Drawing on a diverse range of influences and musical styles, Jasmin Butler’s songwriting has been described as “sophisticated indie-folk exploring socio-political and personal topics through striking detailed lyrics”. With a reputation for engaging melodies and provocative lyricism, Butler has a unique sound for the masses. We speak with Jasmin Butler about her upcoming album A Bad Day In London, discovering new music and musical inspiration.
OSR: What drew you to music?
Butler: I think that I have loved music from before I can remember. My parents listened to a lot and my dad took the time to create a series of tapes, specifically for me, when I was very little. These contained a massive variety of musical styles and I think these just embedded a love of songs in me. I then began to play classical guitar as a kid and pretty soon found I was much more interested in making stuff up than learning or practising what I was supposed to.
In my early teens, I’d often find it hard to articulate a thought or communicate in the moment and in the way I intended. I think the draw to writing songs developed from this. A song gives you the opportunity to think about what I intend to say, structure it and deliver it uninterrupted! An added bonus, if I felt a bit nervous about what I was saying, was that music and melody provided a perfect distraction too! To be honest, I think this is still what draws me to writing songs.
OSR: What is the backstory to your upcoming album A Bad Day In London?
Butler: I am always enthralled by songs that can really evoke a sense of place which is definitely where the desire to undertake a project like this stems from. As a lifelong Londoner, London is definitely the city I love and hate intimately.
A particular influence was Patrick Keiller’s film London, which led me to learn about the field of psychogeography. What particularly interested me was the way in which artists in this field entwined fact and fiction to depict the experience of urban environments. I was also struck by the lack of female representation and felt compelled to create a body of work that explored urban existence from a female perspective.
The album title comes from a 19th-century anonymous quote: “A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.” I first saw this emblazoned on the side of an air vent at the base of the Centre Point building on New Oxford Street. I felt this captured the love/hate relationship I have with the city which can at times feel like an unhealthy, co-dependent one alongside providing a reminder that I would most likely be more dissatisfied elsewhere!
OSR: What was the writing and recording process like?
Butler: As the writing process began during the first lockdown, much of the initial writing grew out of extensive free writing and from researching and absorbing as much as I could about London’s past and people’s reactions to it in music, film, literature and art. The body of work that emerged from this riff off of personal experience, history and responses to this research whilst being separated from the city itself. The album vaguely follows an imagined day (that spans centuries) from morning to night.
The recording process mostly took place at home and felt like an iterative process of building tracks and developing songs simultaneously. I was relieved that my initial vision of using field recordings for ambience, but also as percussive of textural elements, was not impossible as things began to open up during summer. I did however find that to replicate a pre-pandemic pub or street sound took layering of many different field recordings, but I quite like that this results in a unique soundscape that never really existed in one place in one moment.
OSR: Which do you find more difficult – lyrics or melody?
Butler: Devising melody is probably the most instinctive part of the process for me. Writing lyrics that I am satisfied with has taken a lot more work, practice and refinement. I guess the main stumbling block is confidence in what you are doing and getting to a point where you don’t worry too much about the judgement of your ideas. Communicating an idea and making sure something works technically in the confines of a song’s structure can feel like working out a puzzle – that’s something I have come to really enjoy and see as a challenge.
OSR: What inspires you to make music?
Butler: I guess, on a basic level, what inspires me to make music is simply a desire or drive to connect with other people and communicate something, whether that be an observation, an opinion or a feeling. Music is an art form that I personally feel incredibly inspiring to listen to and the way in which people connect emotionally to music is kind of mysterious and magical, and making it is kind of mysterious and magical too!
OSR: If you could change one thing about A Bad Day In London, what would it be?
Butler: I guess the main thing would be the extra boundaries and limitations imposed because of the pandemic. I think this definitely impacted both the writing stage, the development of songs and recording.
My intention was to involve the city quite literally in the writing stage, exploring, writing and making field recordings to build songs around immersive experiences. Instead, the project developed during the longest period of separation from London I have ever experienced, and this definitely impacted the process and outcome. Thankfully, I was able to collect and work with field recordings at the latter stages of development during the summer, but the process was different than I imagined.
Similarly, there was a limitation on the ways in which I could work with others and access to recording facilities which made the process a little different to how I had imagined too.
OSR: Do you feel this album is a true representation of your sound?
Butler: It’s the truest representation to date, definitely. The sound is beginning to match the idea of what it should sound like in my head, which is a truly exciting point to be at. I think it is best to see every completed project as a point in time to build up from. I can definitely pick out the imperfections, but rather than hold onto these and kick myself about it, I know how to alter the way I work and what I need to learn to push myself with album two. It’s definitely a process that keeps on evolving indefinitely.
OSR: What would you do career-wise if you weren’t pursuing music?
Butler: My undergraduate was in photography and I still take a lot of photographs, create books from them and use them as a reference for developing lyrics a lot. I can see that I would probably have continued along that path if music hadn’t had a stronger pull for me. Alternatively, in another universe, I would have learned to design furniture.
OSR: What is your earliest memory?
Butler: I periodically change my mind about what this actually is, and I think we all probably mix up what are actual memories as opposed to memories of photographs or stories we’ve been told by family. However, I reckon it is sitting top front of a double decker bus (with orange moquette seats) holding a yellow toy tractor and being told off for picking at old, dried chewing gum I had mistaken for plasticine. A little random, but I think that stuck with me because understanding what I’d just touched had been in a stranger’s mouth!!!
OSR: What do you think is the best way to discover new music nowadays?
Butler: To be honest, I am still a massive fan of discovering new music via radio. I do understand that algorithmic playlists fulfil a similar function of introducing listeners to new things, but I like to hear things I might not choose on my own and I like knowing there is a little humanity in the process too.
Recommendations that come through friends or the music friends make too are also always hugely inspiring. I think knowing the process and story of their creations or what makes them excited about a particular song can really bring a track to life and help you connect with something you may have missed otherwise.
OSR: Do you have any future plans?
Butler: Ideas for album number two are slowly coming together and the plan is to begin writing for this during the summer. I also have a collection of practically complete tracks which didn’t quite fit with the London theme of the album and I may gather together, polish up and release as an EP between the two albums. Also, I will be very happy to get back to playing live too. I hope to organise and play a few shows this year, the first of these is planned for 15 July at The Slaughtered Lamb in Farringdon.