Edmonton Winters & the Winter King: An Interview with Tyler Butler

Despite that Edmonton’s Tyler Butler has previously recorded an album, he has become one of my favorite artists discovered this year. His new album,
Winter King
, will be listed on my best albums of 2011 list for its gorgeous stripped down, spacious production of soft, dark folk music. Now, months after our botched yet enjoyable interview and conversation via Skype, I’m happy to finally get to share it with you…

Edmonton settles itself into another heavy winter, put off by a brief pocket of hot air. I know, and everyone knows, that the icy grip hovers above us, waiting to ensnare the city once more. –Tyler Butler

CFM: Describe how an Edmonton winter affects your personal and social life.

TB: Addressing the social first, the cold affects our ability and willingness to leave our centers of warmth. Before all excursions, we are faced with the question: “Is this worth braving the winter?” In Edmonton, our burgeoning scene, now recognizable, steadily chips away at that question. Our musical gatherings are deeply engrained with a sense of place and community — absolute hallmarks of my perception of folk music and the folk.

Addressing the personal, winter has great affect over my lifestyle. I eat differently: root vegetables, stews. I sleep differently: guarding a warm pocket of air under my blankets against the morning. I travel differently: riding the bus with troubling frequency. And, I tend to spend much more time indoors. Perhaps this explains my tendency to write prolifically during the winter.

CFM: In what way does Edmonton and Canada affect your music and your own personal taste in music?

TB: The musicians in Edmonton who developed alongside me — Caity Fisher, Liam Trimble, Jessica Jalbert, Layne L’Heureux, to name just a small few — are a constant source of inspiration. Winter King speaks as much to them as it does to me, and their influences are felt in every nuance of my style. A great deal of my listening time is spent on my friends’ music. Outside of Edmonton, I am often inspired by the hardworking musicians who trek across the wide expanses of Canada — Zachary Lucky or Eamon McGrath, for example. Garrison to garrison, their dedication and craftsman’s approach is an attribute of the Canadian touring musician that I profoundly admire.

CFM: What was your creative process like while making and recording Winter King? What was your inspiration for the album?

TB: My creative process is always similar. Lyrical ideas and a thematic outline come first. Then, as music comes to me, I fit it into aspects of that outline, and complete the songs individually. This does not always result in a conceptual album, but helps frame the completed project so that it sounds like an album — as opposed to a collection of unrelated songs.

Winter King is unique because it was written in two stages. The second half of the record, titled “Waxwing,” was recorded a few months before the first half, as a project I showed a few friends. The first half, titled “House Painter,” is more conceptual, although the whole record aligns to the themes I initially laid out.

CFM: You borrowed heavily from winter mythology on the album, explain these myths. Why use them? What do they add to the songs?

TB: Edmonton is a city without a story. When I wrote Winter King, I collected a series of myths about winter, and stories about the greater concerns about winter: life, death, claustrophobia, sex, companionship, friendship. In a way that felt (perhaps unjustifiably) Canadian, I integrated these myths, their characters and their themes into stories that are set, I feel, quite recognizably in Edmonton. My hope for Winter King is that it encourages other writers in Edmonton to engage with hyper-local settings, and in turn create a kind of mythology or sense of story around the city.

CFM: Is there one song that is more personal or holds more meaning than others on the album? If so, why is it more personal and what is its meaning?

TB: A brief answer: “Kingfisher”. It is a highly literal song about an evening with a dear friend.

CFM: How often do you write? What inspires you to write? Have you written any more songs since the release of Winter King? What are your plans for the future?

TB: I write very frequently. Not always songs — I have written short stories and poetry since Winter King. I have written a few new songs.Most recently, I published “Sprinter in a Field” to my bandcamp page. I hope to complete a new album this year, although I’m still working out the details of how I will record it. We may not have seen the last of Winter King either…

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