Jason Aalon Butler has spent his career fighting for change. The post-hardcore fury of his previous outfit letlive.’s fourth and final album ‘If I’m The Devil…’ was driven by the urge to take to the streets and demand action, while the Grammy Award-winning Fever 333 are a band built around a mantra of how to change the world for the better with the three C’s: charity, community and change.
Songs like ‘Burn It’ (a rage-addled anthem of rebellion that namechecks Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rodney King before promising “sometimes you gotta burn it down it down to build it up again”) and ‘The Innocent’ (a rallying cry to stand together and speak out against police brutality) seem profoundly prescient and essential at a time like this. As one Youtube comment attests, “These songs are astronomically relevant right now”.
The band also recently shared new song ‘Supremacy’, which leans on Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ (and comes with Debbie Harry’s seal of approval) as well as delving into the idea of white privilege and the politics of hate. NME hopped on the phone with Jason to talk about how far we’ve come, and just how far we’ve still got to go.
Have you felt this widespread activism been building for a while now?
“When I was talking about this early on in the project of our new music, it was a movement that was already happening. It already had momentum, but it’s now coming to a head due to the aggregate results of a bunch of things: technology, people’s frustrations and the realisation of their own power. They all reached a boiling point and here we are with millions of people across the globe out in the streets requesting justice and understanding that they have the power to do so.”
Have you been to any of the protests?
“My wife and I have been out pretty much every day and night and it feels like the collective consciousness is shifting. People are saying ‘we want more’ peacefully. It’s really beautiful and that needs to be recognized. There’s a huge media spin on these protests being beyond disruptive, but they need to be. The disruption and the disorder needs to happen, but they’re making things look a lot more violent than they are. It’s really important to elucidate the peaceful nature of these protests but also the productive nature of these things.”
Do you feel as if positive change is happening?
“We’re watching people make decisions for other people that are positive and we’re seeing first-hand the productive results of protesting. Across the country. I’m seeing the removal of racist figures and statues. We’re watching Minneapolis ban the police departments from using a specific type of force against citizens and in my city of Los Angeles; we’re seeing things like reallocation of funds throughout the city. I’ll go to war with anyone who wants to speak otherwise about the results of these protests.”
How do you feel about people tearing down of statues that honour figures with a racist history?
“It’s great. We want to move forward. If there’s a statue that represents a long-standing history of racism and suffrage, you shouldn’t be all that perplexed when people want to take it down. We’ve been inundated with the idea of ‘this is history’ but that doesn’t make it right. The American Revolution, that was all terrorism until we won. If you want to celebrate these people, talk about them in whole. These figures built their wealth on slavery and the destruction of cultures. You don’t want to celebrate that. I understand there was a financial benefit, but why should we all be forced to sit there and look at a history celebrated that we don’t all benefit from? It’s good that we’re challenging these things. We want to win this fight, so we need to rewrite our future then we can talk about the history behind it.”
At an institutional level, what needs to be done?
“Whether people believe this or not, voting is a huge thing. The protests help, but you got to make sure you’re counted. Just by virtue of being alive, you have a sense of power. Find out who your council members are. Find out who’s speaking to your interests on a local level. Show up, be heard and believe that’ll do something on an institutional level. We have to force change as well. Fuck adapting – we have to evolve and we have to do better. You have to force the hand of change. If you don’t like it, you have to keep trying. You have to keep showing up. It’s all of us doing a little bit so nobody has to do a lot. When we let go of the hope that we have for change, that’s when we lose.”
How do you feel about the way that different generations are responding to the conversation?
“We learn to be racist, we learn to be hateful and we learn to be gracious. As people get older, it becomes harder for them to open their mind and accept change. That’s just how the brain works. As morbid as it sounds, a lot of people who are not willing to accept what is coming have to leave. They have to be gone. As a younger generation, we have to be active in our participation and we have to educate the generations to come. We all know what is right so we need to be active in doing it because we are offsetting generations of imbalance. A lot of us aren’t going to see the benefits of the change we are fighting for but this is the fight. You can’t just kick the can down the road anymore because my sons will inherit the debt that we create.”
And spread the idea that we need to be actively anti-racist, rather than just not racist?
“This is a sense of racism that is so deeply rooted throughout the world that it’s our neutral state. It’s racism that people didn’t even know they were enacting in their everyday life. To offset literal centuries of this behavior, it’s going to take a lot more than just holding back from saying the N word. You have to actually become active in your participation. Your behavior has to shift if you really believe that people of colour deserve more than they’ve been given. That’s a challenge for people, but that’s a challenge I present to everyone reading this.”
Tell us about your new song ‘Supremacy’
“I wrote that song maybe three months ago about white supremacy and how it’s the root of many of our world’s problems. In L.A. I see people on the street that have been cast aside and I see people that don’t do enough. I believe this has a lot to do with people trying to keep hold of their power, but it’s a zero sum gain. The more power you take, the more you’re taking from other people. We need to disseminate and find a way to offer power to more people. Our music can speak to people and empower them or help them articulate things they felt they couldn’t say because someone would shut them down, so we’re doing it for them.”
— Debbie Harry/BLONDIE (@BlondieOfficial) June 12, 2020
Do you have much more new music ready to go?
“I got a couple of albums worth for Fever 333 and I’ve got an album of my own solo stuff too. My reactive nature is probably going to be the common theme for everything I do, just releasing things when they make the most sense. I was worried that if I release an album in this time and I can’t tour it, no one will care but maybe that’s what has to happen. Activism comes first so maybe I’ll have to release this message earlier than I expected because it means more to the movement. That wave of collective consciousness is gaining more and more momentum and I just want to make sure I did my part. If it crashes and I’m not there on the shore, that’s OK because I know that I did the right thing as opposed to waiting for it to pass and then trying to profit off of it later.”
Solo music, eh? What’s that sounding like?
“A lot of it very hip-hop with these darker soul moments that is this whole other world that I come from and love. It’s still talking about politics but also it talks about my emotional relationship with politics and then how my relationship with activism has affected my romantic relationships.”
What role do you feel music plays at times like these?
“It’s the most perfect thing to accompany a movement aside from action and from actually doing the damn thing you’re talking about. I believe art precipitates all renaissance movements. Every romantic, intellectual, political and artistic renaissance and all real paradigm shifts, art was the catalyst. Art is one of the most integral and important tools in moments like this where people start to become synergistic and find themselves sharing a large collective consciousness. Art is often the mouthpiece for those movements, as well as the emotional inspiration. It’s an outlet too. We need somewhere to offload these feelings.”
‘SUPREMACY’ by Fever 333 is out now