Dean Butterworth’s Road To Good Charlotte
Dean Butterworth: Beating An Irregular Path To Good Charlotte
It’s the dream of everyone who’s achieved something big. You find a moment to slip away from the spotlight and pay a visit to your old neighborhood, to look at the school you attended and the house where your earliest memories reside. Maybe you walk the streets you ran or biked down as a kid, letting your forgotten but now familiar sense of the place remind you of how much has changed and how far you’ve come.
Those who knew him as a younger drummer might assume he’d head back to Laguna Beach, checking out some of the neighborhoods where he played backyard gigs as a young teenager. They might also imagine him dropping by his old high school and looking over the field where he was often the first one picked when kids were putting soccer teams together.
There was a reason why Butterworth was often the MVP for what the Brits call football – and that takes us back to the moment when he really did go home, all the way back to the beginning.
It’s 2002, and Butterworth is on the road with Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry tour. During a day off in Northern England, he and guitarist Boz Boorer rent a car and drive out to Rochdale, a small town about 15 minutes outside Manchester. After a while, they pull up at Meanwood County Primary School, where Butterworth takes some time to look around.
“Nothing had changed,” he recalls. “Everything was the same. I mean, the fence was still blue! Then we went by my house, down the cobble streets. It was amazing to be working with one of the best artists of all time out of England and to go back to my British roots and look at all that stuff. I’m very proud of that experience.”
Not a trace of Mancunian survives in Butterworth’s speech – it evaporated soon after his mother relocated with him to Southern California, partly as a survival strategy for fitting into new surroundings. But it’s important to consider the diversity in his background when assessing his career. His references are broad, ranging from bebop to post-punk. Indifferent to preconceptions about any type of music, he has toured not only with Morrissey but also with Ben Harper’s Innocent Criminals and The Used, and played sessions for John Lee Hooker and recorded TV jingles.
Since 2005, though, Butterworth has been best known as the dynamo who drives Good Charlotte, having played on 2007’s Good Morning Revival as well as on Cardiology, the new album scheduled to drop in November. This newest effort confirms the band’s commitment to draw from multiple sources, in the slam of first single “Like It’s Her Birthday” and the head-bobbing folk strum of “Four Letter Word,” with lyrical references that incorporate Golden Age Hollywood and the oddly nostalgic call of the late ’70s, all of it unified by the singular writing of brothers Benji and Joel Madden.
To make this work, you need a drummer who gets all the references and knows how to tie it together into tight, accessible packages. The list of qualified candidates isn’t that long, but Butterworth’s name is right at the top.
A FUSING OF STYLES
Acknowledging the impacts of the two worlds he knew while growing up, Butterworth notes, “My favorite band of all time is The Beatles, but they were so influenced by The Beach Boys in that period of Abbey Road. I like that hybrid. Being in that head space, and even doing records with people from France or Belgium, gives you a different perspective: You’re influenced by different things and then all of the same things at the same time.”
It helps when there’s something consistent to lead the way through dramatic changes in music, and more so in life. For Butterworth, the drums played that role, going back to childhood in Rochdale, when he transformed a set of miniature aluminum golf clubs into imaginary sticks, with which he would pound on pillows in sync with Beatles records. “I didn’t know anything about using my feet, but I knew how to play on 2 and 4,” he remembers. “I had the dream in my mind really early, for sure.”
That dream began to feel more real when Butterworth’s mother married Patrick Shanahan, an American drummer she’d met through her brother, who ran a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles. Shanahan was well established, having worked with Ike and Tina Turner, Rick Nelson’s original Stone Canyon Band, and as a member of New Riders Of The Purple Sage. For the young transplant, then, life began to change from the moment he first walked into his stepfather’s house.
“There was a drum set there, and I was immediately drawn to it,” Butterworth says. “I just walked over and started tapping on it. Then I started going to studios where he was recording, going to shows where he was playing.”
