The guys of the band ButtonHead must think they’re Sofa King clever.
That’s probably the reason the Summit City rock group buried the title track of their debut CD Sofa King Cool 10 minutes after the album’s alleged final song. The implementation of the title track as bonus track isn’t just clever, though. It’s a mark of true musical genius – a pure expression of the creative throwaway excess that blesses and curses the ultra-successful modern-day popular-music artist.
That’s what makes ButtonHead’s first CD “Sofa King Cool.” That and the fact that the Fort Wayne-based quartet has come up with a crisp collection of engaging power pop rock which acknowledges dreams of superstardom, love, lust, break-ups and taking out the trash. During a recent interview at the band’s basement rehearsal space, lead guitarist Jason Kocks and vocalist-rhythm guitarist Joel Young discussed some of the diverse elements of their music.
“Catchy melodies, good harmonies,” says Young. “Nice song structure, a wide variety of styles.”
Kocks laughs out loud, me not knowing what’s up with the yuks.
“His choice of words,” Kocks says. “He’s right, though. It’s a mixture. All of us have our own backgrounds. The drummer’s real punk, Joel’s real funk, folk, Carpenteresque. I’m more the alternative guy. Our bass player, pretty much the harder the better. But it doesn’t sound like that when it comes across. It’s a mixture of all that stuff. We all have a love for melody lines and harmonies. We want to make it so that we like it and we can appreciate it but also have other people like it, too.”
That’s all fine and good, but it sounds like one of these cats actually owns a Carpenters record.
“Yes, I have a Carpenters greatest hits,” Young says. “Actually I have a Carpenters book with a bunch of their songs. It must be because when I was seven or eight they had all those hits on the radio. That’s what I remember most from my childhood. Good melodies, happy music.”
Happy music also describes the vibe felt by ButtonHead, thanks to the inclusion of their song “Candy bar Wrapper” on 96.3 FM’s latest Essentials compilation CD. Young and his crew love hearing their stuff pumped across the airwaves into their car stereos, boom boxes, home stereos and other radio equipment. They also understand the challenges of garnering highly-coveted radio airplay.
“For one, you have to have a really good recording,” Young says. “We went to Soundmill. You have to have a really good recording if somebody’s gonna get serious about playing it. It’s a struggle. 96.3 makes it easier for people.
“The only way you can get more than one radio station to play (your songs) during the day is if you get on a big-name label. Getting signed is the only way I know of.”
“I think we just want to write good music and get it to as many people as we possibly can, on whatever means that might be,” Kocks says. “We really want to strive to get our music out there as far as we possibly can. Obviously, everybody wants to be a rock star.”
Kocks’ quote stands as a perfect transition to a discussion of the ButtonHead song, “Moment,” a tune which ponders the possibilities of rock stardom. That won’t happen, though, because bassist Jason Hess and drummer Marky Mettert have just stomped down the basement stairs with bags of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.
Marky removes the tomatoes from his pair of regular burgers as Young discusses the standard local-band dream of making and playing music as a single, full-time job. The tomato incident sets off a fascinating study of the true complexity of ButtonHead.
“I don’t like tomatoes. I think tomatoes suck,” Mettert says. “They taste like (poopy). Actually I’d rather eat (poopy) than tomatoes.”
“He really loves chocolate, too,” says Hess, actually inferring that Mettert has an violent allergic reaction to chocolate.
“So I had a deprived childhood,” Mettert says. “Halloween always sucked every year.”
Joel improvises a typical trick-or-treat encounter from Mettert’s childhood: “Here’s a Snickers. – May I have an apple instead? – We don’t have any tomatoes.”
“Payday,” Mettert exclaims. “I have no choice. Payday is the only candy I can eat. It’s a complicated life.”
Which brings us back to those complicated tomatoes. A man who hates tomatoes orders a pair of Wendy’s burgers with tomatoes when he could have easily ordered them without. Why?
“I didn’t want to confuse the people,” Mettert explains. “I had to go out of my way to remove the tomato.”
“You went out of your way to not say anything to them so they’d take more time to put tomato on it so you could take it off,” Young says.
“You’re wasting food for all those starving people in Africa … and China,” Hess says, before turning to Young. “Did you tell him where you find most of your guitars?”
“In the trash bin,” Mettert says.
Young offers an explanation of his refuse retail habits: “It’s like this – I’m driving down the street and I see a headstock sticking out of a garbage can. I think it’s gotta be just the neck. So I go and look and it’s a whole guitar.”
“But that happened more than once,” Kocks says.
“The other one was in a case sitting out on the curb,” Young says. “It’s an Airline. Basically the equivalent of a Sears Silvertone, Montgomery Ward guitar. Probably 30-some-year- old. It’s pretty weird, it’s cool though. All the people that play it really like the neck but hate the way it sounds.”
Having been founded just under three years ago, ButtonHead has been through its share of line-up changes. Mettert is the group’s second drummer. Bassist Hess – who at one time played guitar for the band as Young played bass – has left the band twice.
Hess: “The first time, they were doing covers and stuff.”
“That was the second time,” Young says.
“Was that the second time? What was the first time?”
“I don’t know,” Young says. “Jason (Kocks) showed up, and you took off.”
“He showed up and I left,” Hess recalls. “I don’t remember why. It wasn’t tension or anything like that. The second time I was getting ready to start an original band and that kind of fell through.”
Mettert, who has been drumming for ButtonHead for just over a year, agrees with his mates that attitudes and arguments sometimes have a tendency to shake the band to its foundation.
“It’s hard to have four heads think as one,” Mettert says. “I get mad because they don’t think the same way I do. I think we can all verify that.”
“I think we call have the same focus,” Young says. “We all want to go in the same direction, but we have different ways about wanting to go about it – so buttin’ heads is like the name of the band. ButtonHead.”
The band goes on to share hilarious tales of drunkenness, violence and bonding which, if detailed here, would probably lead to some kind of charges being filed on somebody somewhere. A harmless enough tale of intramural angst involves a drunken Mettert threatening to beat up Young for losing the keys to the band’s van.
“No, it wasn’t me,” Young says. “Somebody in this band lost the keys – and nobody said it was them. That was the night there were a lot of hard feelings happening. At the end of the night, come to find out, I can’t find the keys. I’m usually good about having the keys in my hand or in my pocket and I couldn’t find them anywhere.”
“But I got the biggest blame for it,” Mettert says.
“Because you were there,” Young says. “Everybody else left.”
Where were the keys?
“They were on the hood of the van,” Young says.
“Yeah. Nobody had them,” Kocks says.
“Me and him were about to throw down,” Mettert says. “I was pissed. I just wanted to fight and that was the perfect reason.”
“That’s why you shouldn’t drinking straight vodka,” Young says.
“I’m gonna move to Russia,” says Mettert.