Scottish musician Rory Butler urges the listener to examine their relationship with the digital world in his debut album, Window Shopping…
It seems like music was always going to play a big part in Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist Rory Butler’s life.
As a child, Butler was surrounded by music, as his parents ran a recording studio at their home in Edinburgh and Butler has vivid memories of a revolving door of musicians and bands coming to record.
The profound effect it had on him sprung into his mind when recording his debut album, Window Shopping, as he stepped through the doors of London’s Konk studios to see an old-school analogue mixing desk in the control room.
“It was a classy place, quite a step up from most studios I’d been in,” Butler admitted. “In a way it had some nostalgia attached to it. The analogue desk made me feel quite at home from the old days. It just felt right and aligned with the feelings of nostalgia already written into the music.”
Written and recorded between his hometown Edinburgh and London, Butler created Window Shopping to channel his frustration at cyber addiction and the subsequent detachment from reality and human interaction it creates. The songs examine how certain digital platforms have led to desensitisation from what should be shocking feelings towards real world issues, and a warped perspective of reality.
Armed with his guitar and a tongue in cheek sense of humour, Butler’s songs dance on the dichotomy of happy tunes with a serious message. Butler veils his anguish and exhaustion at social media and trash TV with metaphors and introspective questions directed at the listener asking to examine their relationship with the digital world, and to be mindful of how to spend time connecting to others.
“My main issue is that it implants a negativity in impressionable young minds,” said Butler. “It can be damaging to younger generations where there is an ideal and image that is difficult to aspire to, and its modelling young people an impossible reality. It equates to addiction. I’ve even been caught up in it, and I resent it.”
One song that gives a vivid example of how Butler sees social media’s numbing effect is That Side Of The World. In the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, many will remember the devastating image of a young child washed up on the shores of a Mediterranean beach. For Butler and many others, this was a wakeup call.
“I was hit by how the image triggered an emotional response to the crisis,” he recalled. “It’s easier sometimes to remove myself from a reality, no matter how terrible, if it only appears as statistics and data on a page. The photograph seemed to have the impact of making things heartbreakingly real. I often struggle with how strongly I can feel about things, and yet how far they have to go before I act. I guess the song is a reminder not to let that happen.”
Mind Your Business was inspired by a photo series by Eric Pickersgill, titled Removed, in which the photographer brilliantly captured people going about their everyday life glued to their phones, then edited the devices out of their hands. The result is a comical showcase of gormless expressions and the perfect example of people disconnected from their environments. Butler’s analysis is one of exasperation, asking questions like “How can I keep my guard up baby?/ When I’m living online?/ I am living on it./ Every last minute on it,/ every single second on it,/ I don’t know…”
Meanwhile, single Tell Yourself delivers an important message of acceptance and empathy during this tumultuous period.
“I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by understanding people,” Butler explained. “Without people close to us that accept our flaws, or are even fond of them, we would be lost. The song was written remembering that.”
It’s a sentient that followed Butler into the studio when he finally went to record.
“We had a bit of a laugh at this one when in the studio,” he revealed. “We were instinctively throwing in extra bars and beats.”
Butler’s effortless songwriting really stands out and it’s easy to tell it is a key focus for him. From starting each song as guitar pieces, he weaves together lyrics and themes influenced by the feel of the tune, using emotion to guide his thoughts.
“Most of the time the lyrics are informed by a feeling of nostalgia I get from the music, because the guitar part always comes first,” he said.
His guitar work is equally as impressive, as he had no formal training and learnt to play completely by ear from listening to John Martyn, James Taylor and Nick Drake. The absence of theory training has aided Butler in his own writing by allowing him to create from a self-proclaimed “place of ignorance”. The ‘ignorance’ breaks down any barriers of how music should be written, making room for songs created purely by intuition.
This intuitive approach, whilst yielding a brilliant selection of songs, did cause an exercise in theory practice for the musicians brought in to record the album. However, whilst learning the tunes was something of a process, the recording sessions flowed organically and wrapped up in a mere four days. Initially capturing live full band performances at Konk studios, the only overdubbing came from brief backing vocal performances by Butler recorded at the Slate Room when he returned to Edinburgh.
Rory Butler is undoubtedly a rising star in the music scene and is definitely one to keep an eye, and an ear, on.
• Window Shopping by Rory Butler will be released on 10th July 2020 on Vertical Records.