Creative Processes with Shane Butler

Shane Butler is 1/2 of Olden Yolk, a metaphysical folk project, 1/4 of Quilt, an exceptional multimedia artist, and infinitely tied to a number of creative projects in the psych-folk music scene. Olden Yolk’s first full-length with Trouble in Mind (2018) grew from a poetry collaboration Shane started in 2016 with musician and bandmate Caity Shaffer. They wrote a poem to each other every day.

I’ve been intrigued by Shane’s artistry, vocal style, and songwriting ever since catching Quilt‘s riverside performance at Levitation in Austin, Texas. Besides writing folk music, Shane founded and runs Portrai Me, a creative group which illustrates moods, ideas, memories, and themes in the form of handcrafted iconography. I was really excited to chat about what drives his creative process, when he decides to go after an idea, and some of his favorite music to play while creating.

You started Olden Yolk as a solo project. How did it evolve into a collaboration?
It was really just a right-place-at-the-right-time kind of thing. Caity and I met in Austin, Texas on a harvest moon and hit it off really quick. We wrote back and forth to each other for months discussing artists, poets, musicians, and general life/philosophy stuff. Then, after a while, we started writing poetry together and assembled a small book of collaborative poetry. When she moved to New York, we started combining forces musically. I had been making demos for the first full-length Olden Yolk record, and we decided to dive into it together to see what would happen. It’s all been a pretty natural process.

What influences you the most?
Life. I don’t think there’s any one thing in particular. I think I just try to stay aware and push myself to experience new things, music, places, art… and it filters its way into the music.

There is really a heart center I feel that knows when it’s time to work on something specific, and when it’s time to take a break.

How do you decide which projects work on?
Often it’s just a matter of time and place. Depending on whether I’m on tour, where I’m residing, whether an album needs to be completed, whether there is hang time and I don’t feel like working on music and just want to draw. But, also there is really a heart center I feel that knows when it’s time to work on something specific, and when it’s time to take a break. Sometimes the energy is going all into a visual pursuit – and often the energy is pushing directly into music — it shifts.

How have you interlaced all your creative pursuits in your projects?
This is something I’ve been thinking about more and more over the years. I do like making visual art and music separately at times and think that they can’t help but influence each other—at the same time I’m always trying to find ways to blend them more. I think with Olden Yolk it’s been fun because I’ve been able to work on a lot of the poster designs, album designs, videos, and projections alongside the music. I haven’t been able to do that so freely in the past, so it’s definitely a stepping stone. I do hope to make some pieces though that totally involve all my practices in one integrative space.

What are your essential tools for creating?
My mind and my health. Beyond that I’m open.

Which record consistently inspire you? Do you make productivity playlists? 
I really love Robert Ashley’s Private Parts LP — I find myself going back to that one a lot. I also have loved listening to Judy Grahn’s poetry over the last year. King Krule’s The OOZ, Joanna Brouk, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Kendrick Lamar… there’s a lot of stuff. I love video artist James Richards who is based in the UK I think — I saw a piece of his a few years ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I saw it. The way it blended video, sound, and the spoken voice was just the best.

If you had to pick a favorite from your album, which would it be?
I honestly love all the tracks for different reasons. I think that’s one thing that’s really nice about still releasing full-length LPs; you get to create a collection of feelings. When I listen to music at home, I jump around between different styles and themes and have always appreciated records that do the same. So, all together I think they make a nice piece… and at the same time I can’t wait to just make new music.

Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer of Olden Yolk, photo by John Andrews

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