Expect the unexpected from Jeffrey Bützer

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Recent output includes an album, a stage play at Push Push and a book of short stories.

One Friday in August, a small chalkboard on the wall at the The Earl, a bar in East Atlanta Village, was inscribed with the names of three bands set to play the stage that evening: Blood Circuits, Chrome Castle and instrumental surf rockers The Compartmentalizationalists.

The latter of the three was the headliner, though you would never know it from the position on the chalkboard, sandwiched between the two opening acts, in the comically tiny lettering necessary to fit all the letters of “Compartmentalizationalists” onto a single line.

Where other bandleaders might bristle at such a low-profile marquis, multi-talented front man Jeffrey Bützer just laughed. That’s because Bützer, 42, has slowly but steadily become an understated staple of the Atlanta arts and music scene in the years since his music debuted in 2006.

“When I started off I had pretty big aspirations. In 2005, the first record label I reached out to put out my album. I wrote to this experimental label called Lona Records in Hong Kong, and they released my first two albums. I went over there and did all kinds of dates. My shows were sold out, and I was in magazines. I was thinking, man, this is my life now. And then, of course, I get home and play at The Earl, and I have to park down the street, carry my amps two blocks, and nobody is at my shows. It was pretty much all uphill from there,” Bützer recalls.

Credit: Avery Newmark

Credit: Avery Newmark

An honorary native of Atlanta, Bützer moved to Marietta from Ocala, Florida, at age 3, when his dad’s job brought the family north. He was homeschooled and began to show musical promise when he was 8.

“My mom was a church organist and pianist. I learned to play drums when my mom had her midlife crisis, and she got really obsessed with heavy metal. She would play these metal songs on piano and I would play along on drums. And then I eventually picked up other instruments.”

A voracious consumer of media, Bützer’s youth was spent reading comic books, skateboarding and working at the local movie theater. He wrote his first screenplay at 15, and his enduring love of film would later influence his music heavily.

“For me, music was always linked to film. I heard Tom Waits and John Zorn and realized you didn’t have to have a genre. I was like, ‘Oh! You can mix everything. You can have an accordion and upright bass album, an orchestral album.’ It didn’t have to be all guitar and drums all the time. The same with film. I watched David Lynch films and Jean-Luc Godard films that made me realize movies can be a statement and not just entertainment.”

To this day, Bützer’s music is best understood through cinema; minimalist arrangements that swell and breathe, compositions best suited to accompany film. He takes his beats from Marc Ribot and Sonny Sharrock, and cites Italian film scores and chamber folk as driving influences in the recordings he studiously self-publishes to his Bandcamp page.

Credit: Jeffrey Bützer / Kaitlin Crawford

Credit: Jeffrey Bützer / Kaitlin Crawford

Though his music career never recaptured the heights he achieved in Hong Kong, Bützer has remained a diligent and steadfast maker of art and music, film and live theater. For Bützer, live performances of these works are more about a fundamental desire to create than a service to ego.

“You know when you’re younger, you want a lot of applause. I love crowds and it’s really fun to play for people, but I don’t live off the applause.”

Those who know him are fast to point out that instead, Jeffrey Bützer fits the mold of an artist’s artist.

“With Jeff, it’s always about the art. It’s never about what he thinks will be popular or what will draw a crowd or land him in the AJC. He just digests art in general. He’s a huge Archie comics fan, he loves standup comedy and writes jokes. He plays tribute shows. He’s in a surf band. He does solo music. He writes screenplays and scores films,” says bandmate Sean Zearfoss.

Bützer is nothing if not prolific. He is perhaps most widely known for his annual holiday show at The Earl, covering Vince Guaraldi’s iconic 1965 album “A Charlie Brown Christmas” alongside pianist T.T. Mahoney and other guest performers. The event is a huge draw, selling out three nights every December.

This year will mark Bützer’s 15th year performing the tribute show when it returns to The Earl Dec. 15-17. The group will also take it on the road, playing shows in Woodstock, Athens and Birmingham, Alabama.

“I’m really not well known at all, but if I’m known for anything, it’s that.” said Bützer.

The Christmas shows have become an East Atlanta Village tradition. But, it’s the artistic work he does during the other 11 months that make Bützer such an interesting subject.

During the more homebound portion of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Bützer recorded and released three albums, including “Soldaderas,” his homage to the Spaghetti Western genre. And in April 2022, Bützer released “Bedrooms,” a chamber folk album written and performed with “Cobra Kai” actress and singer Emily Marie Palmer, whom he met online.

Credit: Jeffery Bützer

Credit: Jeffery Bützer

“She was looking for a band, and I was looking for a singer. We had a lot in common. Emily and I were both homeschooled and share an interest in traditional folk music and film. We hit it off and worked really easily together. Almost all the vocals and most of the guitar tracks were recorded in one eight-hour session. I’m really proud of that album, it’s one of the most polished things I’ve ever made,” Bützer reflected.

Like nearly everything Bützer releases today, “Bedrooms” was recorded at Ant Lodge, his home studio, and released via his Ant Baby independent label.

Yet, for all that he’s accomplished as an independent artist, music was an afterthought in the hours before The Compartmentalizationialists’ August show at The Earl. That’s because the concert was set to do double duty as a launch party for Bützer’s first book of short stories, “Artificial Islands” (Western Pines Press, $12).

“I’m mainly a musician, but narrative storytelling is one of my favorite things. I got it into my brain that I was going to do a play. So, I wrote a play called ‘The Artificial Island,’ which appears at the end of the book and then had it performed.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Produced last spring by PushPush Arts in College Park, the play follows a young woman’s journey from a drunken, violent encounter with a fortuneteller through imprisonment at a women’s correctional facility to romance with her new cellmate.

“Seeing ‘The Artificial Island’ performed gave me the encouragement to publish the rest of my stories,” he says. “The fact that the play was working, that people laughed and the actors bought in, I thought, ‘Yeah, I think I want to put my writing out. I think other people might like it.’”

Back at The Earl, before Bützer’s band took the stage, his friends Tom Cheshire, James Joyce and Cassandra Renee, who are the hosts of the music discussion podcast Three on the Ones and Twos, each took turns reading humorous passages from “Artificial Islands.”

One read from the chapter entitled, “The Promise,” a short story about the importance of experience when performing emergency brain surgery. Another read from “Jean-Pierre Duvet,” Bützer’s short story about a French writer on tour in America. The third read from “A Neurotic’s Meditation Checklist,” the inner monologue of a restless mind during a self-guided attempt at meditation.

Credit: Western Pines Press

Credit: Western Pines Press

Taken together — the music inspired by film, the experimental plays, the utterly authentic short stories — all of it contributes to the collage of Bützer as a self-taught, self-published, self-doubting multidimensional artist and tireless tinkerer, working by day as a picture framer in Buckhead, skateboarding with his kids at night and recording Spaghetti Western instrumental music or writing comic stories by lamplight.

As the podcast hosts finished their readings, Bützer, alongside drummer Zearfoss, and guitarist Mitch Laue, took the stage to perform what might be the world’s only noise-surf film scores for movies that don’t exist.

When the show drew to a close, Bützer’s friends from around the Atlanta music and art scenes surrounded him to offer encouragement and kind words. But his mind had already turned toward the next projects on his never-ending creative checklist.

“Right now, I’m working on a screenplay for director Jeff Shipman. It’s a Coen brothers-style crime comedy. After the script, I’m going to write a play in January. After that, I’ll arrange and record new versions of some songs to go with my next book. I’m very disciplined and structured, I plan ahead, and I just like making stuff,” he paused.

“Gotta do something, ya know?”