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Brighter Day: An Interview With Rogers And Butler

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What happens when you put an experienced poet and a true master of melody together? The result might be called Rogers and Butler. Edward Rogers has done quite a number of solo albums (as well as a couple with The Bedsit Poets) over the last couple of decades. Stephen Butler’s made a dozen albums with his band, Smash Palace, going all the way back to the ’80’s. As a duo these guys create real magic, crafting sensitive pop gems galore. Herein discover their songwriting process and the story behind their latest album, Brighter Day (Think Like a Key Music) 

Stereo Embers Magazine – How did you two guys get together and form “Rogers and Butler”?

Edward Rogers – Our mutual love of the music of Duncan Browne. Steve and I were doing a show together. We’d known each other in passing and we were at the Cutting Room in New York City. Steve came over to me and said, “Hey, you remind me of Duncan Browne. But you won’t know who that is.” And I said, “Oh, I sure do.” From there we evolved to kind of knowing each other. I sent him some lyrics and we wrote a song called, “20th Century Heroes.” I wrote the lyrics; Steve wrote the music and we got together and recorded it.

SEM – That song was included on one of Ed’s solo albums, TV Generation. How did you get from there to making a new act called Rogers and Butler?

Steve Butler – I think we had extra songs. “20th Century Heroes” was the first song and then Ed said, “Well, I’ve got some new lyrics. “It might have been “Diana Dors” that was the second song. We probably wrote about five or six songs together. I think I might’ve said, “Why don’t we do an EP with the extra songs?”

ER- Our first release was the Diana Dors EP, released in 2019.

SB -We did that, and it went well and was well received. We did a few gigs together and then the following year we put out a full-length record: Poets and Sinners. This new one is our third CD.

SEM – So Ed, you would send lyrics to Steve and Steve would put the words to music. Did it ever go the other way around?

ER- Not really. We would toss ideas back and forth. Steve would look at my words and say, “Let me change this” or “Let me change that.” Same thing with the music. But unfortunately, I don’t play an instrument, so I have to use a lot of samples to get my music across to people. We just connect. We have a really good bond, and we understand each other. If I say, “Let’s do a song like ‘Eight Miles High’, he would go, “Okay” and then we’d work it up.

SEM – What about the songs that Steve sings? Do they start with his melody and then Ed puts words to it? “Last Reply” off the new album, for instance.

SB- The process is that Ed sends lyrics and I set them to a song and ask him what he thinks. If he doesn’t like it then I try something else. “Last Reply” was a song that I had completely written the melody for, but I didn’t have any lyrics. I was kind of stuck. I didn’t really know where to go. Ed sent me some lyrics and I thought, “Wow, these lyrics are a perfect fit”.

ER – If I’m writing by myself, I write the words first and find the melody afterwards. Steve has the ability to do both because he’s really a fine guitarist.

SEM- When you send Steve lyrics, do you sometimes sing a melody with the words?

ER – No. Not yet.

SB- Ed’s like a poet.

ER – Think of it this way: Keith Reid and Gary Brooker.

SEM – Procol Harum.

ER – Yes, it’s that type of thing.

SB – I write lyrics for songs I do with my own band but with Ed, it’s usually all of Ed’s lyrics. Sometimes I have to take out a word to fit the melody or offer a better word or phrase. Like an editor.

SEM – Do you ever suggest a subject for Ed to write lyrics for?

SB – I don’t think we’ve ever done it that way.

ER- We have said, “We need a love song”– like a category. I tend to be an observation writer and I think Steve tends to be a love or romance writer.

SB – Yeah, relationships. I’m more of a relationships writer, more personal. I have to force Ed (laughs). I’m just kidding.

ER- You don’t have to force me, but you’re right.

SEM – “Last Reply” is a great example of that and it’s very appropriately placed…in amongst the observations.