He also took his first lessons from Shanahan, who made sure from the start that learning to play drums involved much more than whacking pillows with tiny 9-irons. “He gave me a pair of drum sticks and a pad,” Butterworth says. “He said I had to learn how to play a double-stroke roll and a single paradiddle. I really wanted to play the drums, but he wouldn’t set up the kit until I worked on those two rudiments for about six months. After that, he said, he would show me some more stuff. And then he would let me play the kit.”
After that day finally came, Shanahan added two more elements to his instruction: a metronome and a selection of pop records. Butterworth got the point immediately that the drummer’s job is to keep the time but also to find the most musical way to play the song. “I was crazy about practicing,” he recalls. “I would lock myself in the garage, do an hour of rudiments, and then play for another two to three hours. He gave me ideas to work with, like I’d put towels over the toms and T-shirts over the cymbals. He’d say, ’Don’t use the bounce of the toms. Work for it so you can build strength in your wrists.’
“That was also from my mother,” he adds. “She was trying to keep my volume down.”
Even with all that diligence, Butterworth was stunned when a neighbor played one of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever albums for him. Inspired by hearing Lenny White do a clean roll with his left hand while keeping time with his right, he explored the fusion catalog and, beyond that, the classic bebop of Charlie Parker. He also ramped up his practice routine.
“I’d play swing with my right hand against 2 and 4 on my hi-hat for a half hour to a click at 100 bpm,” he remembers. “It was all about repetition – playing a single paradiddle for a minute, shaking it off for 30 seconds, bumping it up another bpm, and doing it again, every day. I’d watch guys like Dennis Chambers on video and it was like seeing them play in fast forward. I read interviews in DRUM! on what these guys would do. And I’d go, ’This is amazing … I’m going to do that!’”
In those days, like today, Butterworth played with matched grip, even in high school drum corps. “Once I got out of high school, I went to audition for a drum corps, The Velvet Knights,” he says. “It was a challenge because I didn’t have the chops in my left hand. I remember spending hours practicing rudiments to try and make their line, and the middle of my third finger was bleeding. I was taping it up, but it just sucked. Even now, when I’m warming up, I might spend ten minutes playing rudiments with traditional grip just to loosen up my left hand. And just yesterday with Good Charlotte, I turned my left hand around and played the butt end traditional in the middle of a song. But I’ve always played matched because I could get more power out of the backbeat and it still felt comfortable.”
Perhaps Butterworth’s technique pays tribute to his first great influence and, even after all that time spent studying hyper-chops fusion monsters, one of his favorite players. “I remember practicing all these crazy fusion fills in my garage,” he says. “I thought the faster the fill, the better it was. Then, when I’d go into the chorus on a gig with some crazy polyrhythmic fill, I’d get some really bad looks from guitar players and lead singers. But Ringo Starr was all about playing the song, and the songs of The Beatles are amazing. He’s the epitome of ’less is more’ and just playing the groove. Even on Cardiology, when we cut this song ’Four Letter Word,’ when the drums came in I remember thinking, ’Okay, what would Ringo Starr do here?’ I don’t think I played a fill in that song. It was very simple, and that was fun for me.”
Armed with a solid technique, guided by a song-based aesthetic, Butterworth was 13 years old when he began picking up party gigs with a smooth-jazz trio that he and his friends Curtis Mathewson and Josh Zimmerman put together. Four years later, he began playing clubs around Laguna Beach. Right from the start, he straddled a variety of styles, playing reggae shows maybe three nights a week, jazz on a fourth night, and classic rock on the fifth. At any given time, he was working with six or even seven bands.
One of them, Slapback, broke from the pack in 1993 with a record deal on Warner Bros. It was the kind of payoff every young musician hoped for, but overnight it turned into something even more valuable: an education in the realities of the business. “I had this idea that as soon as you got signed, you’d get a Mercedes Benz and a house in Laurel Canyon,” Butterworth says, laughing. “But I learned that just because you get a record deal, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. Since then, I’ve been in probably five bands that got signed and didn’t break. And I got really discouraged.”
