The Blackest Beautiful was released in summer 2013 to justified international acclaim. It is a record that both sonically and lyrically pushes the medium to which we understand the constructs of punk rock today. It is sociopolitically aggressive, holding higher institutions accountable for their flaws (such as “White America’s Beautiful Black Market”). It’s an interpersonal narrative of a frontman being as honest with himself as he can (such as “Pheromone Cvlt”). It overtly calls accountability to an industry where morals are often blurred ( such as “Banshee – Ghost Fame”). It is a record worthy of giving an anarchist sense of a direction to a generation lost in the noise of redundant artistry.
The band have been launched into a whirlwind of success following the release of The Blackest Beautiful, including a recent appearance on Last Call With Carson Daly, praise in The Huffington Post and Los Angeles Times, a summer-long run on the Vans Warped Tour, and most recently, joining Every Time I Die and Code Orange Kids on a North American club tour. Jason Aalon Butler, vocalist, and Jeff Sahyoun, guitarist, recently sat down with UTG to discuss how far the band have come and what it took to reach this pivotal point in their career.
Hi, guys! Hope you all are well. You’re out on tour with ETID again, doing smaller venues on this tour, how has it been so far?
Jason: Yeah, yeah! It’s perfect, man. It’s very reminiscent of how we began touring. It’s funny to see the disparity between then and now but in the same forum, in the same setting, in the same set of venues. People actually know the music we’re playing now, instead of us trying to introduce ourselves to every crowd we get in front of.
Jeff: People used to just stand there wide-eyed, like ‘what is going on?’ and now we’re playing the same venues and people are getting into it. They’re singing along, getting crazy, jumping off stages, it’s pretty great.
You just came back from the UK and Europe and from what I see, it seems like you almost do better over there than in the states. Could you attest to this?
Jason: I think for a while that was the case. I think we were much more of a commodity, you know, because we’re not from there. The idea of us coming over there, it was limited. We were on borrowed time every time in the UK. But now it seems like, especially after being on this tour, they’re similar. That is the most mind-blowing thing about everything happening with letlive., that we can feel the same at home as we do in other regions and vise versa.
Loniel, your drummer, joined the band this year. How has that transition been?
Jason: It’s fantastic.
Jeff: He’s an incredible drummer, and a good friend. It’s hard to find both positive aspects. Especially in musicians and touring musicians. He’s great, he’s a good guy and a great player.
So you guys feels like you’re gelling well with him?
Jason: Oh, absolutely. To be completely honest, we’re a very groove-oriented band. Where we come from, especially me and Jeffrey, I’ll go ahead and say it — it’s like having a black drummer.
Jeff: That’s the only reason he’s in the band [laughs].
Jason: No, but for real, we grew up listening to bands and going to jams that were soul jams and he’s got that soul. Whether you’re black, white, Mexican, Asian, whatever, he’s got the soul.
Jeff: It sucks because most the time you’ll find amazing players but it’s the personality that doesn’t really click with our chemistry, but he carries everything.
With the new record, and the success that has came with it, there’s been a huge movement. Do you feel as though letlive. has grown to something larger than just a band on a stage?
Jason: That’s all it is, really. It’s autonomous. It is much bigger than us on a stage and that was the whole essence to begin with. That’s the derivation and the genesis of this whole thing — it’s an idea. It will continue to be an idea that may evolve into a lifestyle, a frame of mind, a perspective. This whole thing, letlive., is exponentially larger than anything either one of us can do individually and as a band. It has a lot to do with the people who want to be a part of it, really. Whether it be in media or in the crowd, whether it be us as band members or friends or family, it’s really much bigger than that. And we’re just writing the soundtrack, to be honest.
How has it been to watch this growth?
Jason: It’s flattering, really.
Jeff: We would drive like 12 or 13 hours to play in front of a sound guy sometimes. We’d be lucky if two or three kids would show up and now we get to share a stage with major acts. There’s no way to word it, I just smile.
Jason: We’re even more so grateful because of our “humble beginnings” beyond our very desperate beginnings because we didn’t have anything and we’ve somehow cultivated this thing where people want to support us and we want to support people. It goes both ways and that’s what’s helped us sustain — the reciprocity that we share with people who want to be a part of it with us, it’s cool.
