Climbing up stage rigging. Launching himself against fences. Jumping into the drum kit. It's all just a way for Letlive singer Jason Butler to release pent-up energy. Thanks to whatever else he's going through that day, everything builds up to the time when he hits the stage and unleashes whatever has been weighing him down.
"As soon as you understand that you're afforded this opportunity to be someone that you can't be for 23 hours of the rest of the day or describe these feelings or say these things — that's my motivation for what happens on stage," Butler says. "That's my time to express whatever it is and feel free and rid myself of these constructs — socially, emotionally, mentally. Just go and let that person be emancipated."
All of his wild behavior hasn't come without injuries — Butler once put his hand through a window and needed reconstruction of nerves and tendons. While he usually has no recollection of what he's done during a performance (you can remember for him when the band hits the Fillmore stage on Nov. 12), he's quick to point out that all of his on-stage antics come when he's sober.
"My thoughts on my sobriety have never been a moral thing but a psychological sense of control," Butler says. "I know my inhibitions are already low as a sober person, as my performances show. I don't have much impediment for anything holding me back from things that people might find outrageous. With that self-awareness, I don't know that adding alcohol or anything would be a good idea to lower my inhibitions any more than they already are naturally."
Butler says he's as much fueled by the crowd and Letlive's music as he is by any exorcising of personal demons when he's on stage. He says it's a Jekyll and Hyde situation with his on- and off-stage personas. The off-stage Butler is relaxed, though it might take him 20-45 minutes to "recalibrate" after a show.
A quick search of YouTube can find "best of" video compilations for Letlive performances. But it's not the music that people are looking for — it's clips of Butler.
"My friend recently sent me a YouTube montage of things I've done over the years that I find to be erratic and questionable," Butler says with a laugh. "I've been made aware of things I've done that I don't remember. At the same time, I know that when I was doing it, it wasn't a show for me. It was more of a moment in time when I was expressing or dispelling certain feelings in that way. There should be nobody affected in my wake. I don't want anyone to have to deal with any physical mishaps. Ultimately, it is me doing it, even if I don't remember. I find myself humored by what I do, but more from not remembering."
It's no surprise that the band's music helps to fuel his fire. The high-energy frontman often screams as the band plays a mix of rock, metal, funk, R&B and hip-hop that's more akin to MC5 or Bad Brains. Currently on the road with Rise Against and Killswitch Engage, one has to wonder — who would want to follow such an off-the-wall performance?
"Yeah, we've been told by management and tour managers to tone it down (in the past)," Butler says. "Not because we were that wild, but because the nature of our performance gives a different tone than the bands following us. I don't find any reason for that. We're all here to share this conscious collective as artists — whether it's a cool live show, or great production or technical performance. We are who we are because of what we do."
Butler hasn't always been comfortable on stage. The son of an R&B musician, he, like many people, grew up having a lot of self-conscious moments and was worried about who he was being perceived as. When he was finally able to get past that, he found himself being happy more — in daily life and on stage.
"It's all about feeling some type of way when you play music," he says. "If you don't feel it, you're not doing it right. As an artistic force, you feel the need to create. You have to evoke some kind of feeling whether you're uncomfortable or sad or happy."
There's a passion Butler feels for music and life in general when he talks. When he talks about fighting oppression and finding happiness, his soft tone and volume both pick up a bit.
"I've experienced a lot of things from misunderstandings and appropriations and oppression — those are on my mind," he says. "I want to open people's minds for a minute and make people understand that these are things that are happening to human beings and it's wrong to be made to feel less than, to feel profiled, subjugated, told no when it's something that you believe in. You don't have to accept that. It's a communal idea."
That's a lot of what will come through lyrically on the band's new album, due out early next year. Butler says it's "the best music the band has done," before quickly pointing out that he's never made that kind of statement before.
He says it's the most melodic stuff they've written, while also fusing together elements of everything from spoken word to comedy; punk to R&B while offering a lyrical release to all of the stress that's going on in the world these days. So, when all of that comes out during a performance, Butler wants the crowd to feel the same way he does.
"I want the crowd to feel liberated, but not in a new-age, fuckin' hippy sense," Butler says. "Truly rid and void of any sort of weight they were feeling before they walked into the show. Whoever they were thinking about or what they wanted before they walked in that was causing anxiety, I want that to be gone. As long as you do you, and don't encroach or degrade what others are doing, you're free to do whatever you want. That's the whole idea."
When asked if Butler ever pauses or hesitates to think before doing something on stage, he says premeditation would inhibit him too much. Sure, he wishes he wouldn't have put his hand through that window, but he's just being who he is as a singer. He knows what he's able to do, and always pushes himself to go beyond that — in every aspect of a performance.
"I think there's always room for passion, commitment and conviction in what you do," Butler says. "Otherwise, I don't really see much of a reason to do things like playing music or trying to make music your career. When we play, I'm really thankful to be able to do it and hopefully continue doing it for years to come."