fever 333 2019
[Photo via Roadrunner Records]

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with as much passion and conviction as Jason Aalon Butler. FEVER 333’s dynamic frontman has been a tireless advocate for Black Lives Matter and the human rights of people of color. Whether he’s baring his soul on a soundstage or correcting the fallacies of his detractors, Butler has never casually phoned it in.

What Butler didn’t realize was the cost of his stridency. He describes himself as optimistic but readily admits how diplomacy has failed him. As much as he embraces the light of forward progression, he realizes that the grief and pain of loss is part of that journey.

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Butler has been praised for his work in raising consciousness toward POC. But that’s not why he’s in it. He’s trying to wake up the world to the very real struggles both his family and friends face. Imagine how he felt when he learned some of the people he came up through punk rock with thought otherwise. People whom he once toured with accused him of “selling” activism and rebellion to further his career. And in the process, making it harder for them to get by. After paying dues fronting letlive. for well over a decade, Butler is anything but a manufactured industry plant.

But if you’re looking for Butler to serve tea with a side of shame at those critics, you should probably stop reading. He’s confronted those people personally. But his conviction remains stronger than ever. This is Jason Butler’s reality. It’s not the punk-rock utopia that some of us deludedly thought existed. But his sheer personal wattage is going to bring it to light.

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From where you are, what type of world do you think is going to be there for us in five years?

JASON BUTLER: Oh, man. Basically what I think is happening—and it’s too hard to see at the moment ’cause we’re so close to the elephant— [is] that we’re really unveiling a lot of the problems that have always existed that we’ve been able to sweep under the rug or pretend as though they’re not happening to us. Because now we’re all sharing in the same plight. 

This year, it started with this virus and this pandemic, and we’re seeing it on a global scale. And then to follow that, something that’s always been very particularly dear to me, which is the rights and the liberties of POC people, not only in America but throughout the world. I think we were so tired and raw and vulnerable from our own shared plight globally with this virus, we were open to accepting and seeing the atrocities that have been happening to people like myself, my family [and] my friends. People of color and people that are considered “other” that don’t fit in this sliver of white hetero normative behavior in societies.

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I think we will come into a world where my generation, the millennial generation and the generation to follow, Gen Z, [are] going to have a lot more seats at the table, a lot more spots in decisions being made. Because we will make up a larger portion of the general movements, politically, emotionally [and] intellectually. We’ll be moving into positions of power and influence. But I think we’re gonna be in a world that has been tried and tested and revealed itself to be a lot less perfect than we’ve been fooled for it to be on television and books. And we’re going to start having to face reality. And we can build a new world. We will be building a world that is much more beautiful in its truth than it ever was in this facade that we had to believe in. 

There’s an interview with Angela Davis talking about how she’s voting for Joe Biden. We can’t be dealing with third-party nonsense. We can’t do it this time around. It was really strong coming from her. Somebody with that intellect, experience and being able to articulate the things that are truly wrong just really shook me. What do you think it’s going to take to get there in five years?

I think some people will take this the wrong way. It’s going to take everything that we’ve experienced. It’s going to take the pandemic. Also, it’s going to take what people considered the riots, which I consider as the rebellion. It’s going to take lives lost, not Black lives the way that we’ve seen them in a demeaning and dehumanized way, but by literal risk. And people being committed in ways that they’ve never been committed before in order to see this thing through, which is this movement we’re seeing.

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But we have to also be comfortable with the fact that we may never see the results. You may die before it, whether that may be premature or whatever happens. What we need to understand is that it’s going to take a lot of uncomfortable, dangerous decisions that we have to make in order to create an environment and a world that looks a lot prettier than it does right now and understand that we may not be there. We may not be present for the unveiling of the new world. But knowing that our efforts in making it so are just as important. So I think what is happening right now is what it takes. 

You’ve come to terms with that. There’s always that one thing of “Well, let’s manage the expectations.” Well, I guess you have to have the expectations in the first place. 

