Ten years ago, Australian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Butterfly Boucher made a very impressive debut with Flutterby on which she wrote, played, and sang pretty much every note. The effort caught the attention of folks like David Bowie, Madonna, and Sarah McLachlan, along with a die-hard group of fans. Flash forward a solid decade and she’s done it again… literally. To honor the album’s 10th anniversary, Boucher decided to remake that debut as Happy Birthday Flutterby — this time, though, with a little help from her friends. Although the original recording sounds anything but dated, the new rendering feels more mature, more free, more spacious — all of which is a perfect reflection of the artist herself at this moment in her life.
So, you made Happy Birthday Flutterby as a way to get the record back under your control. Clever. How’d you come up with that idea?
There were a few different reasons to remake it and, honestly, the biggest reason was that I wanted to celebrate the 10th year anniversary somehow. And I didn’t feel like touring because I’d just finished touring an album, but that very next year was the anniversary year. It really came from… I just had this moment of gratitude — and I’m not saying this to blow smoke up anybody’s ass — but I really did have this gratitude of thinking about all the support and the fans over the last 10 years, especially the ones who were there at the first Sarah McLachlan shows I did and bought the album. It kind of blew me away and I, more than anything, felt like doing something to acknowledge that. That’s why I did the PledgeMusic campaign, to somehow bring it all in. Because, usually, the album recording process is so isolated.
And, then, the same thing with having musicians who were my friends that I’ve met since that album and, sometimes, because of that album. The added bonus was that I would own the masters, which I don’t of the original. It was just such a special album to me, I just wanted to acknowledge it 10 years on. The whole process was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be, revisiting those songs — particularly because we recorded in the same studio.
I kind of wish other artists would do that for their pinnacle recordings… to re-do them 10 or 20 years later.
I’m glad you say that. I almost didn’t do it because I thought it would come across as an egotistical thing to do. And, for people who did like the first album — and maybe this is just the negative thing in my head — but I thought people would think, “Why are you remaking an album you already made?”
“Can’t you write any other songs?!”
(laughs) Yeah! “Haven’t you thought of any other songs since then?!” But I wanted it to come from a place of something fun to do.
At the time, I thought it would be a really quick process. I thought I would knock it out in two weeks because most of it was done live. But, like any project, it takes a lot longer. It took more like… seven months. (laughs) There was some rehearsing with the band, or the bands — there were three different bands — and the string section. And, then, four days in the studio. Then, to get more people on it who couldn’t make it for those four days, I had to work via email. I was emailing Sarah McLachlan. She was recording her album at the time and I would have to send her the files. She sang it in Vancouver and sent it back. The same with Sara Bareilles. She was on tour. And random other friends. It just dragged out.
But I really tried not to do — because I have a tendency on all my albums to play all the overdubs and all the instruments — so this one I really wanted to be special in that I didn’t do that.
How did it feel to lean on the talent of your friends rather than play all the instruments yourself? It must have been a little bit of a spiritual practice.
It is a kind of spiritual practice. It’s something I want to get better at. I’m really lucky to have talented friends and I respect them enough to want them…
You gave them a shot to do it better than you could!
(laughs) Yeah. And there was some complaining. k.s. Rhoads was like, “I don’t understand. You’re the best bass player in America and you’re getting me to play bass on your song?!”
Other than the players, what sorts of things did you change up, musically, to give the new version its own identity?
It was interesting. Some songs turned out quite similar to the original and, other ones, I was able to be a bit more spontaneous on the day and change it up. Probably the biggest thing was that I got a string section in. Eleonore Denig was one of the first people to respond because I sent out an email to all my friends that I was hoping could be a part of it. I was so nervous sending that email out because I’m not very good at asking for help. I think a lot of people are like that. I just feel bad. But I wrote this email and sent it out. And the whole idea of this project was hinging on if my friends could do it… and for free. So Eleonore was the first one to reply and I was like, “Score!” because she writes string arrangements.
