It isn’t often that you get to chat to someone like Guy Buttery on the phone over a cup of coffee, and when his new record was about to be released, we had a lot to catch-up on.
At the time when I spoke with him, Guy was busy performing his Spring Tour through South Africa. I was lucky enough to grab him for a quick chat about how he’s doing, how he’s living, how he’s loving, how his new record was coming along, and what we can expect from him in the coming years. Hope you enjoy reading our conversation as much as I did having it.
Guy! How are you doing? How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been great man! It’s been such a cool experience, especially because I haven’t played with people like Gareth Gale for a long time, so it’s been really nice to reconnect with them and play a lot of this music again. It works in such a different light, you know, and it’s nice to kind of play some of the newer stuff as well, to test drive it on the audience. But it’s pretty invigorating actually. Jo’burg and Pretoria were great, Durban was great, we’ve got a sold-out show tonight, you know, and then we slowly make our way down to you guys.
I cannot wait. And what kind of material are you performing?
I guess it’s largely focused on this new record that has yet to be released, but it definitely focuses a bit more on Africa actually. It’s still very much within the context of South Africa, but it has – I don’t know… a “world music” kind of focus. Yet again, I’m playing different stuff on different nights so it’s really difficult to pin-down, to be honest.
And what have the responses been like from the shows so far?
Well everyone is going to have their own experiences with this kind of “journey music,” but I think the response has been great. People seem to have really enjoyed it, and the shows themselves have been really awesome, so we’re really happy.
What’s the tour about anyway? I mean, you’ve played in Italy, France, the UK, Australia… Why places like Grahamstown in the middle-of-nowhere? Not that I’m not complaining, mind you… don’t get me wrong.
Haha. Well, I mean Grahamstown for me is kind of like a second home, you know. Of all the towns I haven’t lived in, I’ve probably spent the most time there. I’ve spent at least 2 weeks there every year since 2003, and I know this city quite intimately. I always perform there outside of festival when I’m heading through the Eastern Cape, and – rather simply – I just really like Grahamstown. It’s a nice vibe there. It’s sort of a meeting point for students from all around the country.
That’s so great to hear. I just know a lot of people come to the National Arts Festival and then expect a similar thing when they come back.
Haha, that’s true. Yeah, I mean I think there was a band that wrote a song called “Don’t go to Grahamstown” or something…
…I know, and that kind of sentiment is not my thing at all. It’s a lot quieter but Grahamstown’s still really cool.
And I’ve been wondering. You’ve traveled and played gigs all over the place, and I’m interested: between international crowds and South Africans ones, which do you prefer? No pressure.
To be honest, I think it’s actually impossible to answer. Every show – even if it’s in the same room, the same people, the same seating arrangement – will be different, and it’s largely up to the energy in the room, which has a lot to do with the audience, you know. How they’ve been filed into the room, the temperature… like, how often do you walk into a concert venue and feel the energy way before anyone’s even on the stage?
Wow. That’s actually a really good point. Good answer.
I guess the short version of that is that no matter how different each show is from town to town or country to country, it really comes down to the individuals as a group.
Now, I know you’ve said in previous interviews that you struggle to verbalise your ideas and explain what it actually is that you’re doing, but what makes you and your music, your sound, so unique?
*sighs* I don’t really know man, haha. When people ask me what I play I usually say “I play guitar,” but I think a lot of it really boils down to being a naturally curious individual. I’m interested in loads of different things, which extends outside the world of music, and I think that permeates into everything I do. I mean, I never really studied anything seriously, so I’m more of “dabbler,” which I guess helped things amalgamate into whatever this music that I make is. But I hate being that pretentious musician who says “I play acoustic world folk blah blah”… I mean, it’s kind of pointless. I draw inspiration from being rooted in Kwa-Zulu, and even though I travel all over the world there’s just something about the greenery and the thickness of the air here, you know. I don’t know… Is that OK?
Haha, it’s actually really well-put. Music industry-wise, though: is it as brutal as everyone says it is?
Uhm, I feel slightly removed from it all, to be honest – not because I have an aversion to it, but I try to operate on my own kind of terms, deal with my own bookings, and generally try work quite independently. But I’ve experienced such comradery. The musicians I’ve met form a kind of community, or family, so…
I guess it’s what you make of it, too.
Yeah, and I suppose it changes if you’re in the rock scene, or the jazz scene, but everyone just seems really nice and really cool. Maybe that’s because I’m on my own wave, but yeah.
And have you experienced any realisations about being a musician, be it lessons or expectations? Maybe something you grew up thinking, but then discovered wasn’t actually true, or at least not entirely?
Well it’s definitely taxing, and there are elements which are very intense, but I think that – if anything – it really has taught me a lot… humility, certainly, and being aware of what it is you do, and to not be all that serious about it. I know people get irritated when I say this but it’s music, man; not science. It’s meant to move people, it’s meant to be fluid, and it’s meant to be ever-changing. It’s just pretty friggin’ cool.
Well, kudos to you dude, seriously. That’s awesome optimism.
Thanks man, haha.
You’ve met and worked with some pretty incredible people on this latest record. What has that been like?
One of the artists I was really happy working with was Will Ackerman, who has won multiple Grammy’s, and has set-up one of the most amazingly influential record. Then Vusi Mahlasela as well… I mean the sessions with him were just beautiful. And then great friends, really: Gareth Gale, Derek Gripper, Shane Cooper, Nibs van der Spuy, and Gareth Gale. There are a few others as well, one guy from Italy, one guy from Durban…
That sounds… incredible.
And I’m so keen for people to hear it! It took a long time, and not because it was draining but because it just really feels like something I’ve really put a lot of genuine effort into, you know?
And what can we expect from “Guy Buttery” in the next few years?
I kind of take it as it comes. I’m doing a lot of collaborations and I like the idea of that “moving-around” in different contexts. There’s another thing I’m working on, which is I guess is another collaboration of sorts, but I think the idea with this new record is just to spend time trying to get it to new listeners. It’s not all that accessible or commercial in any way, but I do think that it would be nice to take it back to Europe and North America – or where-ever it does take me.
That sounds really exciting man. I’m keen. Feel free to invite me when you travel.
Haha, absolutely. Sounds good.
Oh, and – hypothetically speaking – if not music, what would you be doing? Maybe something you’ll still pursue later on in life?
Uhm, wow. Well, I’ve always had this romantic idea of being a bee-farmer actually, and I think I might just do that anyway.
THAT’S. SO. COOL!
..In the future, maybe. Have a few hives somewhere. That would make me very happy. But I mean when I was younger, I was keen to get into conservation anyway, and I’ve been doing a lot more work in small film and TV scores, which I enjoy. I’ve actually built a new studio based around that kind of stuff, but I’d like to think that my guitar will always sort of be there, whatever I do.
So I can skip the question about what your favourite instrument is, then.
Haha, yes. That would be silly.
…well actually! One of my favourite instruments – which features on the new record – is a Sarangi which is kind of like a “bow-string-box” combination, but it’s a beautiful instrument. It’s so deep. And I have no real desire to play it at all. I just love to hear it.
Haha, that’s hilarious. Sounds pretty epic. This has been really great, though. We seriously can’t wait to have your new album in your shelves and in our hands. Do you think you’ll be available for a drink when next you’re down?
It’s likely yeah. I’m sure I’ll be lurking around. That’d be cool.
Sweet! Safe travels, and see you soon.
Awesome. Looking forward to it!
Feature image by Jacki Bruniquel