All five members of The Builders And The Butchers are transplants from Alaska to Portland, and their modest hometowns could be how they came to appreciate simplicity. Though that’s not to say that their music is entirely uncomplicated. The band does, after all, have two drummers, and its second full-length, Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well, is likewise full of other unusual instrumentation. The album, which the band is currently touring in support of, hangs heavy with dark, antiquated rock deeply rooted in folksy Americana that’s both outmoded and charismatic. Ryan Sollee, the band’s fiery-haired vocalist-guitarist, maintains a balance between old and new with his yelping croon and stripped-down songwriting. The magic of The Builders And The Butchers, however, is what boils out of them onstage: electric energy that lights up audiences. Before the band's show with Brand New and Thrice at La Zona Rosa, Sollee talked with The A.V. Club about playing in the streets and having dinner with Amanda Palmer.
The A.V. Club: How does the new album seem to be sitting with everyone?
Ryan Sollee: It’s been sitting really well. All the reviews we’ve been getting are good or really good. And I’m kind of surprised, because it’s so different from our first record.
AVC: What’s different about it?
RS: The songs are a little more developed, I’d say. I think the production value is straight-up better, but people liked our first record because it had that lo-fi sound. It was a little more legit to the time. People were like, “Oh, it’s an old-sounding band,” so they expected it to sound old. I’d say 80 percent of the first record was done in live takes. [With the new album] we pieced it together, you know, one layer at a time.
AVC: Do you think doing it that way lost any of the authenticity? Or was it improved?
RS: I’d say a little of both. Most of the songs from the first record were written and practiced for the first time in the streets busking outside of the clubs. We had to keep the songs very urgent to keep people interested. With the second record, most of those songs were figured out on stages while touring, so we could play a little quieter.
AVC: A lot of bands feel pressure when releasing the dreaded second record. Did you feel any of that with Salvation?
RS: We got all the songs recorded within a year of the first release, which I thought was pretty reasonable. The pressure came when we started having label mishaps. Things kept falling through, and then we realized it’s going to be more like two years since the last record.
AVC: You have a new member who is also from Alaska, which makes all of you transplants. How has that transition been working for the band?
RS: It’s working out really well—surprisingly well. Paul [Seely] and Ray [Rude] invented this kind of drumming style. It’s a weird thing that I doubt a lot of people could do because it’s pretty improper. Brandon [Hafer], who is a really amazing string player, has had to learn that style which has been kind of a process. But he’s great… now. He had to kind of unlearn all his prior drumming knowledge.
AVC: You’re heading out on tour with Brand New and Thrice after being on the road with bands like The Helio Sequence, Amanda Palmer, and Murder By Death. What kinds of things have you learned from them that you plan to take with you?
RS: We learned a lot about being on the road—what works and what doesn’t—without the financial pressure of being the headliner. Amanda Palmer’s fans are amazingly dedicated to her, and she had someone coordinate a fan in each city who would make dinner for everyone in the touring party. It’s little things like that that can make a tour run smoothly.