Music, Trees, and a Touch of Zambi: A Conversation With Everyone Orchestra’s Maestro, Matt Butler
The Everyone Orchestra has been performing shows around the country
sporadically for almost two years. It’s a unique concept of group
improvisation involving a revolving cast of musicians. The upcoming shows
in Portland, OR on July 18th and 19th will showcase Steve Kimock as the
special guest guitarist, for example. The concept involves having many
musicians up on stage, including some complete bands. Through the course of
the show, certain songs are played from the respective band members’ solo
catalogs with multiple guest jamming, and then each set culminates in a huge
conducted jam. The conductor is usually Tye North (former bassist for
Leftover Salmon and current bassist for Porterhouse). Using hand symbols
and cue cards, Tye guides the large orchestra of jamband musicians through a
group improvisation that could go almost anywhere depending on the whim of
the players, the conducting of Tye, and the energy of the audience. Even
the audience "jams" with the band, acting on cues to scream, laugh, or moan,
making the name Everyone Orchestra very relevant. Each Everyone Orchestra
show is a benefit for forests in one way or another. For example, the
upcoming event in Portland will help generate funding and awareness for
Cascadia Summer in their effort to educate people about the destruction of
old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. And the idea all started with
a man named Matt Butler.
Matt Butler was born and raised in Eugene, OR and was influenced by music
at an early age. His mother plays in the Eugene Symphony and taught violin,
and Matt quickly found that he had an interest in music and drumming as a
youngster. He formed some high school bands with friend Chris Haugen who
later became the guitarist for their band Jambay. Jambay was a fairly well
known jamband that played up and down the west coast during the early 90’s.
Since they disbanded, Matt’s been keeping very busy musically with projects
including a pared-down version of Jambay, both a bay area and northwest
version of The Matt Butler Band, and The Redwood Project. Being a Eugene
native, Matt has always felt an affinity for the trees and forested lands
and his Redwood Project was his first socially conscious project that helped
to raise money and awareness for Redwood forests preservation. Jambay
reunites every now and then and the band actually has about sixteen songs
ready to be recorded as a new album. But Matt feels that the Everyone
Orchestra is a very important project that deserves a lot of attention. He
has devoted the last year and a half of his life to being a Dad and giving
the Everyone Orchestra the time and attention it needs so that it may
blossom. I spoke with Matt about the concept of the Everyone Orchestra.
John Zinkand: What is the Everyone Orchestra?
Matt Butler: It’s kind of like friends of mine that are great musicians,
acquaintances, and other musicians that are out there playing professionally
that we’ve pitched the concept of coming together and doing conducted
improvs with all these musicians on stage. Partly as a benefit, but also
we ‘re paying the musicians, giving the musicians space in it to do a little
bit of their own thing as well as be part of this larger thing. But I’m
trying to build focus and a spiritual, really safe container for a lot of
different stuff to happen within. Keep it focused and keep everybody that’s
participating in it feeling they’re a part of it, not like they’re missing
JZ: But you feel that you are still fine tuning things a bit?
MB: Yeah. Like the number of players we have. We can have more players if
we have more time and a bigger stage. We need to have less players if we
have less time or if we have a smaller stage. I’m learning the physical
limitations so the thing can flow really nicely.
*JZ: And with your band mates from Jambay Chris Haugen and Mike Sugar being
core members of the Everyone Orchestra, you guys are able to practice songs?*
MB: We have history, but we haven’t practiced yet.
JZ: So there are no songs in the Everyone Orchestra?
MB: Yeah there are. People do their own songs and we do cover songs.
JZ:So how do you go about learning other bands songs?
MB: They play them solo and different people will just sit in with them.
We’re gonna mix it up.
*JZ: So there are no "Everyone Orchestra" songs per say, just songs that the
different members of Everyone Orchestra bring from their solo bands?*
MB: Exactly. And then we pick two cover songs per night, usually. And
that’s just something I communicate with everybody. Let’s play two cover songs,
one each set. And we just kind of find the lowest common denominator or if
someone’s really inspired to get everyone on the same page with a certain
cover song. And the covers aren’t necessarily going to involve everybody,
but more than an individual band. But like at the Taft Theater show in
Cincinnati people listened to the cover the first time through and then ran
up and grabbed their axe and were like ‘I can play that song’. So there’s
that kind of openness on the stage, it’s been really nice.
*JZ: How did you get Steve Kimock to commit to being involved with the
upcoming Portland shows?*
MB: I just pitched him the idea. He sat in with Jambay and we had a great
time. It was years ago. He personally singled us all out and said some
really nice things to me back then. We were originally planning on doing a
summer festival but then we looked at the climate and said forget it. But
we were already down the pike a little bit talking to him about the festival
and decided to just move it to the Crystal Ballroom thinking that’s just
more doable. And go for the two days because the really high experience we
had in Cincinnati happened because we gave space and time around it. We
were planning on doing one and we were looking for people to do it with.
The opportunity came up and he was available so I wrote him a letter and
gave him all the links and some of the music. He was like, "That sounds
great! My band’s not playing that weekend and I was hoping to do something
different that weekend. This is perfect."
JZ: How did the whole idea come about?
