Buttercup perfects the art of live performance as deconstruction

Front man Erik Sanden revels in such musical spontaneity, embellishing already remarkable performances with a quirky stage presence. Unlike most of his Austin-based musical counterparts, he can also string a sentence together quite expertly.

Erik Photo courtesy of Ramin Samindari

"I think I've always been a ham," Sanden says. "I do clearly remember making up dance routines to Queen's The Game as early as the third grade.

Sanden recalls that Queen and Blondie were his first musical obsessions. "The first time I heard Debbie Harry sing, she was on the Muppets performing 'Call Me,' which in retrospect was totally inappropriate for children, but I remember thinking that she was incredible. I tape-recorded the performance off the TV set and played it over and over again. "

Jaimie Photo courtesy of Ramin Samindari

While in junior high, Sanden put together his first band and made his debut public performance. "We painted ourselves green with tempura and sang the Weird Al version of 'Lola' - 'Yoda.' Just terrible," he says.

The "Lola" connection was apt, because the song's writer, Ray Davies of the Kinks, remains one of Sanden's biggest creative influences. He considers Davies, Neil Young, and Lou Reed his holy trinity of songwriters.

"I think I can trace my goofy, vaudevillian tendencies back to the Kinks. Neil Young represents the musical purist. I have archival tapes of Crazy Horse performances that I've watched a thousand times. That band has a way of drawing off of each other and creating these magical, spontaneous moments. And Lou Reed is, well, Lou Reed."

odie Photo courtesy of Ramin Samindari

He adds, "The one influence we all share is the Kinks. Odie is also a recent Neil Young convert. He resisted that as long as he possibly could. I think it's good to have different influences to draw from. It's also really nice to have someone who can really play the guitar in the band as well!"

The band's latest addition is Joe Reyes, who Sanden says joined the group as a replacement when old guitarist Brian Higginbotham left for Indonesia. "I never expected Joe to join the band," Sanden says. "Who would have imagined that a guitarist as accomplished as Joe would even want to be in Buttercup?

Joe Photo courtesy of Ramin Samindari

"Joe does come from a very precise musical background but he's snapped to our credo of inability pretty quickly. And I know he enjoys pushing the envelope. He really speaks to his instrument well."

The group is currently busy recording a new group of original songs. Sanden says they have nine songs in "varying levels of completion," but they view it strictly as a demo, with no plan to release an album on their own. Meanwhile, they maintain an unofficial Grackle Monday residency, in streamlined form (odie., Sanden, and Reyes as frequent guests), at Tequila Mockingbird.

"Buttercup's spontaneity is a tricky thing, because it can fall apart at any moment," he says. "We've beautifully demolished our songs on several occasions, but I always feel high about it. Performance as total deconstruction. That's what I loved about Richard Hays `of the Hickoids`. He was hands-down the best performer I've ever seen in San Antonio."

The group's sense of ensemble playing - and highly accomplished musicanship - allows for new songs to be taken apart and completely rearranged by the time they're recorded. Sanden, an English major, lends the band its literary sensibility, even if it's something he's slightly sheepish about.

"I steal from poets," he says. "Poems can transport you in much the same way as music can - sometimes even more. I love early Auden and Dickinson and Robert Graves. I love simple poems. Wait, I feel like

I shouldn't be admitting this. I feel like I'm gonna get my ass kicked now for being a skinny poet." •

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