A series of cryptic social media posts announced a political pool party on Independence Day 2017 at Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood. With an image of a black panther came the warning “there’s a fever coming,” but little more. That day, Jason Butler instructed people to show up at 2 p.m., be respectful and, of course, buy a doughnut. And when the curious masses arrived, Butler’s new band FEVER 333 were set up in the back of a U-Haul truck. The rapper/singer sermonized against gentrification before launching into a blistering debut of “We’re Coming In.”
The fever began to spread.
“It was very indicative of the possibilities of a band like this,” says Butler, looking back at the three-song show. “Nobody knew what it was; they just knew what it was about—in a sense. It gave me the validation that this band could exist in this climate.”
Arriving in a cultural milieu desperate to shake off rock music’s corporate-lulled political slumber, especially in these polarizing times, FEVER 333 struck a resonant chord. Butler has honed the skills necessary to wield both the truth-telling power of emceeing and the fury of rock.
Joining the lead vocalist is guitarist Stephen Harrison and Fullerton native Aric Improta on drums. The trio, who netted a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance, have crafted an infectious, energetic rapcore sound best exemplified by their January debut album, STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS, produced by blink-182’s Travis Barker and Goldfinger’s John Feldmann.
Fueling FEVER 333’s hard-hitting rap-rock politics is the members’ own backgrounds: Butler’s the biracial son of black soul singer Aalon Butler (of “Rock and Roll Gangster” fame) who grew up with his white mother in Inglewood. Harrison did some soul-searching to find his place as a black man in America before joining the band and now whirls his guitar onstage in brief, graceful outbursts like a hyperactive dervish. Improta is the token white guy (we jest) whom the Weekly dubbed “the best drummer in OC” years ago.
“I’m not going to skirt around it,” Butler says. “It was important for me to have people of color involved in some of the music that they helped start. People are very unaware of the black genesis of rock & roll music.”
Growing up, Butler—a devoted Bad Brains and Fishbone fan—didn’t have many bands to look up to that looked like him. “In Inglewood, we had Mexican hardcore, metal and punk-rock bands,” says Butler. “Union 13 was huge for me. East Los Presents was one of my favorite albums for so long I wore that shit out until I couldn’t play it anymore.”
The musician also shouts out to Al Brown, a biracial lyrical genius at the helm of the hardcore band Dangers.
Even though Butler began finding his political voice in Letlive, his previous band, not everyone had been on board with his artistic and ideological shift. Prior to forming FEVER 333, all involved found common ground. “We had a discussion about what we wanted to see regarding representation, but also a sense of performance that encapsulates the idea of freedom onstage,” he says.
Butler’s indefatigable antics scaling anything he can climb or becoming one with the crowd during concerts make security guards and stagehands really earn their paychecks, but they also help the band quickly collect converts. However, Butler is the first to say he’s no messiah of the movement. And if the fever is spreading, that’s because the band are tapping into a desire for change that’s always been there.
“We, as a band, are trying to write a soundtrack,” says Butler. “Don’t let us—or any other band for that matter—take that power from you. The people are the reason we have something to write about.”
FEVER 333 perform with Underoath, Korn and Alice In Chains at FivePoint Amphitheatre, 14800 Chinon Ave., Irvine; livenation.com. Fri., 7 p.m. $39.50-$173. All ages.