MB: A bunch of different experiences that I’ve been involved with. One is
Zambiland. Jeff Sipe, Colonel Bruce and Zambiland Orchestra are just a huge
inspiration. That whole southeastern rock and jamband scene. Jeff invited
me out to take part in Zambiland in ’98 or ’99. I flew out there to play
and hooked up with Dr. Didg out there and formed a good relationship with
him and he’s played on my record since then and stuff like that. And there
were aspects of Zambiland that I loved, and aspects of Zambiland that kind
of left me wanting something different. I felt like there was such cohesion
at Zambiland when they used the cue cards. I saw the potential of that. It
struck me as a cool concept to bring into anything. I’ve been striving to
clear out some of the chaos that I experienced at Zambiland, so individual
artists can be featured, and then be showcased in the really unique
environment of the large group improvisation. So people could actually
catch Steve Kimock doing what he does best in a unique way and then catch
him doing something that you’ve never heard him do before that could go
anywhere in the moment.
JZ: How did Tye North become the conductor?
MB: He’s the Zambiland ambassador. He’s had the most experience out of
anyone I know doing Zambiland except for Sipe so I was just like, ‘Dude,
will you help me do this?’ He’s a really good conductor and he’s growing
into it, whether he’s thought about it or not. We’re learning how to do
this. I think there will be other conductors over time. We’ve had other
people conduct, but Tye’s the best one so far. I want to get Tye a
conductor’s podium. I think playing up the orchestra element a little more
is going to help us. I’m really trying to do that with this upcoming one in
particular. Hamsa Lila’s going to have their zone, like the wind section,
and then it’s going to be like Kimock and ALO around him and my kit and Tye’
JZ: What moment stands out from a past Everyone Orchestra performance?
MB: In Cincinnati we had the honor to play with Cyro Baptiste. He is just
the most awesome person. He’s so happy to be playing music. He’s so open
and supportive. He arrived with zero rock star attitude and just supported
the whole thing. And the Everyone Orchestra takes participation, it takes
some energy. The people that come to do it- I’m trying to create a
container where they have time and space to become part of this thing, to
meld into this bigger entity and he just did that so well. For that show in
particular we invited a lot of players that I didn’t know that well. This
all started with me just inviting my friends so that was the first time
getting out of my comfort zone and it just happened to work really well. He
made friends with lots of people and he had this jam with Zack Gill from ALO
that started the Saturday night conducted jam.
*JZ: How did the concept of the Everyone Orchestra shows being benefits come
MB: I lived close to trees a long time and I’ve been really fortunate to be
near the forests. I had the opportunity to work on a documentary that was
related to the preservation of the redwood forests and it just kind of
hooked me into the cause. I just think it’s the survival of our planet
looking at it microscopically; we’ve got to save these forests. And just
the way that the whole machine is getting rid of them it’s just not
sustainable. I want to have a right livelihood; I want to do the right
thing in my life before I die. It just felt really natural to combine the
two. I don’t want to only do music or only be an activist. So I’m trying
to add this component to it so as this thing grows and keeps on going that
component grows also and can continue.
JZ: Is each event to generate funding and awareness for the same cause?
MB: It’s not for the same thing every time. The theory is that we connect
with a local or regional environmental organization that’s related to
forests or the trees. When we were down in New Orleans it wasn’t about a
forest, it was about the mangrove trees or about this or that and we decided
to go with the Sierra Club. And the one we’re doing in Portland in July is
related to a movement called Cascadia Summer, which is a conglomeration of a
bunch of different organizations taking action for the forests from
Vancouver, BC all the way down to southern Oregon. They try to come
together to bring more momentum and outreach to what’s going on. Everything
‘s speeding up. There’s a front line happening right now between the Bush
administration and the environmentalists. And out there in the forests it’s
almost like a war zone. It’s happening right now and people don’t realize
it so I feel like it’s really important to bring that to the forefront
because I don’t think people want that to happen. I think that if you can
get people in a good mood and get them really inspired on something and kind
of open them up in a creative space that having that element that we’re
doing something pro-active also is important and I think that people kind of
need that now.
*JZ: And the funding goes to save old growth forests or to stop clear
MB: Education outreach, financial support for organizations that are
supporting tree sits, that are supporting litigation that’s happening. One
of the biggest things is just supporting organizations like Cascadia
Wildlands. They’re all about educating people on what ancient forests are
up for getting cut. And taking people out there to show them, taking photos
and documenting it all and trying to build up their support base and
knowledge base of what’s going on. Because it’s hard for people to keep
track of all the stuff that’s going on.
JZ: Do you plan on continuing to put on these shows and tour nationally?
MB: What we’re thinking is let’s do it every two months, that’s about all we
can handle right now. Just aim for every two months do a weekend and bring
out the core band, then try to pull some regional people, and pull some
national people. Each one’s going to fall together differently. If there’s
a different talent that is available or interested, we might form one around
them and kind of be able to work that way.
*JZ: Where else do you plan to take the Everyone Orchestra in the coming
MB: You know, we don’t have anything booked right now. I’m working on San
Francisco. We were looking at New York in August, around Jerry’s birthday,
with Neil Mandell from King Nimrod. We’ll definitely do New York. Neil’s
kind of like my right hand man and we’ve been building this a little bit as
far as the venues, some of the players, and how we can take this to the next
level. He does a lot of work on the east coast and in the mid-west. I
think that, as we get up to speed, that every two months we could go into a
brand new market and make it happen there. With the right people supporting
it and just the timing of it all. We’ll see, though. If you asked me that
nine months ago I would have said this is something we do once a year. And
then we did it and realized we could do it more often.