For all the time he’d spent chasing the dream by playing rock shows in Hollywood clubs, it was Butterworth’s love for reggae and a show in his American hometown that changed his luck. He had learned how to play the style through listening to Carlton Barrett’s work with Bob Marley as well as to Grizzly (Steve Nisbett) with Steel Pulse – that was evident to Ben Harper the night he walked into the Sandpiper at Laguna Beach and saw the 19-year-old drummer laying it down onstage with a band called The Rebel Rockers. More impressive to the singer/songwriter was the sense that Butterworth could draw from other influences in ways that enhanced his performance, regardless of the style being played.
That night persuaded Harper to offer Butterworth a position with his band, The Innocent Criminals. “Dean just walked into that first rehearsal and lit it up!” Harper remembers of that period before the Will To Live sessions. “I won’t tell you the drummers he beat out because that would be unfair to them, but they were badasses.”
A five-year run with The Innocent Criminals ensued, from 1997 to 2001, during which they put in a lot of miles on world tours and recorded several studio and live albums on which Butterworth also played some piano and guitar, sang, and even co-wrote with Harper. More importantly, he opened himself to new streams of music in ways that focused his musicianship even more.
“Playing with Ben was a great experience,” Butterworth says. “When he makes a record, he puts maybe 12 songs on there. And within those 12 songs there are probably four or five styles. You can have a hip-hop groove, a reggae groove, a rock blues, or a Delta blues groove – it was across the board. There were lots of dynamics. Depending on what we were playing, we’d really bring the verses down. And because there was another percussion player in the band, Dave Leach, and a phenomenal bass player in Ron Nelson, I could simplify what I was doing and let Dave put the sugar on top of the groove. That was a great lesson for me too.”
The next significant gig came through cutting a jingle for Barclay’s Bank. The bassist on the date was Leigh Gorman, who had played with Bow Wow Wow and was scheduled to record five demos a few days later with Morrissey. When Gorman called to see if Butterworth was available to play drums, the answer wasn’t long in coming. They cut the backup tracks in 90 minutes and sent them back to the singer. A couple of days after that, Butterworth was invited to check out the final mixes. After a while, everyone left the studio and went out for a bite to eat. There, Morrissey invited Butterworth to join his band.
This, too, proved a transformative adventure, marked by international tours and one remarkable album, You Are The Quarry, tracked in David Gilmour’s former home studio near Reading, England. Butterworth also faced a particular challenge when working with Morrissey, based on the contradictory obligations of bringing something original to the music while adhering to drum parts that were well established on earlier records by Morrissey and The Smiths.
“I come from a place where, out of respect for the song, I like to do what’s there,” Butterworth says. “With Morrissey, that wasn’t a problem. The drumming on ’Suedehead,’ which was one of his first hits as a solo artist, is brilliant. And what was put down on ’How Soon Is Now,’ on the Smiths’ Meat Is Murder, just makes that song for me. The fills on ’Everyday Is Like Sunday’ are exactly right. They just feel so good to me, so all I wanted to do was to repeat that stuff.”
But there were opportunities to be totally original too. In recording You Are The Quarry, Butterworth discovered channels of his own creativity that had more to do with intuition than the time he’d spent honing his technique and emulating his favorite drummers. The song was “Come Back To Camden,” a waltz-time tune whose humorous lyrics ride a roller coaster of dynamics and fills quite unlike what Butterworth typically lays down in his less-is-more approach.
“We worked on that song longer than any of the other tracks because Morrissey wanted a specific feel that builds in and out of the lyric,” Butterworth says. “He kept trying to explain it to me, but I really wasn’t getting what he was saying. Then one night I went to sleep and dreamed the feel and the fills. We met at one o’clock every day to begin work after breakfast, and the next day I said, ’Look, I had a dream last night about doing this song, and I think I understand what you want.’ I did a pass through it, and Morrissey said, ’That’s exactly what I’m saying.’ Two or three passes later, we were done.”
