- 15 Nov 23
Ahead of their anticipated show at Whelan's this Saturday, I spoke with former Arcade Fire member Will Butler of Will Butler + The Sister Squares to chat about dance, Ireland, and the power of giving a name to something.
Brooklyn-based Will Butler is a busy, busy man. Fresh off the September release of his new band's eponymous debut record, Will Butler + The Sister Squares, Butler and company have embarked on a two-month world tour, including their upcoming Dublin date on Saturday, 18 November.
When we sat down last week to chat over Zoom, after thanking him for taking the time to meet with me, I asked out of sheer curiosity where in the world he was at the moment. “I’m in Latvia,” he divulged. “We’re flying to Poland tonight, and then we have a show in Poland tomorrow.”
He seemed to be aware of how cool that was though, understandably, he was also a bit tired out by the touring grind. “Originally, Dublin was going to be our last show, but we added a week. But when booking [dates], it was like we’ll play Dublin. We’ll sleep for a week. And then we’ll see what 2024 holds.”
Butler is no stranger to extensive touring; he was a member of the ultra-successful indie rock band Arcade Fire alongside his brother until his amicable departure from the band in 2021, citing that it was simply "time for new things."
However, Will Butler + The Sister Squares is not to be mistaken for a Will Butler solo project; in fact, it's a collaborative effort between some of Bulter’s closest friends and family. The collective is made up of Butler, Miles Francis, Julie Shore, Sara Dobbs, and Butler's wife, Jenny, whom he’s been married to since 2008.
“It's very invigorating,” he said after I asked what it was like to work with his wife. "I mean, she's always chipped in on my records. But this was kind of an experiment, and the results so far are that it feels extremely normal and positive. It's not like some crazy break with the past; it's like, oh yeah, we're doing another project together, which is great."
As for their kids? “That's also a very rewarding project, raising three children, but it's nice to do a different project together.”
When it comes to the creation of the Sister Squares, as we now know it, Butler is “always tinkering on something.” He explained about the process: “I was like, oh, I don't want to make a solo record. And so I started with Miles [Francis]. Miles is such a great producer and a great musician. I was like, Miles, let's produce this record together. I don't know what it is, but it's not a Will Butler record.
“And then I was like, oh, we have this band and Jenny's game. They're kind of a unit, and Jenny, Julie, Sara, and Miles have an energy together. So I went, oh, let's put a name on that and see how it feels, and then it did that thing where you name a thing and then it becomes more real. Now we're named, and now we're invested in a different way.”
The process of making the record was similarly a combination of old and new: “Some of that material's old, and some of it is from a giant pile of things,” he explained. He elaborated specifically on the record's final track, 'The Window': “I hadn't had my piano tuned in like three years, and so I had Julie come over and play a bunch of Chopin on this very out-of-tune piano, and then edited that into something, and then Miles was like, that's kind of great. Let's do something with that. So some of the material is old, but it was kind of reworked.”
As Butler explains it, Will Butler + The Sister Squares is part songs that are “trying to be pop songs,” while the rest is “a little more disparate and experimental.” Experiment seems to be the name of the game; even the tour itself is an experiment in whether or not touring live music is possible anymore. So far, so good.
However, Sister Squares is about so much more than just the music. Their live shows are intricate and lively, with a focus on dance and theatre, which stems from their collective experience in Chicago's DIY dance scene while they were in college. "It's kind of a continuation of dance shows we were doing like 20 years ago," he said. "When you see the show, it's very evident [that we] have done a lot of different kinds of art projects together."
Ever the multi-talented artist, Butler also has a hand in one of the most hotly tipped projects on Broadway right now: he’d written the music for playwright David Adjimi’s off-Broadway play Stereophonic, which is about a band in the studio in the 70s making a record. Of course, it’s a familiar subject for Butler, who had nothing but good things to say about the project.
“It got great reviews, and it's a great, beautiful work of art. It’s an amazing feat of theatre. Sometimes with a play, you do it and then it disappears, but I think this one will have legs.” He continued, “It's really rewarding to be living in New York and working on theatre.”
As the call wrapped up, I wished him good luck on the rest of the tour. Will Butler + The Sister Squares are set to play the beloved Dublin venue Whelan's this weekend, Saturday, 18 November, a show that Butler’s been looking forward to playing.
“I love Ireland. It's honestly a great place to play shows, or at least play the music that I kind of play. I've mostly been in Dublin, but I've spent a little time out on the West Coast. I had a very transformative three days out on the West Coast, on like a barren rock looking out across the ocean,” he laughs. “It's just like a very warm, familiar place. I've always had great shows there."
Tickets for their upcoming Whelan's show are available HERE- check out Will Butler + The Sister Squares below!
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- 04 Dec 23