(laughs) Nice! Yeah, “Scores!”
So we sat down and I think she did five arrangements, in the end, four of which we used. I didn’t end up using much of one on “Another White Dash” because I went in a different direction. In hindsight, I wish that I’d had a little bit more time in those four days in the studio because, every day, we were trying to get three songs. And there were a couple where, if we’d just had a couple more hours to kind of — I hate the word jam, but — if we’d had been able to experiment a little bit more, we could’ve taken them in a slightly more… a new direction.
Were there things about the original that had nagged you for 10 years?
Not at all!
I know that sounds… but I’ve been so far removed from it for so many years. If I had hang-ups on the original, which I’m sure I did, it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten what those were.
They weren’t bad enough to haunt your dreams.
No. I was always so proud of that record. The making of it was magical. It just hit me at this time when I was so excited to be doing my solo thing because I’d been in a band for years. I was just full of hope. I actually had some sad songs, at the time, but I purposely didn’t use them on Flutterby because I really wanted it to capture the moment I was doing it. And I was really joyful and really hopeful. I wanted it to be an honest record, but not bring anybody down too far. There’s still some sadness on it, but…
Tympani will lift anyone up.
Tympani will lift anybody out of anything. Yeah. But, no, I was really proud of that record and I think it helped that I co-produced it with Brad Jones and Robin Eaton, and then we shopped it for a record deal. I had decided that I would go with the record label that least wanted to change it. I didn’t want to change the record. That’s how happy I was with it and I felt like it represented me as an artist and, if a label wanted to sign me but change the record, then I was like, “You don’t really want me. Because this is it. This is what I do. If you don’t get it, then we shouldn’t work together.” So, I was really happy with that record. If anything, I was daunted by re-recording it because I really didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
That is the risk you take when you approach something that’s whole and perfect in its own imperfect way. You do have to reimagine it.
It actually turned out better than I thought it would! I hadn’t put a lot of pressure on this record because I went into it with a different feeling than when you’re going into a new record, I guess.
You also didn’t have the pressure of a label. You’ve now released records on a major and a minor, and this one you’re just…
Yeah, I could do whatever I wanted. The fact that I could even do this project… I don’t think a label would have thought it was a great idea.
Which is weird, right? Because Hollywood remakes television shows and movies all the time. They steal British shows and remake them as American.
(laughs) They do! You know what I should’ve done? I should’ve recorded this album and had an American accent the whole time. That’s what I should’ve done.
A Southern accent. Twang.
You know what? I’ll do it for the 20th anniversary.
Every 10 years, just do a new version.
For the 30th, I can do French.
Well, you might need to do Chinese, by that point, because of our overlords.
(laughs) That’s true. Whoever has the power.
This isn’t the only music project you’ve been involved with lately. What’s happening with Elle Macho — one of the best band names ever?
Isn’t it?! I can’t remember how that name was born. It was a couple of different people. I think Lindsay (Jameison) pushed it through. Or David (Mead). I don’t remember.
We get together every Tuesday in my basement rehearsal space and we’ve been writing. We have about nine songs on the go. Kind of just slowly working our way toward what will probably be a new record. But not putting a ton of pressure on it.
That’s the theme of the day — no pressure.
It is, actually, in my life. I have really tried to make decisions that have put less pressure on me so that I don’t feel weighted down, in the hopes that having more space in your life also opens up things that may not have happened if you didn’t allow room for it.
So, yeah, we get together at least every Tuesday. It’s been so much fun. We haven’t even rehearsed our old songs yet. We just went straight into writing new songs to see what kind of sound came out of us. And, so far, everything’s just really groovy. It’s less angst-y and punch-you-in-the-face kind of silliness. There’s a bit of that, too, but for some reason, we’re just being really drawn to grooves. It’s an interesting combo.
If you leave space, then things like the Ruby Rose “Break Free” project can fall in your lap.
