Before becoming an acclaimed solo artist and sought-after co-writer/producer who has worked with P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, Cartersville, Ga. native Butch Walker traveled the road between Atlanta and Charlotte with his early ’90s pop-metal band, Southgang, and “Freak of the Week” hit-maker Marvelous 3.
Walker, who divides his time between Nashville and L.A. now, returns to Amos’ Southend Friday on the heels of his new “Peachtree Battle EP” and the online release of the documentary “Butch Walker: Out of Focus.” He spoke to the Observer from his studio in Venice Beach during a rare quiet week off.
Q. Why release an EP now instead of a new full-length?
A My father passed away a few weeks ago. I didn’t know how long he was going to last. He already lived four years past what doctors told him he would. I didn’t know if I was going to put the record on indefinite hold because of his condition, and I felt really good about a handful of songs. These days, I feel like putting out music in general is all that matters. Not exactly how. My life being as scattered as it is and writing sporadically and working with other people a lot, I kind of need to put out music when I’m inspired and I have it.
Q. Did going through that with your dad have a big impact on these songs?
A “The Peachtree Battle” is covered in riddle and metaphor in coming to terms with his passing or soon to be passing or experiences from his or my childhood.
Q. You did the fabled ’80s move to L.A. to become a rock star. What was it like?
A There was no music scene (in Atlanta) for original bands then. When I was 17, 18, it was culture shock to move to Hollywood Boulevard littered with prostitutes and gang members and members of Guns n’ Roses. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. It was absolutely one of the best times and memories of my life.
Q. Has your production work allowed you more freedom in your own material?
A It definitely allows me to make whatever kind of music I want and not fear how I’m going to pay my bills because it’s not some sort of massive pop hit. I don’t know if I’m physically capable of doing that. I think a pop star is someone that’s bred to be that. It’s a relief. A lot of times, my favorite music is not all over the radio. (What I’m doing) might not be everybody’s taste, but it’s mine. It’s my small, but mighty fan base.
Q. How do you differentiate writing something for yourself?
A You know right away what kind of song you’re going for. Something about a personal experience that maybe pertained to me specifically the other day or as a child or with my father or whoever – that’s pretty specific. You just don’t go unload that on somebody for them to sing. I think there’s a certain generality and open-endedness to super-big pop songs by design if you want them to relate to millions of people. It’s exciting when a song is quirky in narrative and becomes a big hit.
Q. How do you write a hit for someone else?
A You’ve got to get inside the artist’s brain. It’s got to come from them. It’s really hard to just sit and write a song and go: “This totally suits you.” When I’ve written songs with P!nk, for example, every song that she sings comes from her point of view, and it’s very specific to her. She has a huge part in writing those lyrics. I’ve been fortunate to work with many that do (that). You need to be a fly on the wall with them and help them complete the whole story, whether it be music or melody. You get outside of yourself for a minute. You get in someone else’s brain or heart.