This fall, veteran singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer Butch Walker released his latest album The Spade. As usual, it’s chock-full of crunchy guitars and a classic, no-bullshit rock vibe that has defined much of his solo work. But Walker also pays the bills as a songwriter-for-hire, having penned hits for Avril Lavigne, Pink, Weezer and Panic! At the Disco, among many others. We had a feeling his outspoken, candid style might have clashed with certain artists in the past, so we hit “Record” and asked for his weirdest songwriting moments. “You just hope as a songwriter that you don’t run out of things to say,” Walker tells Hive. Judging from the stories below, that won’t be a problem.
1. The Thieving Producer Story
A few years ago, I had written a song for a singer that was going to be the follow-up to a very successful record. We were stoked on it; it was a pop anthem. This person had obviously worked with a ton of other producers and writers – apparently one person can’t write or produce an entire record. There has to be like 40 fuckin’ people. Which is fine, I suppose, considering most of the songs all end up sounding the same anyway, they could just use one person. Anyway, in this case, it was direct thievery because the song I had got into the hands of the person working with the singer after me and he just duped the song entirely and there’s the new first single. When I heard it, I thought, “I completely got ripped off here.” They tried to keep it hidden from me until the album was released.
I didn’t try to sue because I’ve been down the road of legal action and it’s a dead end street and everyone loses and ends up paying way too much out of pocket. In good old-fashioned Southern ethics, I went to beat the producer’s ass at his own Christmas party. I grabbed him by the neck, took him outside and said, “I’m not going to sue you for what you did. I’m just going to beat your face in and drag you across the parking lot and that’ll make me feel better.” Before that could even happen, I got attacked by bouncers. I never got a punch in. Well, not yet.
2. The Accidental Drunken Hit Story
The most bizarre stories lie in the irony of the music world. A lot of times, songs that I meant to be funny or a joke have gone on to become popular. I was in my studio late one night and got hammered. I started joking with a buddy and played these solemn chords on my piano, but singing lyrics about a girl who liked rap-metal and had a monster truck. It was just a joke, but the next day, I played it for this A&R guy and eventually, Bowling For Soup recorded it as “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” and it became a big hit for them. For the most part, the entire song was exactly the same as when I first wrote it. That’s when I realized you have to look at everything as having potential. [eds. note: The song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Group or Duo.]
3. The Dressing Down Story
My first songwriting experience was weird. I was 19 years old and straight out of the boondocks in Cartersville, Georgia. My hair metal band [SouthGang] got a record deal and we landed in L.A. to work with this guy Desmond Child. He was going to co-write the album and I thought, “This’ll be great. Dude wrote ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.'” We got together and it was a culture shock because I never had any experience with any songwriters as eccentric and flamboyant as Child. When we showed up, he had four servants getting drinks and watering the palm trees in the backyard. It was very Boogie Nights. I had a lyric idea with “Love” in the title and he looked at me scathingly – here I was, this frumpy, overweight redneck with hair down to his ass — and he said, “What do you know about love? You’re not even a person yet.” That was my first meeting with him. I didn’t know whether to hit him or kiss him, but in hindsight, it was the best advice I’ve ever received.
4. The Meat Loaf Story
I got a call from Rivers Cuomo’s people about wanting to set up a writing session together. I remembered thinking, “Oh man, I’ve been a Weezer fan since The Blue Album. This is going to be a lifelong self-fulfilled prophecy to work with Rivers and the band.” They gave me the address to his home and I realized that he lived two houses down from me and I had no idea the whole time. When we got together, one of the first things I threw out there was “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.” I told him, “Let’s channel our inner Meat Loaf,” and he went, “I’ve never heard Meat Loaf. What’s that?” I had to go back and introduce him to the guy who made the longest song titles ever.
5. The (Best) Lindsay Lohan Story (Ever)
I somehow got talked into writing with Kara DioGuardi, who wanted me to co-write and produce songs for a Lindsay Lohan record. For some reason, I thought this would be funny. “Embrace the weird” has always been my motto and I wanted to get outside my element and Lindsay Lohan was nowhere near my element. But she was also nowhere near the studio when the songs were being written.
This was an early taste for me of realizing how it worked in the pop world. The artist that wants to get co-writing for the song doesn’t necessarily have to show up for the songwriting. It’s just managers calling you and saying, “So-and-so would like to get such-and-such percentage of the song that she’ll be singing.” That’s never been the way I’ve done it in the past. If you’re going to get 50% of the song, then you should be writing 50% of the fucking song. But still, I wanted it to be a decent pop song.
When she showed up the next day to sing it, the first note out of her mouth was not good. But instead of saying, “Oh, that was flat. Let me re-sing it,” she was freaking out and saying, “My voice! My voice!” All of her assistants and BFFs and BGFs were running around the studio freaking out and calling doctors. I was like, “What the fuck did I step into?” I thought it was an episode of Punk’d, but instead of a dude with a trucker hat walking into the front door, two white-coat doctors show up five minutes later. They looked at her and said, “You’re fine,” but gave her a cortisone shot in her face for a zit that was about to come through.
The Spade is out now on Dangerbird Records.
Listen to the first single, “Summer of ’89” here: