Haley Butters, of Absinthe Father and @ThisBandFucks, On Recording an Album in One Night
Absinthe Father is a project started by Haley Butters, the same sharp mind that created the immensely popular @ThisBandFucks Twitter handle. Both were born out of spur-of-the-moment, confident decisions. Absinthe Father plumbs the depths of tragedy, but finds release in plain-spoken honesty. Butters, who uses they/them pronouns, is also a passionate advocate for DIY music and spaces, a scene they’ve been involved with since they were 16. They are currently based in Columbus, Ohio.
Conversely, @ThisBandFucks is the ultimate music fan’s brain turned outwards. Butters has found a way to distill the true joy of sharing music by paring it down to a simple catch phrase. (Sample tweet: “please play tubthumping by chumbawumba at my funeral.” 152 retweets, 682 likes.)
When Butters answers the phone, they’re in the back of their Acura, the day after their sister’s wedding shower, and two days after completing a two-week-long tour. Absinthe Father self-released the debut album Good Enough in May of 2018.
I did want to lead off by asking you how tour went.
Tour was pretty cool. The first couple of days, well, I kind of figured out that basically everything was in retrograde, and that’s why my brain hurt so much. Once Mercury fell out of retrograde, automatically I felt better. I didn’t realize it until one of the people I was on tour with told me and I was like, “Oh okay, that makes sense.”
The first couple days were kind of rocky. A couple of [shows], they made me play first. I was the touring band, and that was kind of frustrating. Of course, saying something, you always get nervous ‘cause you don’t want to come off as ungrateful or bitchy. There’s something really frustrating and very apparent to me, just ‘cause I experience it all the time, that I don’t think anybody else notices. Just about being someone who is a femme presenting person.
There was one show with a seven-band bill and I played at 12:30 [a.m.], and no one was there.
But the rest of the tour was really great. Especially Richmond. They were just really lovely and welcoming there. And I sold all my merch, and I didn’t think I was going to do that.
I was just listening to your record for the fifth time before this phone call and it’s really good, but it’s maybe not the best thing to listen to when you plan on having a happy and engaging interview with someone.
Yeah, no, definitely not. Everyone always asks me, “What does your music sound like?” and I’m like, “I don’t know, like, being alone… in the dark… in your room.” What kind of question is that? Definitely not something to put on to party with.
“Everyone always asks me, 'what does your music sound like?' and i'm like, 'I don't know, like, being alone...in the dark...in your room.' what kind of a question is that?”
You call it “tweemo” on your Bandcamp page, and I’ve never seen that before, and that kinda works.
Yeah, it’s the only thing I could think of, honestly. Some people don’t know what twee is. So it sometimes confuses people.
Who doesn’t know what twee is, and why are you hanging out with them?
Honestly that’s so true. I need to get some new friends.
So this tour you were playing solo?
Yeah, I was playing solo, which will probably be my last solo tour for a hot minute. I have an almost six-week tour planned for November and December, which will be full band.
Do you think, having a full band, you’ll no longer be opening up shows as a touring band?
I’ve still played full-band shows where we were asked to play first. My old full band was two women, a non-binary person, and me. So I don’t ever want to be like, “Yeah gender has everything to do with it.” But it always came off that way.
I’m hoping that since I put the record out, more people will know me and hopefully that will help, and I don’t know, but we’ll see.
Let me ask a little about the record. I noticed you have a content warning on your Twitter page. Tell me about that.
I feel like there have been a decent amount of shows I’ve gone to where bands will be singing about shit that really—and I hate to use the word trigger, ‘cause it’s been so demonized by the right—but for lack of a better word, I’ve been very triggered by the content in people’s songs. I’ll listen to something and be like, “Oh, cool. I have to experience all of these emotions that I didn’t really want to today. I was in a really good mood, but now I’m feeling kind of suicidal.”
So I think it’s important to say, “Hey, this record is going to discuss some topics that might not be the best or the safest for you and whatever mindset you’re in right now.” I say this before sets as well, if there’s a song I feel might be kind of triggering.
I also say, “Hey, if you want to talk about this after or you need to leave during the set, that’s totally fine, my heart and my arms are open. I’ll give you a hug, I’ll talk with you, it’s cool.” I just wish I had those warnings myself when I listen to certain people. I think it’s pretty important, and I wish more people would do that.
Have people followed through on finding you after a set?
Yeah! They have, actually.
And you put that warning up the day the record came out?
I celebrate my birthday on May 16, and I was like, “Well what do I want to do on my birthday? I think I want to record my album.” So I recorded all night. It took me, like, 13 hours or 14 hours. I stayed up until 7 in the morning, took a nap and woke up and thought “I think I’m going to release it,” then released it the next day.
Wait, you’re kidding me. You did this all in one night?
I did this all in one night. I had a lot of Red Bull. It was fun, it was cool. I had recorded part of this record with somebody six months before that, and I hated the way it sounded. We just weren’t clicking. They’re really fantastic and a really talented producer, and I engineered, but it just didn’t sound like me anymore. I feel like I make very honest music, and I didn’t want to have that lost in the translation when it came to recording. And it did that when I used somebody else to record. So I was like, “You know what? I’m just going try to do it myself, and if it sounds like shit, whatever, at least I tried it.” So I recorded it one night, released it the day after my birthday, and quit my job the next day. What a week.
Would you recommend everybody do that?
I think experimenting and finding the right fit for you [is great], definitely. I would urge people to try that out. I wrote three of those songs that night. So I was learning about myself, and diving into why I was writing these songs and what kind of mindset I was in when I wrote them. I was able to put those feelings into it. I think they translated a lot better than when I had recorded them prior. I don’t know if that’s the case for everyone, but it is super neat to be able to sit down and actually try that. I used to listen to the songs and think, “The bass doesn’t line up with the guitar here, but I don’t care, I like it, and I did this all myself.”
Did you record it all in GarageBand, or did you use Pro Tools?
What I did was, I had Garage Band, and my roommate lent me their $4.99 interface they got, and I was just using that and it had just one channel. People were like, “Oh I love the reverb you put on it.” And I was like, “I don’t know how to do reverb, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
But what I did was, I took two cardboard toilet paper rolls and stapled them together into a cone and put that around my mic. Thinking, “Oh, maybe this will work,” and I think it did. Then I have three tracks of the melody for vocals, and 18 upper and lower harmonies. And that’s where the roominess came from. And those were all recorded individually. It was fun.
Where does the name Absinthe Father come from?
It’s a play on “absent father”. One night I was sitting with my friend Andrew and we’re just making puns, and one of the puns was “absinthe father,” and I was like “Oh, I’m using that.”
When I moved to Ohio from North Carolina for school, I was figuring out a lot about myself when it came to gender identity—I’m non-binary—and I didn’t know how to talk about it, and I turned to alcohol to cope with it. I realized, “Oh shit, this literally runs in my family.” The more I thought about the name, I was like, yeah, it definitely ties into feelings of not having a totally present father figure and struggling with alcohol in general. And it stuck. I kind of want to change it, but I don’t think I’m going to.
I like that you have to clarify that it’s not “Abs in the Father” on your Twitter.
Everyone on twitter thought it was “Abs in the Father.” And I wish I had thought of a jacked dad for a band name.
Would you say this record was born the day you decided to make it on your birthday? Or was a lot of this music brought in from years prior?
I’ve only been writing music for about a year and a half now. I had my first show in February of last year, but that was all covers. I really started writing music and playing guitar about this time last year. I put out the first EP in September. I haven’t been making music for very long at all, actually. It feels important and freeing to re-record those songs a little bit better.
Was it hard to play this record over and over on tour, or was it a release?
It’s definitely a release. I had been taught for so long that feelings are bad and you shouldn’t show them. I have Borderline Personality Disorder and was taught for so long that any emotion I was showing was me being dramatic or crazy or whatever. I just poured every single bad part of me into this record, every emotion I wasn’t able to talk about, and I was able to put it into a song and that was super, super freeing. And even still, playing a song about my sexual assault, that’s the only way I’ve ever been able to heal. It’s not that I’m compartmentalizing it, it’s that I’m solidifying how I feel and saying that it’s okay to feel this way, it’s okay to put this out in the world and people aren’t going to run from it anymore. I always thought people were going to run from the things that I put out that were emotional. Instead, I’ve felt people embrace it and connect to it. Which is extremely rewarding.
