Photo by Julius Aguilar
Is there anything Jason Aalon Butler can’t do? No, seriously. With the release of FEVER 333’s fiery, eight-track EP Wrong Generation — which was written and recorded in eight days, mind you — the multi-talented musician and father of two not only speaks his mind on recent events like the passing of George Floyd and police brutality but also does it while showcasing his very best hip-hop and hardcore styles.
Recruiting Rotting Out’s Walter Delgado, working with his usual dream team of John Feldmann and Travis Barker, and even sampling a track featuring Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Butler pulled out all the stops when it came to making this record.
After spending 13 days peacefully protesting with his Black Lives Matter brothers and sisters, the outspoken vocalist even went as far as pausing the writing process for the band’s second LP to make this release happen.
Speaking with Butler just hours before the EP dropped late last week, the feelings of excitement were high but the focused frontman never deviated from the overall message behind the record.
“To be completely honest with you,” said Butler, “I’m not even really thinking about the music like that. I’m actually thinking about it as a tool to hopefully activate people’s interest in the world around them (especially as Americans) and get people to really start to challenge themselves to become a little more cognizant as to what their choices mean in all of this – whether that be voting or just literal lifestyle choices that they make in the bigger picture.”
For more insight into the themes, thoughts and emotions bleeding through each and every passion-soaked track on Wrong Generation, be sure to read our in-depth interview with the fearless FEVER 333 leader below. Afterward, if you’ve yet to pick up the band’s new EP or purchase tickets to their upcoming live stream series, be sure to do so here.
Looking at the clock right now, we’re just an hour away from this new EP dropping. You’ve got new livestreams on the way too. Where is your head at right now with literally so much going on?
JASON AALON BUTLER: Honestly man, it’s like one foot in front of the other at the moment. Dude, I’m just like, I’m really excited but I’m just trying to stay focused on what this is all for and what the reasoning behind it all is to kind of concentrate it all at once and make sure that it stays impactful and received the best it can be toward what we’re trying to do and with the messaging we’re always trying to convey.
Is it hard to have that excitement and enjoyment but also know the biggest election of our lifetime is looming around the corner? Is it hard to be solely focused on music when there’s this major world event happening?
Yeah man, to be completely honest with you, I’m not even really thinking about the music like that. I’m actually thinking about it as a tool to hopefully activate people’s interest in the world around them (especially as Americans) and get people to really start to challenge themselves to become a little more cognizant as to what their choices mean in all of this – whether that be voting or just literal lifestyle choices that they make in the bigger picture. So yeah, again, the livestream series, the EP, all of it is really, honestly, just to activate people and to encourage people and remind them of their power and remind them that right now, especially in America, it is very, very much an opportunity for us to exhibit and take hold of the things we want to see change, for sure.
With there obviously being so much more going on socially this year compared to when you guys dropped Strength in Numb333rs, is it exhausting that you don’t really have an escape from things going on in the world when you’re constantly writing and singing about it?
Yeah, it is. I always talk about it like this: I say that the whole point of this is bigger than me, and even in my struggle, even in our struggle, I believe it’s all worth something. So that’s why I find this sort of ironic area of solace at times where I can sit back and sort of foresee what type of energy I’m putting into this even though it exhausts me to do so. I have to believe in what it’s worth and I have to believe that it is possible. So I guess, as exhausting as it is, I still believe that it’s worth something. And in that way, I find my own sort of encouragement to keep doing the work that I think needs to be done.
For people who are in a similar position to you personally, what do you use as your escape since your work is so encompassing of all the things that are going on? What do you use to block that out for maybe a few hours a day?
I go be with my children, to be 100. I hang with my son and my wife, my family. But for my boys, they really sort of remind me of what it means to be in the present. In a lot of ways, I think there’s a beauty in their naivety to a lot of other things. I think they’re just so open to learn and grow and are accepting things as they are in that moment and learning about them and then trying to make better decisions the next time. They’re not, you know, like their approach isn’t as petrified or burned into their brain or their actions and their behavior is different. They really remind me of what we can be like as humans and how we start off and I think there is an inherent benevolence and they really represent that and remind me of that. So that’s my personal thing right there.
With young children at home, was it challenging for you to get out and protest with how dangerous it could have been plus the risk of COVID as well? Was that a thought of yours while you were out supporting Black Lives Matter?
