April 6, 2002

Butterfly (of Digable Planets)


Most of us probably thought Butterfly, former front man for hiphop sensation Digable Planets, had fell off the map. While he may have been under the radar, he has been keeping busy. After recording a solo album that was shelved, he starred in the short film, “I Am Ali,” which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Butterfly’s new project, Cherrywine, will be released off of DCide – in partnership with Gadfly Communications – and focus on live instrumentation. I caught up with Butterfly to get the lowdown on the new project, find out more about his hiatus from hiphop, and his newfound love for playing instruments and acting.

Jbutters: Its been a long time since we heard any music from you, I come across cats everyday that miss Digable Planets. After the second album its like you guys vanished. What happened?

Butterfly: After the second album the group just broke up. Most of it is personal, but it boiled down to creative differences. Everybody tried to do their own thing musically. I got a deal with a label called Red Ant to do an album, but when they went out of business the album just got shelved.

How long have you been recording in Seattle?

I been out here for about 5 months recording. I’ve been going back and forth between here and New York, but I’m originally from Seattle. I moved to NY about 15 years ago and did the music thing out there, but everyone in my band is from out here.

How is the vibe different in Seattle than in NYC?

It’s a lot less people, a lot of water, and a lot of trees. Niggas are a little bit more relaxed. It rains a lot, but I don’t buy into the idea that rain equals melancholy. It’s just calm, wet, and funky. It’s west coast, but not as intense as California. It’s definitely a vibe to it and most of it you can call out and calculate, but I bet the hottest parts of it you probably can’t put into words, but you can put it into music.

How do you think that is going to translate onto the album as opposed to recording in another location?

I don’t think it’s really up to me to say, because it’s like looking in the mirror and trying to tell motherfuckers what I look like, then I’m a cornball.

Do you feel like the time you have had away from hiphop has given you any sort of edge coming back into the scene?

I would hope so. That’s how I’m looking at it, whether its true or not the proof will be in the pudding. I learned a lot from what I’ve seen and I hope it comes out in the tunes.

You’re the only hiphop act on Dcide Records. Why did you choose this particular label and how confident are you in them to release and promote this project?

My music is real different now. It ain’t just on some straight-ahead hiphop. Plus I have a lot of respect for Jeff Clyburn, the guy who runs Dcide. He told me what he felt he was capable of doing and he was one of the only people who would fuck with me at this point. A lot of it didn’t necessarily have to do with choosing a place to be, but being fortunate to deal with people who feel you, who want to help you out, and give you a place to do your music. I’m looking forward to it. I think the songs are good and I think they have what it takes to get them out there.

Why did you choose to call the group Cherrywine?

I ain’t really gonna say, but it has something to do with where I’m from. It has a really heavy sexual connotation and its kind of a play on words. I’m gonna leave it at that.

It seems like a lot of artists are approaching the live band format (i.e. Mos def, Q-Tip, Roots, etc.), what is Cherrywine bringing that is going to be different from those projects?

I know the Roots music, I saw Jack Johnson perform once, and I haven’t heard the Q-tip shit, but I know the cats in the band and myself are approaching the music looking for a new beat or a new cadence. We aren’t trying to take it back when it was this is that, not that that’s what everyone else is doing, but we are searching for new rhythm so its gonna be some different shit. We don’t set out to intentionally be different, but who gives a fuck about what another cat is doing, especially not enough to bring it into your own musical world. Its self generated music and I don’t want to compare it to the other stuff because I don’t know that much about it.

What are the different instruments you will be playing?

I basically learned how to play guitar, then I started playing drums and keyboard. Those are the instruments that I can compose my music with to a certain extent. Live, I can probably play keyboard and guitar and hold it down.

Did you train under a certain musician?

Nah, I taught myself how to play. I asked the heads that I knew who played to show me some shit and I built off of that. I wasn’t taught or did too much extensive studying besides playing by myself and with other people.

