Portland, Oregon’s The Builders and The Butchers, led by songwriter / vocalist Ryan Sollee have been road warriors for the past year or so, and are heading back out on tour tonight for a string of shows with Langhorne Slim, Bobby Bare Jr., The Broken West and The Walkmen.
This piece from the Willamette Week serves as a great intro to the band:[AMERICANA GOTHIC] At the Builders and the Butchers’ CD release party earlier this month, the band walked out of Valentine’s in the middle of its last song-and most of the audience followed. Around the corner at Voodoo Doughnut, the assembled crowd sang, “Find me, oh find me/ In the air, Lord, in the air,” to the late-night doughnut slingers and their patrons. Then it was back to Valentine’s for a couple more rounds of the gospel number’s chorus-a finish that left everyone feeling like they’d played a part in the good time.
Though the band describes itself as a blues and gospel ensemble, its music comes off more like rock ‘n’ roll invented during the Great Depression: The Builders’ shows are more like revivals than concerts, with audience members clapping, stomping, playing band-distributed tambourines, washboards and Little Tikes tom-toms and, of course, singing along. “I like songs that smack you in the face with the chorus [like] a big baseball bat,” says frontman Ryan Sollee. Not surprisingly, Sollee’s also the one running around at shows with an old bullhorn.
And the five-piece’s slew of instruments doesn’t end there: Acoustic bass, mandolin, banjo, organ, trumpet, Sollee’s acoustic guitar and two drummers (each focused on a single drum) are joined by occasional accordion and violin-not to mention the instruments in the hands of the audience. “One of my big weaknesses is going in a thrift shop and, any musical instrument that’s under $5, I just buy it,” Sollee says. “My girlfriend hates it.”
All this hoopla wasn’t necessarily intended, however. Sollee and former Builder Adrienne Hatkin (of local indie-folk outfit Autopilot) were starting a “funeral music” band, and Sollee started writing songs with a call-and-response core about dead relatives, coal mines and the creepiest bodies of water, lakes. When he played the songs for some fellow Anchorage music-scene transplants, they picked up whatever instruments were around and joined in, and a devoutly acoustic band was born.
But the Builders’ initial never-plug-in philosophy has been compromised, as larger crowds have forced the band to amp up and move from the middle of the crowd to the stage. But it’s a transition the band’s happenstance founding seems to facilitate. In fact, the trademarks of the Builders’ stage show-arming the crowd with instruments or taking their last song off down the street-are mostly things the band tried merely as one-time experiments. “I just want to see who we can get to follow us,” explains Sollee. By describing the genesis of the Builders’ off-kilter finales, Sollee has inadvertently summed up his whole band.
-BRANDON SEIFERT, WILLAMETTE WEEK
THE BUILDERS AND THE BUTCHERS
9/10: Hi Dive, Denver, CO
9/11: Jackpot, Lawrence, KS
9/12: Off Broadway, St Louis, MO
9/13: Mojo’s, Columbia, MO*
9/14: Bluebird, Bloomington, IN*
9/15: Schubas, Chicago, IL #
9/17: Maxwells, Hoboken, NJ
9/18: Middle East, Cambridge $
9/21: Mercury Lounge, New York, NY %
9/22: Rock N Roll Hotel, Washington, DC %
9/23: Grey Eagle, Asheville, NC %
9/24: Newport Music Hall Columbus, OH
9/26: Egyptian Room Indianapolis, IN
9/27: Bogart’s Cincinnati, OH
9/30: 400 Bar Minneapolis, MN
* = w/ Langhorne Slim
# = w/ The Broken West
$ = w/ The Walkmen
% = w/ Bobby Bare Jr.
THE BUILDERS AND THE BUTCHERS LINKS:
Label Page: bladencountyrecords.com/