ER- When we start working on something, we know that each song has got to be a variation. From Steve’s side of it, his whole thing is not to repeat what he’s doing. On my side, it’s making sure I’m not writing the same song. If I write another song about Diana Dors, it’s like, “No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to find somebody else.”

SEM- What about your producer, Don Piper? What’s his role? Does he choose the songs you record?

ER – No, that’s our side of it. Don is the scorekeeper and the final decision maker on a number of things. If we’re thinking of taking a different approach on something, we go to Don, and he’ll tell us what direction to go in. He’s totally honest with both of us. Even though I’ve maybe worked with him a lot longer than Steve has, we both really trust him. You need an honest person to be able to give you the facts.

SB – That’s really true. I’d never really worked with a producer in my life that I really liked. So, when I worked with Don, it was a big deal for me even to let someone have that power. Don is so good at what he does, that it just works. The other thing I want to point out is that when Ed and I write songs, we don’t write them for each other. We just write the songs. In the end, and this has happened all three times, we say, “Let’s split up the songs. What six songs do you think you’d like to sing out of these twelve?

SEM – Sometimes you trade verses in the same song.

SB- Yeah, we’ll do that. We try to be democratic so that we each have equal time. And usually, the six songs that Ed wants to sing are the songs I think he should sing. So, it works out really well.

SEM – Does Don Piper ever suggest that Steve should sing one of those?

ER- It hasn’t happened but if Don ever did say that I think we’d seriously consider it. What do you think, Steve?

SB – Yeah, absolutely.

ER – It’s great having an honest person give his opinion for no other valid reason than that he thinks about the musical value of what you’re doing.

SEM – Does he let you know if you’re singing flat or whatever?

ER – Oh yeah. Or that a guitar is out of tune. Steve is a master at harmony. I have to make sure that I not only get past Steve but also Don. I have to spend a lot of time learning harmony. I’m not naturally a harmony singer. Steve is trained in both.

SEM – What about arrangements? On “Last Reply”, when the second verse comes in, you’re expecting the drums and the band to kick in and it never comes. It’s vocal, piano and a string quartet. It could have been this big power-rock ballad but, no.

SB- You’re absolutely right. We knew that. We knew we could pull that expectation out of the hat, but we decided to keep it intimate, kind of like, The Beatles’ “For No One”.

ER- I was always thinking, Todd Rundgren’s, “Wailing Wall.” I said, “It’s there,” but then Steve wanted to add strings to it. So, we both got what we wanted.

SEM -Tell us about your string arranger, Chris Carmichael.

SB- He’s a friend of Don Piper’s. I’ve never met him. Where does he live?

ER – He lives in Kentucky. He does a lot of film composing, and a lot of commercial work. He plays all the instruments. You give him a piece, give him a week or two… it’s done.

SB – He’s fabulous. He does everything himself. He overdubs it. He’ll write up a chart and he’ll do two violins, a viola, and a cello. And he uses two different violins for a different tonal quality. We just leave it to his creativity. Whatever he thinks it needs.

ER – And the timing… as you know, writing up an arrangement and getting people to play…and changing notes— this is all done for us.

SEM – Let’s talk about some of the other songs on your new album. Listening to title track, “Brighter Day,” two words come to mind: despair and optimism. A combination of these two seem to be a running theme. And this goes back to your previous album with a song called “Roll the Stone” which says, “The bottom just fell out,” but goes on to say, “gotta keep moving on”.

ER- That’s what’s happening in the world today. I mean, in the last two years that this record was coming together, that was what was out there. If you look at it from the observation of just what’s going on, we got the virus, now we’re in a war, we had the political ramifications going on– all of them mixed into this soup bowl. And you gotta look ahead and say, “Look, I’m still alive. Every day I wake up, I got another day, let me live it to the max. We all live our lives every day and that was the observation of a lot of these songs.

SEM- Did you have to record the new album remotely?

SB – No, we went into the studio.

ER – We did it fast, like three days for the rhythm tracks. Then we did a lot of stuff remote. And Don Piper was the scorekeeper. Vocals were done separately, for the most part.