That’s a bold step to just pick up an instrument and go out and play with other people without really any instruction. When did you get to a point where you were like ok I’m nice at this?

I’m still not like that. Its like information and knowledge, the more you get the more you’re like damn I don’t really know shit. Its all a process of getting a song down and getting that under your belt. It changed my approach to music because I realized what spontaneity and the absence of perfection is about. It’s the human aspect, not quantization, which gives the music its longevity. The imperfection of humanism is always going to make it so that every time you hear something you’re gonna hear something new. Every time you play a song again you’re going to play it a little bit differently because you’re a little bit better now. Your mind is a little bit broader because it’s been a week or a month since you last played it. That’s what’s exciting to me. The prospect of it is pretty dope.

What was the first inkling you had to pick up an instrument?

I would think of ideas that weren’t samples, but simply melodies in my head and I wanted to be able to do them without calling certain cats in. Plus playing is fun as a motherfucker, it’s just immediate gratification.

In the middle of the process of teaching yourself to play was the idea for the Cherrywine group in the back of your mind or did that emerge from just getting better and playing with other heads?

Its like say you like a girl and then one day you might notice her and the next day you want to talk to her, but it still might take you a month or so to get to it. It’s an ongoing process of reactions to the world outside of you. It was just a series of natural, coincidental, and intentional things that led to it. I was always doing music so I don’t really remember the day or the instance. After the Red Ant thing went under I just started learning to play. I moved back to Seattle and started dealing with a couple homies that played, seen a few of them perform, and got excited off that and started pursuing it really hard.

You have said your sound is going to be “futuristic.” Give me an example of how you are going to manipulate the instruments you plan on using to create that sound.

When I think of the future I think of something that you know is ahead, but you can’t tell what’s going to happen in those instances of time that are going to come. So you give in to the fact that you don’t know what the future is, but your preparing for it to be able to react to something. It’s not necessarily in the sound. When I say futuristic I don’t mean space age or weird I mean it’s sort of unexpected, but you know it’s going to come if you live long enough to see it. I want the music to sound like anticipation with certainty, but still something unexpected.

You played a schizophrenic in the short film, “I am Ali,” give me a synopsis of what the story is about.

A nigga’s with his girl, he’s a cool cat who’s kind of funny and acts like Muhammad Ali. His girl is like that’s my man he got this whole Muhammad Ali thing, I don’t know why he thinks he going to be a boxer, but that’s my boo I love him. But by the end of the film she’s like my man is fucking crazy. Its kinda funny, but at the same time its like damn. It takes place over the period of time where she goes from thinking the shit is cool and funny to I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this he needs help.

Did you set any goals for yourself before accepting the role?

The director, Dream Hampton, gave me a book by this French director named Robert Busan and it was quotes of his about his approach to art. I read that a lot. The lady in the flick who starred opposite of me, Aunjanue Ellis, has been in a lot of flicks like “Caveman’s Valentine” and “Men of Honor,” with Robert Deniro and Cuba Gooding Jr. Just being with her and Dream, I knew that I had to come and be prepared. I worked at it just so I could get to the set and be able to relax, so that I can do things naturally and spontaneously so it would seem like a real perform-ance. It’s doing real good, it made it into the Sundance Film Festival and she is getting a chance to make another film because of it, so it’s working out well. seem like a real performance. It’s doing real good, it made it into the Sundance Film Festival and she is getting a chance to make another film because of it, so it’s working out well.

Did you have a lot of knowledge of schizophrenia beforehand?

It’s a lot of niggas that just seem schizophrenic. I had a little bit of knowledge on it, but walking around in New York you see people talking to themselves and being in two different places at one time so I did a little bit of studying on them.

Were you intimidated at all acting for the first time and working with someone with much more experience?

Usually I don’t really get too intimidated. I feel like if I get into a situation I’ll be able to handle myself. Aside from that I did the most I could do in the time I had, so I felt pretty good.

