An Open Letter from Hot Buttered Rum’s Nat Keefe
Hot Buttered Rum guitarist Nat Keefe sent us an open letter to family, friends and fans of the band. The statement, which deals with the past, present and future of Hot Buttered Rum, is reprinted below.
An Open Letter to Butter Family, Friends & Fans.
from Nat Keefe
These words have weighed on me for a long time, but the right place and the right words have eluded me. After countless conversations with folks about the evolution of Hot Buttered Rum, I’m in a good place to talk about our past and the next Butter chapter. So here it goes.
Five years have passed since Zac Matthews left the band, and more than four years have passed since the release of our last studio album; our new album is set to be released this spring. For those new to Hot Buttered Rum, Zac is a founding member of the band, a talented mandolin player, songwriter, and one of my great friends. He thought about leaving for awhile and announced his departure to us in November of 2008, and to the public a week later. A band member’s departure is common in the music world, the fallout is always different. Butter has a tight community and it felt rocked. We hadn’t planned on presenting a new form of the band, and had months of high-profile gigs and a recording session already booked. In retrospect, we probably should have cancelled our gigs for the first half of 2009, holed up somewhere, and regrouped. However, at the time Hot Buttered Rum had a full scale touring apparatus around us, with employees and the players all depending on the tour to make ends meet. We had to soldier on, and simply didn’t have the time or space to digest the change.
So we just kept touring; it was the most stressful and unhappy time in my life. Three months after Zac’s departure we headlined the Fillmore in San Francisco, a truly hallowed hall graced by music royalty. 900 people bought tickets and packed the room with energy and expectation. Butter’s disjointed performance greatly disappointed me on a personal and professional level. In truth, this new edition of Hot Buttered Rum had not yet earned that moment. We recorded our “Limbs Akimbo” album that winter. While it has some enduring songs, the lack of direction on that album is palpable. This coincided with tumult in my personal life as several close friends and family passed away, my parents separated, and I broke up with my then-girlfriend. There were some nights I fear I brought a touch of darkness to the stage with me. We are a band that is about shining brightly and honestly, even when things are at their worst, and our shadowed turmoil threatened that vision.
I think a lot of our friends and fans were confused, disappointed, and understandably impatient. The best bands, in any genre, balance consistency and artistic progression. Truly great bands, such as The Beatles or Radiohead, create their own musical language, and then write new poetry with that language as the band grows and evolves. There are values in a band’s core constitution that should remain consistent from its inception.
In 2009 we struggled internally to define those core values. In retrospect, I see that we failed to incorporate our fans into the process of putting ourselves back together. Perhaps more importantly, we failed to share the grief of losing a band member and friend. It was more like smiling through clenched teeth and saying, “Everything is fine! Really!” In the last couple years, as I’ve reconciled with the past (wow, did it really take that long?) and as we’ve done the hard work of breathing new life into the Hot Buttered Rum entity, I’ve been able to talk about Butter’s evolution with our fans and friends. I’m surprised that people are receptive to my candid personal thoughts, the good with the ugly. This isn’t stuff to hide. If you’ve lived long enough and deep enough, you’ve had some heartbreak in your life. I think people look for honesty in our music: the good times, the bad times, and the roads in between. I hope that people see our story parallel to the ups and downs in their lives. As it plays out, the story of our band and the people in our lives is equally important as the most ecstatic moments of music and dance. It’s a story of scheming and dreaming, moving and grooving, coming and going, and building ourselves back up after heartbreak to do our best work ever. This music and this community are important to me too — this isn’t something I just do! I wake up every day with the mission of making Hot Buttered Rum better.
Things got better. Lucas Carlton joined the band in 2010 and dedicated himself to the mission of becoming a great Americana drummer. On a personal and musical level he coalesces the band, and infuses our music with the energy and subtlety the songs demand. We adopted, again, a young-and-hungry attitude, ready to play for anyone anywhere, from the great concert stages to festival campgrounds to convenience stores at 2am. New faces appeared in our crowd. A few of our old fans, attached to an older idea, fell away. A core of old-school Butter fans stuck with us for the journey, and for this I am forever grateful.
Here at the beginning of a new year it’s natural to assess the past and look to the future. 2013 was a good year for Hot Buttered Rum. We bought a new Sprinter van, Van Morrison, and toured the country. There was a focus and a sense of confidence in our performance. The grooves grew heavier, while the space in the music expanded. Some great songs were hatched, and our vocals benefited from hard work. We tried to refine what we do well and leave behind things that we don’t. This year we not only sold out a lot of shows, but connected with the folks who came to see us, and made a point to stay as long as we could each night to talk to you. And take tequila shots with you.
In 2014 we’re touring extensively, and working to get to some states we haven’t been in some years. North Carolina! Alabama! Texas! We signed our best record deal ever and are releasing a self-titled studio album we think will blow your minds. To me it’s a true testament of the evolution of Hot Buttered Rum, with one of our band’s first songs “Crest” mixed with new songs you have yet to hear. On our recent rehearsal retreat we holed up next to the ocean in Santa Cruz for a few days, and spent long hours playing, rehearsing, and talking. We’ve put a lot of energy into refining the entity of Hot Buttered Rum, and we can’t wait to share it with you. We’re about passion for the full spectrum of life, the earnest simplicity of the song, and honoring our heritage of Americana and bluegrass music.
Thanks for all you’ve shared with us. The best is yet to come.
PS. As always, let us know what’s on your mind: band(at)HotButteredRum.net
Hot Buttered Rum are currently in the middle of a tour through the Midwest, Mountain West and Southeast.