Yeah, I mean, it absolutely was a thought but I explained it like this to a lot of people: COVID will hopefully find its way under control and we will find a way to hopefully, if not eradicate it, minimize it and manage it. Whereas the pandemic that is racism, that is white supremacy, that feeds into a lot of the problems that I think we see today as people. And quickly, I’ll explain to whoever is reading or listening to this: I’m not saying the color of your skin makes you a white supremacist, nor am I saying the color of your skin is the idea of white that I’m talking about. It’s an idea of power and a dynamic that is in leverage against other people that don’t fit into a very slim minutia of the population. So when I talk about that, that is abounding and it has been and the particles of this behavior and systemic imbalance have existed for generations. So in this effort of me protesting, trying to do my part in making sure that the world sees that we have had enough and that we must change, I believe that could be worse – if you do a risk assessment test with me, I believe the risk assessment to not do something in such a volatile time, in such an ostensibly dangerous time for people of color throughout the world, for me not to do something, I think that actually would be a larger risk not to do something about that.
Because again, once we hopefully get ahold of COVID, racism will still exist. So we must try our hardest and take the opportunities that we’re given and when we come together in solidarity, hopefully we do them responsibly and in a way that is constructive and positive in order to reach our goal. But yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but I think that if I was to not fight against these things, I would be leaving an even worse future for my children. And really, at the end of day, it’s for my children and other children and the youth so we don’t kick the can down the road for them to incur our debt.
Speaking of positivity and solidarity: Being such a positive and happy person like yourself who participated in the protests as peacefully as possible, was it challenging writing such an aggressive and angry song like “Bite Back” which, in a way, adds fuel to all the hatred going on at the moment? Was that tough for someone like you, who at the end of the day, just wants peace from all of this?
No, it was actually quite easy because it was very, very honest and it aligned closely with how I was feeling at the time with the extreme sense of frustration that was sort of versed and generated as a result of what I was seeing and starting to understand in real time the effects of the aforementioned racism and systemic imbalance. And for people to truly think to themselves or ask themselves how we could get to this point, get to such a scarily bellicose and violent era of this movement, would be willfully ignorant at this point in my opinion.
I see why people feel this way. I feel why people feel this way and are compelled to do so. I have no bad words for those people that act in ways that they feel they must defend themselves. I have no bad words for people that act in ways that represent their frustration and represent their, I would say, hopelessness in a lot of ways and feelings as though they’ve been taken from for so long that there is no other resource for them. There is no other option but to “bite back” to use the song title. So for me, it was very easy to write the song. It was just extremely eviscerating. And again, that was also exhausting because for me as a person who does try to exhibit diplomacy – and to those who know me like this, I think it says a lot when I say that this was not a time, this was not a moment for me to exhibit that diplomacy. This was not the time because once you are pushed into a corner for so long and beaten and plundered and taken from and disenfranchised and brutalized for so long, it would be naive of you to think that your assailant would stop if you just asked them to. You know what I mean? There comes a point where you have to do everything you can to get out of that tortured position and that’s where I was when I wrote that song. So for me to say that, as you said, for people that know me as one to employ diplomacy in most situations, me saying that I had to abandon that, I really think that should speak volumes as to where we are in this movement.
As far as writing Wrong Generation as a whole and the feelings you had from protesting to immediately writing and making the record in just eight days, was there anything you had lyrically that was like, “OK, maybe I’m a little too heated right now?” For example, you have lyrics saying, “12 is the biggest gang in the world.” Was there anything lyrically that may have topped that where you had to maybe back off at all?
Um, no. That was everything I wanted to say. Every single thing that I wrote down, I actually [wrote] exactly what I was feeling at the time and I wanted it to be as raw and authentic to my experience as possible. And of course, there’s still a part of me that wants to make sure it is received in a way that still can be consumed by possibly those that are not familiar with me or this project or even with the ideologies that I subscribe to. I try to keep that in mind but it was quite far down the list behind making sure I was as honest as possible in those eight days with how I felt.
Yeah, and with this being an EP, it’s probably easier to have this be a little more focused than a typical album where people usually spend years working on and changing every little thing. This EP is much more of an “in the moment” kind of thing.
Yeah and I actually wrote this in the middle of writing an LP. So I stopped, I put the LP to the side, and wrote this in that eight days.
Wow, was that hard to switch gears like that or was it a little more freeing?
No, it was pretty simple cause I mean the LP is more of a larger concept where this is literally about a very, very succinct time in those streets for 13 days.
Talking about some of those songs on the EP, musically not so much lyrically, there’s a track where you sample a Travis Barker song featuring RZA and Tom Morello. For you personally, was that intimidating thinking, “I’m about to rap on a track with RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan”?