SEM – That was brave, considering how bad things were in New York with the virus.

SB- I think when we recorded there was a bit of a lull in the covid rate, so we went in the studio initially and some people were masked up. But we did it really quickly. There was probably two full days of recording and then we did overdubs in our home studios.

ER- “Cabaret” was recorded live, both his guitar and my vocal. We took three takes of that song and that was it, we moved on. We wanted to do that, number one, to display Steve’s guitar prowess, and we wanted to catch a live vocal because Colin Blunstone was telling me how he did some live vocals. That one is not my best vocal performance, but it is, at least, live.

SEM- It makes sense that you cut it live because that’s what the song is about. You can picture the singer with the spotlight on him in the cabaret.

SB- Right. That’s true.

SEM – And the Spanish, nylon string guitar fits the scene. You added the accordion just to make sure we’re there.

SB- (laughs)

SEM -“Where Does the World Hide” has a great guitar riff. Steve, did you have that riff beforehand?

SB- No, that riff came up right off the bat. That was kind of the riff that got the song going.

ER- I was pushing you for something like “Jumpin’ in the Night” by the Flamin’ Groovies.

SB- That’s where Ed wanted to come to. For me, I was thinking Psychedelic Furs. That’s a song that’s pretty simple but it has some interesting changes that take it away from the ordinary. But the lyrics are so great.

SEM – And there’s some good piano in there. Is that Joe McGinty?

ER- It is indeed. Magic fingers. The story behind that song is that I was really ill, and I was waiting for daylight to come. I was waiting to go to the hospital. That’s how ill I was feeling.

SEM – With the virus?

ER- Yeah. But this was way before they knew even what it was. It was November of 2019. I was watching tv and they were showing these old shows like Dr. Kildare, shows I hadn’t seen –shows that you wonder what the hell happened to them. They show them between 2 and 6 in the morning. I was waiting to go to the hospital – I knew that the shifts change at 8 in the morning. I was watching tv and got all these lines. First ray of sunshine, I went to the hospital, and they sent me home, but they gave me antibiotics and I started to recover. That was the experience – the life-saving experience of waiting to go to the hospital.

SEM – Did you add more lyrics later, during the lockdown or was that all written then?

ER- That was all written then.

SEM – That’s surprising because it seems like a pandemic song: where does the world hide?

ER- The world was hiding from me.

SB- We went thru a period. A lot of Poets and Sinners was about the COVID thing. We were working on the record that’s out now, and Ed had some songs that were pandemic related. I said to Ed, “Well now they’ve got vaccinations and by the time we get this out, no one’s going to want think about covid.” Little did I know it would still be with us.

SEM – What songs from Poets and Sinners were pandemic related?

SB – “Roll the Stone,” I thought, was a bit of that. And “Olde Storefronts” — everything closing up. That, I think, was the big pandemic song.

ER- Well, you know, Steve, I wrote it also because New York was losing all its stores because of online buying.

SB- Yeah, that’s true too.

ER- And whatever stores would close you would have a Walmart or another bank or something we don’t need. All the mom-and-pop stores in the East Village were going or moved or cut back in their space. And, Don, you know about that because you used to live here. That was kind of the inspiration. But once the pandemic hit, it got really bad.

SB- That was the last nail in the coffin.

ER- But now, I do see less homeless people, and I do see stores opening up. Maybe there’s a beacon of hope.

SEM – Speaking of a beacon of hope, you have a song called “Learn to Live Again” on the new album. That’s in that vein, isn’t it?

ER- It is that. It’s all about, “Pick yourself up, and move on”

SEM – That one has some harmony guitars on the lead break.

SB – Yeah. I tend to do it a lot, especially if it’s a slide part. I’ll harmonize the solo, like George Harrison used to do. I love melodic guitar solos.

SEM – George’s slide parts were almost always in harmony, weren’t they?

SB – Yes. He would layer and layer and layer them… triple them.