That is a good example, especially because that song was just kind of sitting around. It hadn’t been used for anything yet. I’d written it for a Grey’s Anatomy episode, but it didn’t get used. But that’s thing — I’m just writing songs and co-writing with different people as it comes up and you never know what’s going to be used or what’s needed, and it’s nice to be home and be able to jump on anything that comes my way. I’ve enjoyed that. Any small project that comes along — even if it’s just a song — usually, if it’s a request for a commercial or TV, it’s, “You’ve got two days!” So, you just knuckle down and do it. And I feel like every song is an experience like that. I’m just honing my engineering skills and producing skills. It feels really good to be getting better at something. I think I miss that. As a kid, there’s this desire to learn and it feels good when you’re getting better at something.
Well, producing Missy Higgins’ last record sort of fell in your lap a little bit, too, right?
Yeah. That started out that we were just going to co-write. A lot of the time when I write, I already have the production in my head. It can be frustrating showing somebody a song when it’s not how you hear it in your head. So I tend to go and record the whole thing so they know what I’m talking about. It’s very hard to explain it. You just need to play it to them. In that case, we had worked on a few different songs and I had just done the production at home and we worked on it together. Her management and people around her were responding really positively — not just to the songs, but to the production and that kind of direction. She’d been talking about different producers. There were a couple that she was going to work with. She met with Brad Jones, who did Flutterby with me, and I was like, “Well, if Brad’s going to do it, I want to do it, too!” (laughs) So we went and got tacos and, over tacos, I said to her, “Um, I just want to put it out there that I would love to co-produce. I’d love to work with Brad again; I hadn’t worked with him for years. And I feel like I could really bring something to this combination.” And she kind of just got quiet and was like, “Huh. That’s a good idea.” And, then, throughout the night, she would come back and say, “That’s a really good idea.” Then she’d go off and come back and say it again.
And Brad was totally open to it. He’s always encouraged me to go on to be a producer. We just did the whole album. It was fantastic. It was a lot of work. To be a producer is, actually… I enjoy it. You’re not the artist. You’re there for your knowledge and you’re kind of a mediator. At times, you feel more like a counselor. You’re just trying to keep the peace. You need to be the stable one and let the artist go through their highs and lows of the emotions because that’s where the passion comes from. It’s a really selfless job, but I — I don’t know if it’s because I’m a little bit older now and I’m at that point where I have that nurturing thing — I want to be able to do that.
Having been on the other side of it must give you a deeper compassion, in a lot of ways.
It does. I really feel like I can come from a point of view where I have been on the other side as an artist and I know how tricky it is to stay focused and not get too emotional, over-thinking everything. I think it helps that the artists I’m working with know that I’ve been in their shoes, as well.
I also just love to produce. I like the journey of taking a song and trying to imagine the scenery it should be in, the best way to bring the lyrics and meaning to life. And, also, making sure that the artist’s vision — if they have a strong vision — is getting across and that it’s something new, something unique.
Any other producer gigs that you’re eyeing? What are your dream gigs?
Not currently. I actually haven’t thought about that. I think it would be fun to work with a band. I’d really like that challenge. Also, just because, for many, many years, I was in bands, so I feel like I have that dynamic, as well, of knowing what it’s like — the crazy dynamics of any band and how to get through that web. I really haven’t thought of an ideal project, though.
Maybe that’s why it’s not on the horizon, because you haven’t been thinking about it.
(laughs) May be! I need to get on that dream board and I need to be writing down specifics.
What’s up with you and Sarah McLachlan?
Other than just going for brunch any time she comes through town? (laughs)
When she came through Nashville recently, didn’t you play with her?
I did. Last time she came through, I emailed her and said, “Oh, I’d love to come to the show.” And she wrote back and said, “Well, I’d love you to sing on something.” I said, “Okay, deal.” And then she said, “And I fully expect you to take me shopping.” Which — I’m not a big shopping person. So I was like, “Where do you shop in Nashville?” So we did that. I’m stoked that she’s a friend of mine. She’s still as encouraging as ever.