GETTING IN GOOD WITH GOOD CHARLOTTE
Good Charlotte, too, began with a freelance session. During a break in Morrissey’s schedule, Butterworth was in the studio with John Feldmann, a producer and member of the punk band Goldfinger. Feldmann introduced Butterworth to Joel Madden, Good Charlotte’s singer and a major fan of Morrissey and The Smiths. They hit it off, attended some of each other’s shows, and kept in touch. Not surprisingly, Madden called in early 2004, when he needed a drummer to sub on some Good Charlotte shows. Butterworth, in the midst of the You Are The Quarry tour, had to pass. But when contacted again at the end of the year to sub, he was able to accept the call.
Butterworth’s first night with Good Charlotte was unforgettable. They were booked at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, a high-profile venue by any measure. Always dutiful in his preparations, Butterworth asked if they could rehearse a couple of days before. The band’s answer caught him by surprise.
“They weren’t into practicing,” he says. “Instead, they sent me a DVD of a show they’d done. We had a lot of conversation and questions over the phone. And we had about an hour sound check at the gig. It was funny: They were throwing things at me at sound check that I didn’t see on the DVD and that weren’t on the live recording, so I wrote out a bunch of short-form notes on my snare drum. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with reading people, especially from doing club gigs when I was younger, so it worked out. Afterwards, they were like, ’We can’t believe it! You didn’t make any mistakes!’”
In fact, the band was impressed enough to offer Butterworth full membership later in 2005. Since then, through two albums and countless concerts, he has developed clear insights into what it takes to deliver what Good Charlotte requires in the studio and onstage. “For this band, it’s always important to be solid,” he begins. “The time has to be anchored down, especially live. A lot of drummers play gigs to a click, but I don’t wear in-ears because I believe you should be able to play time without a click. You practice with a click to build that internal clock, and then you should be able to go out and play.
“The other thing for Good Charlotte is that there is a lot of up-tempo stuff with lots of dynamics and high energy,” he continues. “So I work a lot on my hands, on single-stroke rolls and keeping everything even at the same velocity. I feel loose, like I’m playing a straight-ahead jazz tune, but I’m slamming at triple forte with super-fast sixteenth-note rolls around the toms – and those rolls have to be defined. You have to make everything clean and at the same time allow there to be space and groove within it.” Above all, Butterworth adds, the Ringo lesson always applies: Play the song and play it musically.
KEEPING RINGO CLOSE
The Ringo lesson is evident throughout Cardiology, in drum parts that reflect each transition without interrupting the ebb, flow, and ultimate climax of the performance.
Check, for example, the second track, “Let The Music Play,” which follows an ethereal opener, titled simply “Intro.” Butterworth pushes the groove on the verses through an active but never intrusive stream of tom hits that dance around the snare. He varies his pattern from one section to the next, going to half-time and locking into a steady sixteenth-note pulse on the kick during the chorus, before ramping up the energy in the last section – as he does on another track, “First Plane Home,” by paring down to a classic, straight-ahead backbeat. The formula: Never overdo the rhythm, but do enough so that cutting it to the bone of the beat at the end maximizes momentum across the finish line.
“We probably spent the most time on the drums for ’Let The Music Play’ than anything else on the album,” Butterworth says. “I experimented with riding the floor tom, breaking it down for the intro and playing 2 and 4. But it came off with that syncopated feel that’s on the intro, which recurs throughout the song. It’s the same groove in the pre as well, on the hi-hat, where it’s bigger dynamically. We tried a bunch of things, but we ended up putting it down with that rolling, circular groove.”
On “Like It’s Her Birthday,” the album’s first single, though, the feel is totally on top of the beat, in part because it’s one of the few songs on Cardiology that is built on a drum loop – in this case, a straight-eighth-note pattern emphasizing the first and fifth beats, which producer Don Gilmore introduced. That motif kicks off the song alone, with Butterworth adding just a kick on the 1 and 3 before coming in with the full kit on the first chorus. Here, too, his arrangement is based on holding back, not touching the cymbals until adding his crash ride on the middle eight.