SEM – Another great track on the new album is “Marmalade Eyes.” Very Brit-psyche ’67-’68.

SB- I looked at the lyrics and Ed had been talking to me about Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd. I really don’t know that much about early Pink Floyd. So, I dipped myself into that water and came up with the music for that one. What I like about the song, besides the very cool lyrics, is that it’s in 3/4.

SEM – It starts in 3/4 but it doesn’t stay there.

SB- Exactly. The chorus goes to 4/4. It’s like “Lucy in the Sky” in the verse and then 4/4 in the chorus. It has that kind of a vibe to it.

ER- I wanted the outro to sound like if Syd Barrett was still making warpy music today. Or maybe, like Bevis Fond was really making some warpy stuff. I really enjoy doing that kind of play with the vocals. Steve went to a totally magical, unknown style for him, which was great.

 SEM – How about “Perfect Market Day”, also off the new album?

ER – I started that one in 1978. I was sitting in Portobello Road and there was a guy in the center of the road selling records, mostly bootlegs. And he was playing some Ian Dury records. I sat there over a cup of tea and the lyrics just rolled right out of everything I was looking at. Somebody was selling this bootleg T-Rex t-shirt for 30 pounds, and he was saying that Marc Bolan had worn this t-shirt. I thought, “No way Marc Bolan wore that shirt.” And I just observed the people and watched what was going on. The lyrics were there, and I just kept on working them. When I gave them to Steve, he got the feel. That’s the magic to it. Steve was able to totally change from the rockier side to get to the English countryside vibe. There’s a very defined English county vibe in that song.

SB – I remember exactly when I wrote the music to it. It was a rainy day, and I was sitting on my enclosed back porch with a classical guitar and came up with this melody and I was singing it. And then I thought, “this might work with those lyrics Ed sent me a couple of days ago.”

ER – And you got a cup of tea, right? (laughs)

SB – Yeah, I got a cup of tea. I did. It was just like a dreary, cold day. I love the marriage of the lyric and the melody on that. It’s one of the strongest songs.

SEM – That’s one that seemed to bring a kind of relief on the album. It’s a different vibe.

ER- Yeah. It’s just an observation of a beautiful day in the early autumn.

SEM – Is that Ian Dury’s voice we hear speaking at the end of the song?

ER- Yes. From an interview. He was talking about “Sweet Gene Vincent”.

SEM – Side two starts with a kind of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Pump it Up” type of rocker called, “Desire”.

ER – That was one that we knew was going to be a rocker. With Konrad Meissner on drums and Sal Maida on bass, it just took on a life of its own. If I’m not mistaken, it was the last song we recorded. It was a live vocal. My voice was really shot. I was just like, “I hope I can pull this one off.” There were some things about that I thought, “I’d like to fix that” but then I thought, “No,I like the performance of it.”

SEM – “The Sun Won’t Shine” really stands out. George Harrison meets The Kinks. Vocally it sounds so Kinks. The harmony you got sounds just like Ray and Dave.

ER – It’s funny cause I think “Brighter Day” also has that. I think it has a real Ray and Dave thing. But “The Sun Won’t Shine” is mainly a Steve highlight so you should talk about it.

SB – I love the lyrics. I was just fooling around– I always like to come up with something dramatic when I’m playing guitar. I came up with the two chord changes at the beginning, which were kind of unique. Almost like chord changes from the 1930’s or 40’s. I really liked the way they sounded together. I remember when we were playing the theme, it didn’t have the slide guitar. I did play slide on that. I was thinking I need something a little extra on that slide part to make it pop a little more, so I played it an octave higher again and that’s what gave it that George Harrison feel.  I think it’s got great harmonies and I like the arrangement.

SEM – If the Kinks got back together, this is the song we would want them to do.

ER- Well, we’ll sell it to them.

SB- (laughs)

SEM – “Oh Romeo” seems to have an early 70’s Rod Stewart thing going on. Guitar sounds like it’s capoed.

