The Buttertones are having the best Coachella of their lives. Sure, most of the members in the band don’t have anything to compare it to. But when your first experience going to the biggest festival in the country is as a performer during a night time slot, the bar is already set pretty high. While living in Southern California, saxophonist London Guzman has seen countless amazing Indio lineups pass him by as the cool kids he grew up with dutifully bought their wristbands every year for a three-day music and molly binge.
“I remember people from high school would be going every fucking year no matter who plays and now we say we’re playing and they’re like ‘Woah, your band is actually band,’” he says standing in a trailer lined with couches and buckets of ice cold beer with his band backstage having just delivered the closing set at the Sonora Stage.
Not only was it a prestigious gig (any show slot after 7 p.m. assures you won’t be sweating balls and playing to an empty patch of grass) but even in the shadow of main stage mania on the festival’s opening night, they headlined the venue that felt tied to the ghost of Coachellas Past for young bands on the come-up. Acts like Cherry Glazerr to Cuco, Mu$ty Boyz and The Delirians help revive the festival’s spirit to deliver refreshing sonic discoveries. It stands to reason why Sonora’s new location will definitely put some calluses on your heels trying to get to it. Nestled in the far east corner behind the Gobi tent, it feels like you’ve walked halfway back to L.A. by the time you’ve walked through the doors. But once you walk inside, it’s like you really are back in the city.
Where last year’s vibes at this stage with a melange of kitschy props and desert themes that felt like more of a high school drama stage on steroids, this year’s look is like taking a club like the Echoplex and slapping some funky cartoon designs on it and putting it in the middle of the desert.
“I think it really represents our LA scene,” says guitarist/vocalist Dakota Böttcher, who gave props to Rene Contreras, creator of Viva Pomona who once again helped orchestrate the vibe and lineup of Sonora. “He’s been like our angel this whole time, he’s responsible for this,” Guzman adds.
Coming off of a whirlwind European tour, the band remembers getting the call in Amsterdam while drinking beers at a pub when their manager told them they’d gotten the Coachella gig. Six months later, they were walking onto the Empire Polo Fields to get their passes alongside major celebrities and random rockstars from their childhood.
“We say that dude from the Goo Goo Dolls [Johnny Rzeznik] behind us in line,” singer Richard Araiza says in disbelief. “I went to summer camp every morning at 6am they would play that song with that chorus ‘And I don’t want the world to see me!’”
As far as his band is concerned, the world is definitely getting to see them, just in time for the release of their fourth album, Midnight in a Moonless Dream, out May 4 on Innovative Leisure.
Though they delivered their set with plenty of raw verve and surf rock charisma that got them this far, backstage their demeanor was much more humble considering the circumstances.
“Tonight it was hard to say anything other than ‘Thank you’ from the stage and ‘Uhhh, do I deserve to be here?’ It’s that kind of feeling,” Araiza says.
“It’s hard not to be hard on yourself,” Guzman says. “We’re literally all fighting that right this second. Richard and I were definitely kicking ourselves after the set but then everyone else was like ‘you killed it.'”
From the audience point of view, the Buttertones definitely didn’t melt under the pressure. Nerves or bum notes aside, nothing seemed to derail the band’s kinetic energy on stage through songs like dark, brash tones of “Matador,” the floor tom bombast of drummer Modeste Cobian and the driving growl of bassist Sean Redman on “Baby C4,” even the slow burning ‘50s sway of “A Tear For Rosie”. The interplay of shimmering guitar, howling vocals and squealing saxophone carries loads of charisma in its DNA, backed by the sweaty desire of the musicians who unwittingly managed to bring back a vibe that is rare at Coachella these days…one that will hopefully continue to serve them in the future.
“Regardless of what it means to anybody, it’s special to us and to those around us who’ve been there since Day 1,” Araiza says. “It’s important to let you know we’re still hungry. We’re ready to take on whatever comes our way.”
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.