Sinéad O’Connor said recently that, before making her new record, she knew she had to fall back in love with music if she was going to survive the music business. And she’s not the only one. Where are you, right now, in terms of knowing or creating your artistic place in the world?
I am definitely between… something. I am between having dedicated a good 15 years to the idea of being a solo artist and fully immersing myself into being a solo artist. That was my focus. And, now, I think you reach a point where you’re just like, “Is that growing? Have I grown out of that idea?” I’m definitely in an in-between stage because, after so much touring, you just get burned really quickly touring. And, financially, I can’t really do it unless I do it solo and that gets really lonely really quickly.
And you’re not presenting the songs in the way that you hear them in your head.
Yeah, exactly. And that can be frustrating for me. Like I said, it’s all in my head, so it can be frustrating to play and only have a guitar to express that. Most people seem to enjoy it and like that there’s not all this other stuff when it’s stripped down. But I, personally, like all the other whistles and bells… literally.
So, yeah, I’ve been very conscious in that I haven’t scheduled any tours and I really am open to what comes next. Every other day, I fall slightly back in love with music. But I definitely reached a point where I said, “I need to love this.” Otherwise, it is that thing. It’s so much work and it’s so hard. But there’s no other way of doing it. If you don’t love it, it’s a waste of breath and life. And I want to have a really good life. I want to inspire as many people as I can. And, to inspire, you have to be inspired. You have to be enjoying it because it really shows and comes through. I’m trying to find what that next thing is because the fire that I had when I was 15 and started out doing my solo stuff — it’s not the same fire and not the same desire.
And you’re not the same person.
I’m not the same person. It’s so true. And, I’ve had all these other experiences along the way with the music industry, the stresses of making decisions as a solo artist. It’s just a more realistic — I know what I’m getting myself into now. So, the last couple of years have been like, “Do I really want to put all my eggs in that basket?” And I don’t. I want to do other things. And, eventually, I might do an EP or something else solo, but I’m really just open to what the next thing is.
I like to think — you know when you watch a documentary about someone who has gone on to have amazing success and inspire all these people? It’s like, generally, in every documentary, they get to their 30s and whatever they were doing wasn’t really working. And then that next thing they do — and it might be different to what they’d done all their life — there’s this turning point and everything goes stupendously well. I’m hoping that that’s where I’m at. (laughs)
One thing the last 10 or 15 years has brought, which is really positive, is a respect for me as an artist. I may not have been the most successful — I haven’t been…
Well, you’re the best bass player in America.
Apparently! But I do think, within the industry, I’ve laid a pretty good foundation of being creative and pretty consistent. I feel like there’s, generally, respect for the body of work I’ve done so far. That goes a long way in terms of whatever this next chapter of my life is.
I had to have my own come to Jesus with music last Fall. The activist work I was doing was stressing me out and I had to ask, “What is it that makes me come alive?” And it was music. It has always been music for me.
That’s what it is — coming alive.
But something obviously wasn’t working, if I’d tried to get away from it. You forget the connection you had when you were younger and the dreams get lost.
Exactly. Yeah, you do. I mean, I say maybe it’ll be a little while before I do another solo project, but that does not mean at all that I’m not doing music. I’m still doing it. That’s the reason I haven’t toured so much — because I wanted to be more productive. When you’re on the road, you can’t be. If anything, I’m wanting to do more work and that is why I chose to give myself space.
And it is interesting, having this space in my life, too, where other things have crept back in that I used to do as a teenager — interests, at least — like abstract painting or designing furniture or interior design. All these other things that I’ve always been drawn to, but I was so serious about music and the solo thing that those got lost along the way. And I found that, now that I’ve had a little more time, all those things are creeping back in. I’m obsessed. I’m on Pinterest all the time.
Kacey Musgraves’ bass player makes furniture and wall hangings out of reclaimed wood. So…
Right now, I’ve got as far as Pinning things, but at some point I will hopefully, actually pick up a hammer or a saw and do something.
This article originally appeared on No Depression.