SB – Yes, it is. We originally started with just two acoustic guitars in the studio and then when I got it home, I got a twelve string guitar and I put a capo up really high, like around on the 9th fret. It gave it kind of a mandolin sound. When Ed sent me the lyrics, we were talking about Lindisfarne, who I love.

ER – Totally. That was the vibe we were trying to catch: “Meet Me on the Corner”

SB – “Meet Me On the Corner” — exactly. That’s what I was looking for as an inspiration. Not that it sounds like that but it’s something that helps get you on your way.

ER – It gives you a direction. It’s a folkier type of song. There is a feel there. There isn’t the standard drum part. When I was writing the lyrics, I was actually thinking about Phil Lynott, from Thin Lizzy. So that’ll show you how weird the transition goes. You go from thinking of Phil Lynott, without telling Steve that, and Steve comes back with Lindisfarne and I’m like, “Yeah I’m all over that.” Alan Hull –what great, great writer. After Steve told me what the vibe was, I went back and spent a lot of time researching Alan Hull and came up with several songs that ended up on the radio show. [Ed hosts a show called “Atlantic Tunnel” which airs on WFMU’s Rock n’ Soul Radio (internet) every Sunday from 2-4PM ET]

SEM – Is the harmony vocal both of you or is it just Steve?

SB – It’s all three of us.

SEM- Oh, Don Piper too?

SB – Yeah. A lot of it is three part harmony.

SEM – The album closes with “Brand New Tomorrow.” That also seems Flamin’ Groovies-ish.

ER – Cyril [Cyril Jordan, leader of The Flamin’ Groovies] has been an influence on my work. Steve, I remember Don Piper not liking that one, remember? He said, “You’re trying to sound too much like The Rolling Stones.” And I was like, “No I want this to be like a Groovies-type of vibe. And so, we thank Cyril. I just kept on it. I wanted that intro to be the way it was. When we deliver this song live we’ve got a really great outro now that’s really hot. We like doing this song.


SEM – The bridge goes somewhere else.

SB – Yeah, it kind of goes into a cut time. It’s cool because it sets up the guitar solo.

ER – It’s pop. You’re going through this raging number and all of sudden there’s this pop break. That’s all Steve’s credit.

SEM – What happened with “Man Who’s Made of Tin”? That didn’t make it to the new album.

ER – It’s going to be, or already is, on a compilation album on Kool Kat Musik. A benefit album with Martin Newell, John Howard, Andy Partridge, and a whole bunch of others — so many people that it’s three CD’s. The money that Kool Kat raises is going to Ukraine. Kool Kat is there for people like us. Rue ’66, Edward Rogers, Smash Palace…they promote our kind of music.  I should tell you that we’re signed to this great label, Think Like a Key. They’ve been so great to us.

SB – Yes.

ER- They’re on top of everything. Roger [Roger Houdaille of Think Like a Key Music] is in this band called, Ex Norwegian. He has this network. He’s got a Jimmy Campbell album coming out: 23rd Street Turnoff [a group that evolved out of Campbell’s previous band, The Kirkbys] and a Shawn Phillips double album coming out. He also puts out new artists.

SB – He’s really on the ball. He’s got a lot of good ideas and he really works hard. And there’s one person we wouldn’t be anywhere without: Melani Rogers, who manages us.

 SEM – A manager is part of the band. Look what happened to the Beatles when Brian died.

SB – You’re absolutely right. There’s so much stuff that bands have to do now that they never used to have to do. Melani takes so much of that weight off of us.

ER- She’s another one who treats us all straight. Because she’s worked with so many bands, she knows when to say when you’re wrong or you’re right. And if you get on her wrong side, forget it! (laughs)

SEM – We’re told you might be opening for the Zombies.

ER- Next April we’re doing 11 dates with The Zombies in England.

SEM – Sounds great. Thanks so much to both of you for speaking with us.

ER – Thanks to you.

SB – Yeah, thanks very much.