Rogers & Butler | Poets and Sinners | (Zip Records)
4.5 of 5 Stars
An English expatriate, Edward Rogers has always managed to stay true to the musical values of his former homeland, expressing a sound that recalls the classic Brit rock template harvested by the first wave of British invaders throughout much of mid to late ‘60s. It’s not about imitation, especially given the fact that he has both the accent and the acumen to plough actual authenticity. He’s proven that over a steady series of solo albums released since 2004 and an early duo with a decidedly Anglo-inspired name, The Bedsit Poets. Indeed, when it comes to mining pure pop perfection, there’s no better example to be found than Rogers himself.
Rogers’ latest initiative finds him teaming up with Steve Butler, a veteran of the equally well-respected ensemble known as Smash Palace. The pair provided a sneak preview of their partnership late last year with the release of an EP titled Diana Dors. Now, with their first full-length collaboration, Poets & Sinners, they’ve found an ideal symmetry that brings out the best in them both.
“Edward and I started writing songs together a few years back, and a couple of them ending up on an Edward Rogers solo record,” Butler explains. “After the first song writing experience, we just naturally starting writing together. Before we knew it, we had six songs written and thought we should record the best four. Since we are both signed to the same label, Zip Records, they welcomed the project with open arms. We used the same line up on the EP, as we used for our new record — Sal Maida on bass, Dennis Diken on drums and Don Piper on guitar. The band got on really well, and we loved playing together, so continuing on was an obvious choice.”
In fact, the two not only found themselves in sync, but also sharing the ability to write new songs at a prodigious pace. “Edward and I penned a lot of new songs quickly after the EP was finished,” Butler continues. “We realized we had a complete album’s worth of material that we both felt excited about, and we recorded the album with the same band and same producer, but used a state-of-the-art studio. Most of the tracks were cut in three days. Plus, in the past six months, we’ve also written the songs for a whole new album!”
Then again, there is a certain familiarity factor involved. Butler says the two men met several years ago at a New York City nightspot known as the Cutting Room. “Smash Palace —my band for the past 35 years — and Edward Rogers were both playing,” he recalls. “I was familiar with Edward’s work, and I was a fan. I introduced myself and told him I enjoyed his last record and said that I thought he reminded me of (late singer/songwriter) Duncan Browne. Now, in my world, very few people have ever heard of Duncan but Edward replied that he knew his work well. It was an instant connection on that one.
The two opted to join forces almost immediately. “Our recording together first came about when we cut a demo for a song we wrote called “20th Century Heroes” that Edward wanted to cut for his solo album,” Butler explains. “He and Don Piper, our producer and rhythm guitarist, came down to my studio in South Jersey, and we knocked off the song in a day. From there, it was a natural progression of writing and then recording. Edward and I both have a strong work ethic when it comes to writing. We inspire each other and the songs spring forth.”
The fact that the two share the same tastes as far as the music is concerned helped ensure success. On songs such as “Roll the Stone,” ”A Satisfied Mind,” ”Olde Store Fronts,” and “Fashion Industry” the Anglophile aim is obvious. Hints of the Kinks, the Zombies, Ian Hunter, the Pretty Things, and ELO are consistently apparent.
“Besides my and Steve’s influences, which are both Brit-centric from yesterday and today, we used The Kinks’ Something Else as a reference,” Rogers reveals. “There’s something about 1967, where innocence met experimentation, and musicians pushed their abilities to the limit that appealed to us. However, having said that, there are so many other influences hidden throughout the album, like Bowie, Scott Walker, The Byrds and even Kevin Ayers. Mainly, this is a singer songwriter album.”
Rogers says that both Rogers and Butler played equal roles when it comes to crafting and composing and crafting the songs. “I wrote the lyrics, Steve provided the music,” he explains. “The normal process is for me to send Steve a set of lyrics and then he sends me back his musical ideas — usually, a couple of verses and a chorus. We then chat on the phone, as Steve lives in South Jersey and I live in New York City. From there, it moves in stages; we determine whether we want a bridge, where choruses should be, an outro, etcetera. Once the song is demoed, we then decide who should sing it. It’s actually pretty instinctive. As we both pass demos back and forth, we usually know who’s going to be singing it before the song is completed. Steve has a very melodic and sensitive approach to songwriting, and we’re very compatible in our musical tastes.”
Butler concurs. “I’ve never written like this before, but for us it really works,” he maintains. “I’m a lyricist too, and it’s a lot of work putting a song together. For me, Edward does the heavy lifting. The music part, for me, has always been the easy part when it comes to song writing. Oftentimes, I’ll get lyrics from Edward and the song will be finished within a day. Not all of them come together quite that rapidly, but it’s a pretty quick process for the most part.”
With enough new songs for another album, Butler guesses there will be several more albums forthcoming from the duo in the months and years to come. Indeed, both men are pleased with the album’s outcome and haven’t any problem whatsoever expressing their enthusiasm.
“I think it’s some of the best music I’ve ever created,” Butler insists. “The main thing is, I’m inspired by working with Edward. I’m thankful that we’ve been so fortunate. The songs, the band, the production are all top notch.” “For me, the process of writing with someone like Steve, who has the same musical tastes and can embellish on my ideas, provides me with the opportunity to work harder on the content and arrangements of my lyrics,” Rogers adds. “It’s also been a new experience learning harmonies as I’m obviously the lead singer on all the songs on my own albums. With Rogers & Butler, it’s a much more natural experience as the music flows and you can communicate your ideas to a human being. Music has to be felt.”