- Finding an outlet for political frustrations, Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler, center, has always turned to his music.
Jason Aalon Butler’s blood-curdling scream at the beginning of Fever 333’s “One of Us” lasts 50 percent longer than Roger Daltrey’s in The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a strong indicator that the frontman of the biracial rap-core trio is, on the whole, more pissed off.
The song’s subsequent lyrics offer further evidence: “Another policy / to keep you on your knees / Another one in jail / Another young black male / He kinda look like me,” raps Butler, former vocalist of the post-hardcore band Letlive, with the kind of frantic urgency that inevitably draws comparisons to Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.
“One of Us” is the current single from the band’s debut album Strength in Numb333rs, which came out this January on Roadrunner Records. While it is Fever 333’s first full-length release, the group had already earned considerable attention when, a month earlier, their Made an America EP received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance a month earlier.
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All of which bodes well for the future of the South L.A. native and his bandmates — former Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison and Night Verses drummer Aric Improta — all of whose past accomplishments were comparatively under the radar. In the following interview, the former Letlive vocalist talks about the source of his militant lyrics, the future of rap-rock, and what’s at stake in the upcoming presidential election.
Indy: Political rock goes back a long way, from the MC5 to Riot Grrrls to Rage Against the Machine and now your band. Was there a point where any particular artists directly impacted your world view? Or did you develop your political values first, and then later discovered music that resonated with them?
Jason Aalon Butler: Well, I’m from Inglewood in Los Angeles, where we’re kind of immediately introduced to disenfranchisement. It’s almost synonymous with our local system and our perspective on things. When you’re from these places that are underserved or underprivileged, you just ask questions. So growing up there prompted me to do that early, and then I found things that spoke to that. Things like N.W.A., a lot of gangsta rap, a lot of West Coast rap. And when I was around 10 years old, I got into punk rock and then, of course, Rage Against the Machine, who were directly speaking about these political and economic issues. And I thought that was so interesting, and just really great, because it didn’t seem like many other people, at least in the rock world, were doing that at the time. And then, because of that, I started to open my eyes to people like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and the MC5. You know, they weren’t just kicking out the jams. They were talking about bigger issues.
So if you weren’t in Fever 333 — if you didn’t know anything about them — and you listened to Strength in Numb333rs, how would you describe what you were hearing?
Honestly, if I wasn’t in the band, and I listened to it, I would want to know more of the story. I’d want to know how deep do they go with these paradigms that they’re discussing. And then I’d find that, you know, there are people of color and white allies in the band, and I would find that their experiences are authentic. And that’s how I am as a fan. I want to know more about these people who say what they say, if they strike me as honest, and I want to know why it feels that way. And so I would do that.
As for how I would describe the music sonically, I would like to believe that it’s like the evolution of guitar-based music. Because currently, hip-hop is really pushing the envelope sonically, as well as ideologically. And I think that hip-hop, rock and punk have always shared a lot of the same DNA.
Your father was a musician, which highly increases the risks of life being a living hell. Why did you follow in his footsteps?
I don’t really know, man. Music was the one thing that always spoke for me. You know, I’m a loudmouth and I say what I feel, and I don’t have much trouble communicating what I think about other things. But when it came to myself, I wasn’t very good at describing my feelings, or identifying those feelings properly. And so I think that music was the reason, and my father just showed me that it was possible, while giving me a benchmark to try to reach — and maybe one day to surpass — as a musician. And he was also my example of what it meant to be a black man in America.
When I was younger, I used to see him and his friends playing shows, and just being really charismatic and captivating people. He played rock-soul-funk, kind of like in the vein of early Prince, I’d say, which was cool. And he played guitar, keys, bass, and he was a singer and producer — he did it all, man — and he was an incredible musician. And whether or not he was around as much as we would have liked, you know, he was the example in that way, artistically. And that put a fire under my ass to try to be the best that I could be
But you didn’t grow up in the same house with him?
I only ask that because you said he wasn’t around much, but that was just an assumption on my part.
No, it’s all good, it’s all good. He was in and out of jail a lot. So he wasn’t around the whole time. And also, when I was really, really young, he was touring still, so we didn’t have all the time in the world together growing up.
Moving on to politics, a lot of people — and I’m guessing you may be among them — have hoped in the past for a viable third-party candidate. With the upcoming election, do you believe that’s something to work toward, or is it now just a matter of finding the candidate who’s most likely to stop Trump?
Well, as a more or less left-leaning person, I want to believe that the most viable candidate will be more than just the lesser of two evils. And ideally, while I guess this may be utopian, I would love to know that we voted into office the candidate that was going to better the country as a whole. Not just the 1 percent or, for that matter, just the 70 percent, while completely disregarding the other 30.
When it came to Trump, I think a lot of people were thinking about what he said in terms of how it would affect themselves, and completely casting aside the effect it would have on the rest of the country. And so I think when we’re making decisions, we need to think about what the fuck it means to other people as well. What does it mean to women if we elect this person? What does it mean to people of color? Because if we just keep thinking only of ourselves, we’re going to shut people out, and we’re going to destroy this nation.