Buttertones Smoothly Blend The Energies of Surf, Doo-Wop and Garage Punk
The Buttertones 2016 full-length release, American Brunch, breaks in hard with the opening track “Dak’s Back,” grabbing you by the collar, forcing your undivided attention. The party is starting and you don’t want to miss it. This energetic five-piece out of Los Angeles consists of Richard Araiza (vocals/guitar), Sean Redman (bass), Modesto Cobian (drums), Dakota Lee (guitar), and London Guzman (saxophone). Although the members are only in their early to mid-twenties, this ensemble of well-trained musicians are setting a new standard in the garage rock scene in and around Los Angeles currently.
Not exactly a garage band, or a surf band, or doo wop group, the Buttertones seamlessly blend elements of each of those genres, as well as additional musical territories like punk, new wave, rock ‘n roll, soul, and cowpunk. Upon first observation, The Buttertones almost seem like they could beat you up with brass knuckles during a ramble, and then turn around and coo sweet nothings to your girl before stealing her away.
“[The band] started in winter of 2012,” bassist Redman says. “Cobi, Richard and I were all finishing our respective programs at an LA-based music college.” If their first release, self-titled as Buttertones, seems a little thinner than American Brunch, it’s because it was created at a time when guitarist Lee and saxophonist Guzman had yet to have joined. “We met [producer] Joel Jerome after I had worked with Cherry Glazerr, and he was open and interested, so we went in there and recorded our first album with him in early 2013,” Redman says. Only a three-piece at that point, The Buttertones, with the hands-off production method of Jerome, recorded their first collection. That debut gained the attention of Lolipop Records, who cut the band’s release on cassette tape later that year.
In 2014, guitarist Dakota Lee came along, meeting the collective at a 4th of July party at the urging of their mutual friend Clinton. “They had me at two shows where I played the last song with them to test the waters,” Lee recalls. “There was a lot of finding my sound and finding how I fit into the band, and not stepping on the dynamics. That was after the first album came out.” Lee recorded on the 2015 EP, For the Head and for the Feet, adding that touch of surf and punk vibe. However, it wouldn’t be until American Brunch came around that the band would finalize their current line-up with saxophonist London Guzman of Long Beach. “I started djing a bunch and I stopped playing music for a little bit, and then Sean hit me up to record,” Guzman says. After adding his raunchy tenor sax tones to the mix of American Brunch, Guzman was asked to join for a performance at The Echo two years ago, and the structure was set.
In American Brunch, Araiza’s themes of love and duality—relatable subjects for any warm-blooded human being—are evident throughout. His talk-song style is ripe with savvy melodic hooks; familiar yet brand new at the same time. Redman says, “Richard kind of takes point, as far as songwriting goes, but it’s difficult to explain how we all contribute, ‘cause it’s never really the same twice.” The compositions are bolstered by a balance of incredibly smart sax, bass, guitar, and percussive lines inspired from each decade, all the way back to the start of the 20th century.
Even if the trick is just a mild tempo change, The Buttertones’ movements are subtle and thoughtful, so the mood remains perfectly constant. “We aim to build songs that create space for the listeners imagination run wild,” Redman says. Part of their prowess is a result of the inventive percussion of Modesto “Cobi” Cobian. Redman explains, “Cobi graduated with a degree in guitar performance, but started gravitating more towards the drums. The first time he played the drums seriously was with Richard and me.” Cobian is the racing heartbeat that pulses throughout, and drives the energy of the band’s live performance, almost like a Tasmanian devil on drums, wild yet still in control.
Recently, The Buttertones have made the jump to a new horizon, signing with the eclectic and thoughtfully curated Los Angeles label, Innovative Leisure and are about to release their next full length, Gravedigging. “Last year, we played a series of shows at this warehouse over in Cypress Park, The Worble Warehouse,” Redman says. “I think that was the first chance that some of the guys from IL came over to check us out. It was a dirty, filthy, rock and roll party. I guess it broke the ice and showed them that we’re not above that.”
Last year, the band re-entered the studio, but this time with Jonny Bell of Jazzcats Studio and the band Crystal Antlers. “Working with Jonny Bell was a different experience,” Redman says. “He’s a little more invested in the band and really wants us to discover what we should sound like, so there was more preproduction, more demoing the songs and listening back.”
The Buttertones perform tonight at Fingerprints, 7 p.m. Get on the guest list with pre-order of Gravedigging (CD or LP), and if space allows when we're a bit closer, we'll open it first come first served, with RSVP. Pre-order in the shop or at 562.433.4996 Pre-ordering will get you priority entry and an event poster.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.