Relix 44: ‘Cinema Improv’ Podcast
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Silver Screen Soundtracks: Cinema Improv
As the booming world of podcasts continues to expand, there’s hardly anything that a listener can’t find in the genre, and many creatives are looking to push the envelope in terms of what should constitute a podcast. Drummer David Butler certainly lands in that category with Cinema Improv. What started as a simple jam session in his Brooklyn studio turned into a unique, new idea: Butler began to invite a wide range of musicians to join him in watching a movie on silent and improvise a full soundtrack, without any preparation.
“I had invited some people over for a little jam, and it was super cinematic,” Butler says of that first session, explaining how a subsequent conversation led to the idea of using film visuals to bring out more of that feeling in the music. “I started asking around for movie ideas and amassed this big list of visually amazing movies that didn’t have much dialogue. Then, I got a projector and floated the idea to a bunch of musicians, and most of them seemed super into it.”
Butler’s Cinema Improv celebrated its one-year anniversary this past July, with an episode that found Sinkane guitarist and bassist Michael Ish Montgomery, as well as Philip Mayer of the Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit, improvising with Butler over the classic Indiana Jones flick Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“That’s the lucky part, for me,” Butler says. “I get to do all of them.” The drummer, who tours with Guster and Marco Benevento while playing with various musicians around New York City, sits behind his kit for each podcast recording, then later revisits the improvisation to cut it down to roughly the length of an LP.
“There are always these lulls and boring parts where we just stop playing and watch the movie a bit,” Butler explains. “Normally, you would just stop or play another song or take a break or whatever, but the cool thing about these sessions is that, pretty much every time, the most inspired, interesting stuff comes after those boring parts—you push through the mud and then, all of the sudden, you’re playing this stuff you would never play.”
So far, some of Butler’s Cinema Improv guests have included singer-songwriter Jamie McLean, Josh Kaufman, Darkside’s Dave Harrington, Leftover Salmon/Fat Mama keyboardist Erik Deutsch, Railroad Earth bassist Andrew Altman, Cage the Elephant guitarist Nick Bockrath and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead/WOLF! guitarist Scott Metzger jamming to movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, Samsara, Enter the Void and Once Upon a Time in the West.
Eventually, Butler is hoping to take the podcast to live audiences. “Every one of these groups that I’ve had are amazing bands that could do a gig on their own, so I have to do that,” he says, noting that he’d also like to get some of his more steady collaborators into the Cinema Improv studio, including Benevento and the members of Guster, Gatos Blancos and Drewcifer, which features musicians from Railroad Earth and The Infamous Stringdusters. But the key is keeping the lineups—and the movies—engaging, and always changing.
“I try and come up with interesting combinations, where maybe the guys haven’t met,” Butler says. “This is an interesting way for them to meet for the first time—you’re thrown into this situation, but it’s not intense like a gig. You get to sit back and watch a movie, and it really leads to some cool music.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.