Butch Walker

Butch Walker has been here before. The musician joins a pantheon of one, Ryan Adams, as artists who’ve been twice on Pollstar’s cover.

Before Adams began his successful and turbulent solo career, he was in the collaborative Whiskeytown project, which graced our cover in 1998. Walker was in the Marvelous 3, which was featured in Pollstar in ’99.

That band fell into the same category as Material Issue and Fastball – it had everything going for it but stardom. There was Walker (a charismatic, former Calvin Klein model frontman), a frenetic live show, enormous talent and one of the catchiest singles of the year in “Freak of the Week.”

But life isn’t fair. Much like the other bands, Marvelous 3 never took hold and a followup album that ventured beyond the original sound flopped.

Walker took a break from 12 years of touring and built a career in the studio, getting a lot of his coin as a producer – especially for Avril Lavigne and writing her single “My Happy Ending.” He’s also grabbed credit for albums by Simple Plan, The Donnas, and American Hi-Fi, among others. Now, he’s on stage again.

“It’s what I know and know best,” Walker told Pollstar. “I’ve been performing since I was eight years old and the producing thing has only taken up about the last three or four years of my life.”

He’s amused when he is introduced to people as a producer, even though he’s played 250 shows a year since his 18th birthday. And when people see this good-looking, tattooed young man in front of them, it throws them off even more.

“They think of some old, crusty dude that sits behind a recording console eating peanuts all day and not getting out much or not having much of a social life. That couldn’t be further from the description of myself.”

Walker’s first solo album sold just 20,000 units, but his stock rose after his success behind the mixing board. This year’s Letters reminds one of how much fun pop music can be, if one only turns off the car radio and pops in a CD instead.

Walker has a fan base – enough to catch MVO Ltd. agent Marsha Vlasic’s attention when she saw him at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom in NYC.

“I don’t get on radio or MTV or anything, so I think that made a big impact on her. She was like, ‘Wow, do you have this fan base everywhere?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’

“I’ve kind of been bringing and nurturing my fan base along with me for a long time and they’re not really interested in hearing me play a hit song. They’d rather have me do all my quirky, weird songs.

“And Marsha, she’s been working with one of my idols – Elvis Costello – for 20 years, so it says a lot that she’s had everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Ben Folds and people who don’t rely on radio for their success but still do really well touring for their fans. I felt pretty honored they wanted me to join the roster.”

Butch Walker

So, what’s this guy’s story? As he said, he’s not a media darling, but he’s embraced by Lavigne’s audience as well as Folds’ audience.

“It was never about money. It was never about radio or TV success or anything. It was about being in the business of me.”

Finding a manager that agreed with his philosophy – not the “me” thing, but the balance – was tough, but Walker has been working with Crush Music Media Management’s Jonathan Daniel for about three years.

“Going through managers faster than underwear, it was refreshing to have somebody come in who really understood the long-term goal with me,” he said. “I think the best things to happen to me in the past three years are a result of being guided instead of misguided by that guy. And I don’t listen to too many people, and I’m pretty hardheaded and tend to manage myself in a lot of ways, but that’s one person I really respect.”

Walker referred to Daniel as a partner.

“He doesn’t really try to bowl over me with ideas. I think we just balance equally off each other.”

They met at Music Midtown a few years back when Daniel was managing American Hi-Fi. They went to see Marvelous 3, which re-formed for a secret club show.

“I met him, but I was so fucked up I don’t really remember,” Walker said. “I took all of the guys in American Hi-Fi out Atlanta-style, took them out to some clubs and some fun stuff.”

A year later, he and Daniel were formally introduced.

“He just kind of got it. He got what I was trying to do, which is I really wasn’t trying to score big with a hit song or something. I just wanted to have this five-year, 10-year plan. It involved me doing everything – having a label one day, producing, writing for others and making my own records, and eventually being able to make records the way I wanted to.”

Daniel told Pollstar his role is to play the optimist and keep Walker to the long-term goal.

“It’s such a short attention span world, and the music business is very much about the shiny new penny,” the manager said. “But really, the most interesting artists have made so many records. The people who are really respected – be it Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, U2 or George Jones or Tony Bennett – are the great artists of our time. God willing, 20 years from now, Butch will be making the best music.”