Hell yeah, that’s a damn legend right there, boy. It was inspiring, though. You know what it does man, it really encourages you to really try and step up and Travis really challenged me as well, like he made that very clear. He’s like, “Look, you’re stepping on a track with RZA, Bobby Digital.” Wu-Tang kind of activated my hip-hop brain in a whole new way when I was young in high school so I had to come correct, you know. I really had to come correct with that one so I took it as like a welcomed challenge to really pay homage and respect to the hip-hop that really changed and shaped me.
It’s interesting because, then on the same release, you also do the same for your hardcore roots doing a track with Walter Delgado from Rotting Out. What was it like to check off both boxes from the hip-hop and hardcore world?
To me, it made perfect sense. Like, that is just me. If you would breakdown the musical anatomy of Jason Aalon Butler, like those two things would be near my heart. Those would be like some of the strongest points of my makeup. I actually was in a band with Walter when we were kids. We were in a straight edge hardcore band.
Yeah, I was playing drums in a band with him back in the day – actually with three members of Rotting Out. So we’ve been homies since we were kids. And then obviously, the RZA nod was, again, almost like unreal to me. These are people that I just respect and love and look up to. Walter included, like he’s one of the realest mother fuckers I know and he’s always been like that. So it really, again, sort of urged me to keep it all the way real – both of them did. And really, like I said, if you would break it down, it’s so easy for me to jump from one [of the genres] to the other because I was steeped in those cultures growing up and as I was developing culturally and musically.
And then on top of that, no big deal, but you’re also making this record with Travis Barker and John Feldmann. So do you ever have to sit back and pinch yourself because of who you’re getting to work with?
Oh yeah, man. Like I always talk to my like fuckin’ 12-year-old self and be like, “Yo just remember, these are people that you, like, actually would save your lunch money or your little chore money to buy albums that they made.” Like, “these are people that make you want to get on drums or make you want to learn how to song write.” I mean, like they really did really put me in a position to want more before I even knew them, and now that I’m collaborating with them and I’m alongside them, it’s like, I don’t know man. I couldn’t be more grateful and the universe is crazy that way. If you really put forth your best energy, it does pay you back and I think that this is one way that it is paying me back. But again, I’m just grateful. Like, I don’t think I deserve or I’m entitled to any of it, so I’m just grateful and I’m trying to make the best out of it and honor it the best I can.
Not to get too existential, but when you’re working with all these amazing artists, what is it that still keeps you hungry to achieve the next big thing? Especially when you’re already hitting these major milestones.
I have this like insatiable desire to get to tell myself “you did it” and I’m just not there yet, like real talk. I’m just not there yet and I don’t know when I’ll be there. I don’t know if I ever will be there but that thing is always kind of like the carrot in front of the horse just dangling. And it’s like always [moving away] as I get closer to it and I almost feel like it’s sort of exponentially getting further away every time I hit a milestone. And maybe that’s like some shit I’m doing to myself, like a mind trick that I’m playing to keep me going, but I’ve got this like this perpetual desire to be like, “Alright, that’s it.” But I don’t know where it is. I don’t actually know where that X lies on the map, you know? I guess it’s me forever looking for that that spot where I feel like I’ve done it. And again, like I said, I don’t see it in sight. So I’m imagining that that would mean that it’s gonna be a long time of me trying to push myself and be better and do more.
Surely everyone reading this will be thankful for that as huge fans of everything you do. But just wrapping this up, for anybody who’s reading this who wants to get out and support some of the movements you talk about in your music or up on stage, what are some bullet points that you would recommend?
You know you can always obviously go to our pages, anything FEVER 333, but also we have a foundation called The Walking In My Shoes Foundation and we’re constantly updating that with information about projects or activations that we’re aligning with, that we’re donating to, where the merch proceeds go, ticket sales go to, we do fundraising and then there’s a lot of information on those pages too. So we’re trying to provide literature and information about these various projects and activations. I think that’s like the easiest [thing] and we try to make it as easy as possible. So just by listening to our band, you can easily just go and click on something on our website or Instagram or whatever and just click on the Walking In My Shoes Foundation and you will find charities and activations and organizations that we’re working with currently. But like, a broad stroke [on how to help] would be really that you’re trying to learn. That’s my first step to everybody. I’m not even trying to immediately radicalize everyone’s mind. I just want people to feel empowered if they so choose. If they want to learn about something beyond – no fuck it, just learning about themselves in a way that they don’t know. Challenging themselves to learn something new about themselves I believe is the first step for self-empowerment. Look, if you don’t wanna be a radical outlier in your environment, that’s fine too. But I do challenge you to learn something new about yourself so that you can find this new sense of empowerment that might be lateral to the thinking you had originally. You know, that’s like the broad strokes. But then, if you so choose to, if you want to know what we’re talking about, what we’re currently aligned with, you can go to the Walking In My Shoes Foundation through us.