“I just poured every single bad part of me into this record, and every emotion i wasn't able to talk about, and i was able to put it into a song and that's super, super freeing.”
The best thing that’s come from this record is getting messages in my Twitter inbox that are like, “Hey, I listened to these songs when my grandma passed away,” “Hey, I listened to this when I broke up with my boyfriend.”
Very different lived-in experiences between me and the people who are giving me messages, but they still connect back to the same human emotions. Which I think is what really brings us together as humanity, as a race.
I recently saw Mitski, Carly Rae Jepsen, Phoebe Bridgers, and Jamila Woods, and they talked about the specificity of music and how we all write about specific things but we can all connect with the emotion behind it. And I find that to be really true with my music as well.
So you did mention you’re really active on Twitter. I actually found out about your music after I found your Twitter account @ThisBandFucks. Where did “ThisBandFucks” come from?
I’ve been saying it for literally years. You know how people say, “Such-and-such slaps”? There’s an emotion that comes with a song that “fucks.” Your nose just kind of curls up a little bit. So I started saying it sophomore year of college probably, which was, like, five years ago.
People always made fun of me for it. But I was touring with the band Queer Kevin, and we played a show in Massachusetts on 4/20. I was little bit stoned and I was like, “I’m going to make a Twitter about this,” and so I made a Twitter. It stayed at like 200 or 300 followers for about a month and half, and then I tweeted about Avenged Sevenfold. Or more specifically, I tweeted about having a crush on a girl who was wearing an Avenged Sevenfold hoodie all throughout high school, and I was too scared to talk to her. So I listened to them every single day so I could talk about Avenged Sevenfold with this girl. And then when I approached her I said, “Oh yeah, I love Avenged Sevenfold,” and she said “Oh, this is my boyfriend’s hoodie.”
I was like, “Oh.” So I tweeted about that and it got something like 30,000 likes, and overnight I got something like 4000 followers. It’s fun. It’s a good way now to share music I like to listen to or that I think is under appreciated. Which is really cool.
You call it a monster, and you now have over 10,000 followers. Is it still fun? Has its popularity added pressure to keep doing it?
I don’t know. I try not to put too much pressure on me with that, ‘cause I do it so much in other facets of my life. Normally I just log on to say “Hop Along Fucks” and then just log off.
I think it definitely has helped certain people.
You’ve essentially made yourself a critic, but a really positive one.
I’m an accidental music journalist.
There are people who spend their whole lives hoping for the kind of notoriety and clout that you accidentally created one night when you were high.
Damn. I wish I could give it to the people who want it.
It’s nice, ‘cause I’ve been in a pretty shitty position for the past couple months. I don’t have a house, so I’ve been pretty much sleeping in my car in Walmart parking lots. Which is cool on tour when you have a van, but when you have an Acura—and I’m blessed to have a car—it’s just not as fun when you’re not on tour. ThisBandFucks is cool, because I can be like, “I have this record and don’t have that much else to offer but dumb social capital I never asked for. But if you want to listen to this and buy it, that would really help me out.” It’s been sustaining me for about a month since I moved out.
It’s cool to help my friends and help people I care about, but I honestly don’t give a single shit about how many followers I have.
I think that’s the secret too, it’s simple and it seems like you’re having fun.
I think something that’s cool for me is that it’s not being run by a cis-het white dude. I’ve had so many people say, “I think it’s great to see someone who has the amount of social power you do who isn’t a cis-het white dude and who is actually using it to further progressive ideas.”
Absolutely. Do you get a lot of people DMing you about tweeting about their band?
I’ve known since the beginning not to have DMs open on ThisBandFucks, but people have messaged me on my personal account asking me to check out their stuff. I mean, if you’re going out of your way to message me you’re probably pretty passionate about what you’re making, so I usually check out everyone’s stuff.
The coolest thing that happened was someone from the band “Fresh” from the UK bought my record, and in the purchase notes was like, “I absolutely love this record. If you have the time, check my band out.” And I listened to it and it’s phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. I found one of my new favorite bands through this monster of a website.