Jeff: Going to Europe and watching people be excited was great and it was such an amazing feeling but waking up on Warped Tour and being told we were going to play the main stage [at the band’s hometown show in Pomona, California], we got up there and saw, you know, just a couple hundred kids.
Looking up, it was like, we’re home.
I was reading about that set for like, weeks, after it happened.
Jason: It was a really unadulterated sense of support. It was so pure and genuine. It was our home supporting the fact a band from Los Angeles was playing the main stage of Warped Tour, you know, one of the most esteemed traveling festivals of our generation.
Jeff: You can’t help but to think two years ago you were playing little coffee shops in front of five kids and just seeing that, it was unmatchable.
Congratulations, guys. How do you think your upbringing attests to how humble you are about your success?
Jason: You have to be. Not only are you not entitled to anything where we’re from, a lot of this structure has promoted the sad fact that you might not get shit by the end of this. You might become a cog in the machine and just work to get by. A lot of this systemically comprised weight against us, where we’re from at least…I don’t know, man, it seems cliche, but it’s true, man — a lot of these powers that be, don’t want you to succeed. And I’m older and I’m not jaded at all. I just see it for what it is now. The patina for me has been evaporated. I don’t see any bullshit anymore, I see it for what it is.
I’m okay with the fact that we come from a place that wanted to keep us down, because we got up.
The record, both musically and lyrically, was written to be very introverted, but fans are latching onto this music and these lyrics in an extroverted fashion. Was that your mindset when you were going on or did it just happen?
Jason: I think it just kind of happened and then after the fact we decided to encourage people because we felt as though it afforded itself — and we always talk about this — about how the songs write themselves and I think that they did write themselves and we were simply the vessels and then afterwards we encouraged people to become as transparent as the songs themselves.
That transparency reflects on what you guys do live. Looking at a letlive. set, which is more important, the first or the last song?
Jeff: Every song. Every song is played like the last and every song is played like the first. Every song takes on its own energy and has its own characteristics.
You just play every song like it’s your last.
Jason: That’s real, yeah.
Jeff: That, very well could be, sometimes standing still — because it’s emotional — it’s inside of you. But sometimes, there’s some songs where you just lose your shit.
What do you think it takes to create sustainability in the industry today?
Jason: You just gotta be honest, man.
Even if you’re playing the game, you have to find a sense of solace for yourself as an artist in this respit where you can exist genuinely, because there are so many people who are trying to eviscerate that artistic sense of self — basically just trying to fuck you, really just trying to fuck you throughout this whole game, this whole industry.
The only thing that’s impregnable is, in fact, your sincerity. That’s it. That’s the only thing you have, really, in the end — that you were integrity-based to the best of your ability…and that’s what people can understand.
In a previous interview, you said that your father is your biggest influence. He got took by the industry when he was an artist himself. What did you learn from that, when coming up?
Jason: That I gotta try harder than him and that I gotta be a little less veiled by the bullshit. I can’t believe that I’ve made it when I feel one night, we sold X amount of merch and people are telling me things that I feel I may or may not believe.
The only hype you should believe is no hype — the hype that you can fucking crash and burn the next day. That’s it.
The only way you can succeed is by being ready for that. You have to be ready to fail. Because once you fail it will completely conquer you and it’s really up to you if you want to continue or not. In this game, in life, there’s a bunch of failure, but it’s there in place to enhance every success that you have.
Favorite song to play off the new record right now?
Jeff: “White America…” for me.
Jason: Probably “Pheromone Cvlt.”
[“Pheromone Cvlt”] is different than anything I’ve ever heard from you guys.
Jason: It really is. It was the first most-personal song I’ve ever written as a musician.
Even compared to a song like “27 Club?”
Jason: Yeah, even more so. [“27 Club”] is about my proclivities and just who I am and the vision of me vs. who I really am and “Pheromone Cvlt” is just, me [laughs]. That’s what I’ve come to realize about myself.
Last question before I get you guys out of here. What’s 2014 look like?
Jeff: Tour [laughs]. Just do what we do.
Written and conducted by: Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)
Photo credit: Steve Gerrard