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people know me as this person who exudes this optimism even through the darkest of times. And I always have and I will continue to. But at the same time, in order to really see a result that is positive, I need to dig deep and sink my teeth and keep myself in all of the things that are wrong and broken. And that takes a toll on people. That sort of speaking and transcending beyond even just the Black lives that we’re asking consideration for, it transcends, and it actually represents a much larger group than just Black people in America.

I think we have to invest in the darkness if we’re actually going to believe in the light. Because you won’t actually get a real objective or enhanced view of it unless you know what the fuck it is you’re fighting for and what you’re up against while doing so.

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Obviously, you’re a well-spoken individual. You have this passion. During this journey that you’re on right now, have you had to essentially cut ties with people or things or anything you felt was ideologically incorrect or just in your heart, as a human, knew was wrong?

Yeah. That’s a great question, Jason. Most people that seem to oppose what I am thinking or saying or standing for, I think you’d have to be pretty fucking ignorant to not know that this has been me since literally since middle school. If you know me at all, whether you know me as an artist or you know me personally, this should be no surprise.

I think maybe I’ve abandoned a lot of diplomacy in these scenarios because I think this matter needs to be distilled. But I’m still very, very ostensible with representing. So I let people know openly. I go, “Hey, I am not doing the ‘maybe we can meet in the middle thing’ because right now, that doesn’t work.” I know that my general idea of harmony and finding a space for everyone to coexist is not going to benefit the overly and traumatically and detrimentally disproportionate disadvantage that people are feeling right now. It just can’t happen. 

Read more: Jason Butler learned the meaning of risk on letlive’s ‘Fake History’ demos

I think there’s a lot of problems with the bands that have a self-proclamation of [being] radical artists. Some of them have white-knighted the situation and made themselves seem like victims [with] the problems that they’ve had in the past. I believe a lot of people that said that they were for this fight the whole time, and then they go back in their history, and they say, “Oh, well, I did say this. I’m such an asshole. Fuck me. I’m gonna go quiet now.” I think your apology needs to be as loud as your disrespect. You just saying that one time on Twitter or Instagram is not enough for me. It needs to be practiced and active. You need to become an active participant in the change you say on Instagram and Twitter that you want to see.

So I’ve had to have serious conversations with other bands. I’ve called them directly without doing it on the internet, without doing it public. Directly and letting them know how I feel and also how I feel about their misunderstanding and miscommunication of what I do and what I am and who I am, in my very existence as a Black person and in this whole scene and in this world. It’s a very curious thing for me right now, especially in this project, FEVER 333, which is an extremely succinct socio-political approach to everything. I still have people that used to be homies believing that I’m somehow co-opting protest culture when my very fucking existence is protest. I find that to be very fascinating.

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I find that to be fascinating, too. You’re being accused of co-opting cultural unrest to somehow be a more successful artist? 

Yes, absolutely. And they believe that because they see that I was able to utilize the system in music to get, say, facilities and things in my band. I have my own collective obviously, and I partnered with Roadrunner to put out these things, and I utilized these platforms to do so. And in doing so—which a lot of people don’t know—I was still giving literally like a third of all of my profits to the charity that I built. And this performative activism, I don’t need to do it. But in doing so, it does become a little fucking annoying, when people just assume that somehow I came out of nowhere. I made this band. I got some wild advance, which none of it is true. 

Most of these people are—and I know this because I’ve spoken directly to them—white, no lower than middle-class heterosexual males. They’re upset because they think my band, the way I do things, the way I think, the way we perform, the way we look, the way we somehow got an advantage that they didn’t get to start with because they think we “came out of nowhere” and [aren’t] really seeing the work leading up to it or knowing exactly what’s happening behind the scenes. Knowing exactly what it is they do, why do it, how I do it. Not even knowing about perhaps the 15 years I worked in the band letlive.

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Knowing nothing about that, but literally seeing a couple of people of color and a white ally making crossover music and talking about change because it’s what we believe in. And then adopting some policies that I have always invested and believed in. Which are those of the Black Panther Party for self-defense and applying these things to the mission statement, the objective. Somehow looking at that as “co-opting the protest culture.” 