Do you see yourself getting any more acting roles in the future?

Well, Dream and I are going to do another film and it’s going to be a feature length with Aunjanue Ellis in it again as well. Dream has a film company and it showcases her approach to filmmaking and its kinda fresh and new.

Did they allow you to adlib or bring your own ideas into the character?

Her script was more like a skeleton. It was basically what needs to happen in this scene. For example it might be like you go into this boxing gym and you’ve been there before, they know you crazy, and they are about to kick you out. All right roll.

So it’s almost like freestyling a movie

Yea, yea its definitely hiphop

I believe that each artist is always his worst critic. When you first saw yourself onscreen were you extremely critical or did you sit back and watch it weeks or so later and have a better appreciation for what you did?

It’s a dual thing with me. Not wanting to see myself is a mixture of insecurity and conceit. I got an image of myself based on aesthetics that I like to see and when that is tampered with I’m like I don’t want to see that. But in the end that’s not really what’s important. No one is going to see you like you see yourself. I just threw it all out the door and tried to step away from it and analyze my performance in the whole piece with the other actors, cinematographer, and the director. At that point I stopped thinking about myself as an individual and concentrated on did I give a good piece of myself to the art.

Has your acting experience inspired you to pursue writing scripts and coming up with your own ideas for a vehicle?

I’m inspired by Dream, she made me think about writing some scripts and trying to get my ideas onto the screen. She showed me what its like to film something and what it means once it gets on film. A lot of it relates to my music because spontaneity was the key to everything. You could practice, but why practice when you can make something. You’ll further your abilities and then when you get into a situation where you need to be spontaneous you can do some slick moves. So yea I definitely want to make some films.

Since it was a short film how long did it take you to shoot?

Its 17 minutes long. We shot for like a week straight, they did some pick up scenes and some editing. It took about five months all together.

You stated once that music makes you feel things. I agree. I believe music can put you into certain moods and stir up different emotions. What types of moods do you want to put the listeners in and what type of emotions are you trying to stir up in them?

You know how sometimes you might see a girl and everyone else might not think she is hot, but she is doing something to you; that’s how I want the music to be. I want it to be something that you’re surprised that you like. It’s beautiful, but at the same time it’s a little wild and a little off.

I expect the lyrics to be much different as well since you say they aren’t as politically focused as in the past. What prompted that change in you?

I have a friend of mine named Monifah, who is in the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, when Diallo got shot they were down at city hall marching and rolling on cops. Every single day they are apart of the struggle and I’m not really doing that. So for me (it’s not right) to be out here talking about it but not really being about it to a certain extent, although my heart is devoted to it and I believe or support it. Then there are cats that are in college studying Political Science who are going to do something about it and that’s not me either. I realized when I feel stuff politically it has to a lot do with how I feel about things emotionally rather than me being a political mind or a political person. If I am political its because I feel strongly emotionally about it and I put that into my music rather than being overt with the politics, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m really talking about. For me to be acting like I do when I don’t, I’ll just be playing myself.

What moved you away from the digital sound to live instruments?

The perfection in programming started to get mad boring to me. I didn’t want it to be perfect no more because then it wasn’t lasting in my mind. The shit I liked was human generated, so I was like I’m not going to be really sampling and sequencing anymore. Its more daring if you don’t know if that next note is going to be right and that feeling is contained in the music even if you don’t pick it up consciously. It’s giving energy to the music and I dig that.

What concepts are you touching upon lyrically?

I got a song called, “She’s The One,” its about meeting somebody and saying yea she’s the one but how many times have you said that though? What are the components of being that emotionally wrapped up and then a year later not being as interested. Just dealing with the emotional delicateness and ups and downs. Another song is called “Then It Happens,” which is about how you wait for things to happen and then when they do you start waiting for something else to happen.

When can we expect it to be released?

It’s going to be out by the summertime.