Matt Butler talks about Everyone Orchestra and the history of this synergistic, improvisational music. Bringing together diverse musicians to create in-the-moment jams is his passion. Learn how he got started with this style and about some favorite moments.
Everyone Orchestra- Matt Butler
Transcription by Jade Rainsong
(Karen:) So I caught up with Matt Butler and he does some really interesting musical stuff. He’s a musician and composer, and we’re going to find out a little bit more about Everyone Orchestra and what that’s all about.
(Matt:) So let’s see. Sitting here at Oregon Country Fair. I’ve been playing Oregon Country Fair in various groups since 1992. My band Jambay first played here in ’92. I formed Everyone Orchestra in 2001. It was my first one and uh, had been playing Oregon Country Fair ever since, in a way. And, uh, so the, well, the concept of Everyone Orchestra is I conduct improvisational rock orchestras. I build lineups of musicians that are, it’s always rotating. It’s a community building concept. Get individuals from different bands to be very vulnerable to be on stage and to perform fully improvised music, with a concept that we’re composing music in the moment. And I’m conducting, facilitating and producing. I use dry erase boards, iPads, a lot of hand motions. I dance and I facilitate the group composition and we get the audience to be involved. And really over the years part of the trick of, of doing it successfully is getting everybody trained of the concept because it’s different than just going and hearing a band play and dancing to it. Some songs that you know, or hearing a band play because it requires you to understand what’s going on and that we’re making the music up. And it’s not always just a dance party, but it’s like we’re aiming to compose. So when you understand that we’re writing this music in the moment, and you, and then you hear like a chorus come back for the second time that we just created and you start to harmonize with it and then it comes back a third time and everybody’s singing has a really special thing. And that’s kind of, I tried to create that moment, again, and again and again in different ways.
(Karen:) Tell me a little bit about a challenge that maybe you might’ve had with bringing different musicians together with maybe different styles from different bands.
(Matt:) The challenge in general is to… A lot of times I’m working with incredibly successful, well known musicians who have their own concept of their own musicality of what they do in their own bands, you know? And they have an audience that expects them to do their thing. And I’m asking them when they come play with Everyone Orchestra to kind of step out of that, to be open to something completely different. Maybe even to ask their ego to be shelved for the moment because it’s a group, it’s a group idea. And it’s often very, uh, vulnerable and frightening for even some of the most accomplished musicians to get up on stage in front of an audience and not have any idea what’s going to happen musically. I mean, they might have an idea of the concept of me conducting, but conceptually we don’t have any plan other than we’re going to co-create. And I try to get everybody in this kind of clean slate mentality. So when we get on stage, it’s just like, alright, this is what we’re going to do. I have a few tricks to, you know, warm the band up, get everybody comfortable, make sure the sound is okay. Cause part of it is like everyone has to hear each other to be able to interact really comfortably and that sort of thing. Um, but the trick of getting all these different people maybe from different genres. A very varied instrumentation, comfortable to work together and have no idea what’s going to happen, is the trick.
(Karen:) So it sounds like you’ve been doing it a long time. So in what way has, has it evolved?
(Matt:) When I first started it, I’m a drummer is my main instrument. And when I first started it, um, I wasn’t the conductor. I would hire people to conduct. It’s always been my project, but I hired the conductors. So for the first five years, I was conducted by all these various people. Some of them were good, some of them were not so good, or some of them had good days, some great conductors had bad days. And I started to realize that there was this opportunity and the concept that nobody had really considered yet. And that was like the idea that we could compose beautiful music and even get to a spiritual place through this improvisation. Just kind of going like, the humor and chaos and like, and like testing, musicality were like, the three things were happening a lot, you know, so I w I felt like we could get to beauty in a really in through this. Um, but it’s going to take everybody have a little bit more intent and the conductor’s going to have to be subtle and understand that possibility.
(Matt:) So, you know, so I started conducting it about 2005. Um. And, uh, and right around when I started, you know, up until the point where I started conducting, it was more of a variety show that ended in a jam at the end. And the jam was the conducted part. So I was managing a singer, songwriter of band, a duo, and they would all play kind of three or four songs of their own, and we’d have a jam at the end of the set. And then the same thing with the second set. And the more I got into the crux of why people wanted to do this. It was mainly for the jam and for that improvisational conducted spot, and I wanted to do festivals and I felt like this is something I want to offer to festivals is that moment, I mean, there’s all kinds of collaborations that happen naturally at festivals. But, uh, this is a very unique type and particular type of composed improvisation is like something that doesn’t, you know, it’s, it’s one, it’s different than somebody just sitting in with the band. Um, and it’s a different ask of the artists and, you know, to be honest, some artists aren’t up for it. It’s a little bit too vulnerable and scary. You know, they want to be in control of what’s going to happen.
(Karen:) Yeah. So you’ve been doing this a long time, not just to Oregon country fair, it sounds like around all over the place.
(Matt:) So we’ve been doing Everyone Orchestra since 2001. I think we’ve done about 300 shows, 350 shows. Over a thousand musicians have participated in EO since its inception. Um, you know, about 160 unique musicians played last year. Um, you know, a lot of them are repeats, but a lot of new people, so like 30, 40 new people each year or something. I don’t know. It’s just been growing. So growing cadre of musical family, um. Played a out of collaboration with some festivals, that I’ve done year after year. One is a summer camp music festival out in Illinois that I’m, I’ve collaborated with Umphrey’s McGee and the band Mo and, and bands that they bring in for their festival and do a special, a lot of times we collaborate with nonprofits. I like to bring awareness to issues or raise money, you know, through the concept. And, uh, we collaborate with this thing called make a difference. And basically to get a ticket to our show, you have to go to all the nonprofits and get like your, this, this passport stamped. And so that becomes like, it’s just a little extra thing and actually took a while to get people to get on board with that. But now it’s totally a thing and it’s, you know, it’s a huge show. Thousands of people come and they all participate. The nonprofits benefit. It’s really great collaboration,
(Karen:) A pretty great concept. You’re not only just serving up incredible music in the moment to people, but you’re making a difference in the world through these causes that you support. So pretty awesome all around. Yeah. Thank you so much for your time.