I’m utilizing these things not for money because revolution has never fucking paid. Ever. Real revolution, real change has never paid, and it’s never been safe. So for me to go out and do these things and think we were going to make money from it and to think that was what we had intended in the first place? You’re actually fucking crazy, and you’re stuck in your own privilege, and you’re just hating. But what that does is it exhibits your privilege. You think you deserve more because you’ve been given everything this whole time. 

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That’s crazy. Were these people living under a rock during letlive. and the Chariot? 

This idea of commerce and the monetization of art has turned people once again into jealously degenerative… I won’t even say “artists” but participants in the game of art and music, and that’s a fucking problem. It’s the same shit I’ve been talking about for coming up to two decades now, man. It’s the same problem we see outside. Every person that claims that they don’t want to believe that the government should have this much control over us? They’re still being led by the fucking dollar. They’re still being led by the dollar in their misinterpretation of what revolution can look like, not what it should look like. 

The tunnel vision. What happened? Did something get lost in the translation?

No, I truly believe that this whole scene is so deeply rooted in an idea of what it means to be white in this thing. That even if these people claim and masquerade themselves as progressive- and alternative-thinking people, they are not. And they say things about me, about our band, about our project that can literally toe the line and butt right up against racist, systemic thoughts of people who don’t look like them. Most of these people that have something to say were getting college paid for if they failed in their band. Well, then there was a safety net ’cause their parents got a little fund for them. Or the world has always told them, “You can make it because we designed this world for you to succeed.”

I was out here in fucking project housing, welfare, dodging bullets with my sister just hustling so I could find a way to get my ass on tour. But this is completely different, understanding the perspectives of what it means to be in music. And these motherfuckers want to get mad with someone like me? And all I’ve been doing with that money is putting it back into artists, keeping my mom out of the hospital and taking care of my family and my community. 

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I haven’t bought a pair of shoes other than shoes to be onstage in three years. I haven’t bought myself anything other than a house for my family, paid for my mom and sister’s apartment, paid my mom’s hospital bills [and] created a collective for my people. I’m always putting money back into Black Lives Matter, put money back into Inglewood projects. I haven’t done shit for myself in three years. Because I believe that this is what it has to be. The greater advantages for all people need to start with those that are at the greatest disadvantage. And that’s my people. That’s my family. 

So all these people that sit in a place where typically you would assume some sort of success if you put in the time. But you don’t want to think about perhaps the music or the performance you make. Perhaps maybe you just ain’t it, chief. Not thinking about that and then getting mad at a project like FEVER 333 or any other POC-fronted and POC-related projects, you’ve got it fucking twisted.

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And a lot of these motherfuckers don’t want to say a goddamn thing right now because perhaps maybe they know it’s not the right time. But it never should have been the right time for you to talk about me, even if I was just getting money. I’ve had so many things taken from me by way of a system and policy for so fucking long. You should have nothing to say about a nigga getting money through music. Nothing. Because you know nothing about what it was like when I wasn’t.

Ultimately I don’t think we’re going to rewire humanity in five years to make that right.

No, I don’t, either. It’s not even going to be five generations. Humans are so innately and inherently political. With every new seat occupied by someone of this new party or policy, every administration starts to look a little different. We had Obama for eight years. Because so many different administrations started in seats and pieces of that administration were being switched out and occupied by more progressive people. People with an idea that maybe a brother in the office, not only ain’t such a bad idea but actually might be better for the country. I think it is going to take a few more generations of these people opening their eyes and learning.

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We were neanderthal, barbaric people. At some point we were beating people over the head and in effect, what we would consider rape now. That’s how we fucking procreated. That’s how we became, if you really dig deep. So we are ever-evolving. And I love it. It’s beautiful. But sometimes when you look at it and you find that one group [that] feels as though they’ve accumulated enough information and that understanding about humanity when they observe other parts of it, it does become discouraging when you feel as though people need to catch up. At the end of the day, we need to leave space open for them to catch up and/or just wait for these motherfuckers to die. 

I know that sounds morbid or negative, but I truly believe with each generation, more seats get occupied by a generation that is just statistically more progressive [and] more open and understanding. So I think that’s what we’ve got to do.