This song offers a good example of how much of the writing in Good Charlotte builds on concepts that Butterworth introduces. “I put the rhythmic idea down first, at the Warehouse Studios in Vancouver,” he recalls. “Benji and Joel like to write to grooves, so they were like, ’I really like that feel. Give me a bass guitar. Give me a guitar.’ Then the melody came, and they got the lyric idea. That’s how this came together, from the groove up.
Equally instructive is Butterworth’s work on “Standing Ovation,” a medium ballad with a lot of power in the choruses. Rather than lay back into the moderate tempo, he finds the sweet spot between playing too sparingly and getting too busy. “That song, to me, has kind of an Oasis vibe,” he says. “The fills around the toms are maybe Ringo-like, with a little bit of syncopation in the left hand. It’s important to allow songs at slower tempos to have energy.
“It’s about getting the lyric and melody across,” Butterworth says. “Look at Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours: That’s one of the best-selling records of all time, and no one is overplaying. I also play guitar and a little piano, and I sing and I write, so when I work out my parts I like to think about what’s going on with everyone else. I try to look at it not only from my point of view but from everyone’s point of view.”
That’s a good lesson to apply whether playing a jingle session in L.A. or onstage in Manchester, where fans greet their hometown hero with chants of “Deano!” whenever Good Charlotte appears. “You’re the foundation,” he says, summing up his philosophy. “You just try to be musical, not get in the way, and do the right thing for the song.”
DRUMS: Tama Starclassic Performer Birch/Bubinga
(Piano Black with Glitter Red Racing Stripe finish)
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6" Starphonic Brass Snare Drum
3 12" x 8" Tom
4 16" x 14" Floor Tom
A 14" Signature Heavy Full Hi-Hat
B 17" Signature Full Crash
C 18" Signature Full Crash
D 19" Signature Full Crash
E 22" Signature Dark Metal Ride
F 20" Signature Full Crash
Dean Butterworth also uses Pro-Mark Dean Butterworth Signature SD9 sticks, Evans heads, Tama hardware, and Tama Iron Cobra PowerGlide double pedal.
DEANO’S BUTTA BEATS
Good Charlotte consistently markets catchy pop-punk songs that are not easily forgotten. Dean Butterworth may be relatively new to the band but he makes his presence known with funky grooves that he spices up with the kind of choppy flourishes that are sure to keep things interesting to his fellow drummers.
“Counting The Days”
This song has a cool hi-hat pattern that immediately caught my ear. Dean plays a group of fast single-stroked thirty-second-notes on his hi-hat that end with the hi-hat opening on all the &’s. His bass drum hits 1 and 3e, while his snare keeps the backbeat going. For the next double-time section, Butterworth plays a driving floor tom groove with the snare played on all the &’s.
“Let The Music Play”
This tune starts with a cool Herta fill that starts on the snare and then travels across his toms. This lick was popularized by Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford a few decades ago. The next section has a funky groove played under a washy hi-hat pattern. The following tom groove made me somewhat suspicious, since it isn’t something a drummer would normally play. Typically there’d be a cymbal pattern or a tom part played with the right hand that would allow a drummer to keep solid time at this brisk tempo, rather than this broken Missing Persons, Bozzioesque pattern. The timing is absolutely perfect, so I can’t help but wonder if Drumagog or a similar sound-replacement program was the culprit here. The impression you get is that the engineer replaced all the drum sounds of Butterworth’s kit with samples, and set the threshold to only pick up his accented notes, removing all the others. The previous section also sounded as if some snare notes might have been similarly suppressed or overly gated. Skipping ahead to 2:49, Butterworth plays a four-bar repeating march that leads into an all-too-brief drum break that ends with yet another tasty Herta fill. Very cool stuff!