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Michael Bialas

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Like Peter Pan, Butterfly Boucher Really Does Know How to Fly

Posted: 04/10/2012 11:20 am

She's vivacious and versatile, a kindred spirit with a wicked sense of humor and a knack for charming the cynic out of any jaded critic.

Yet, while still quite sprightly at age 32, a character as carefree as singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher has the right to yearn to feel young again. After all, she has experienced a roller coaster of emotions in life, love and career since coming to America from her Australian homeland in 2001.

On her self-titled third album, to be released April 17 in the States (but Friday the 13th in Australia), Butterfly shares all those feelings with you. While playing most of the instruments in a multilayered presentation, she also delivers passionate vocals that are expressions of pleasure and pain. Heartache from a self-avowed quirky pop-rocker has never sounded lovelier.

Happily based in Nashville for about a dozen years but no longer affiliated with a major label, Boucher has turned out her most personal work to date and is understandably eager to talk about it. Even if it means taking a call while the "coffee is still kicking in" on a Tuesday morning in Melbourne, 16 hours ahead of the place she normally calls home.

cover"I really wanted to do music that moves people, whether it moves them in a really happy way or a really sad way," Boucher says. "I just love it when music takes you by surprise and moves you. You don't know why, you just know. And that's always been fascinating to me, just sounds.

"Sometimes I wish I didn't have to write lyrics," she adds with a contagious, magnificent laugh that consistently serves as a delightful punctuation mark on most of her sentences. "I feel like the music should explain it enough, but it doesn't seem to fly. So I set out to make an emotional kind of, not a dark album ... I didn't want it to be a gloomy album."

Girls still wanna have fun

While she may be on her own personally and professionally, Boucher is hardly alone these days. Like many artists who have taken the indie route, she is making the most of her newfound freedom and "calling my own shots," attacking that ambitious task with a renewed sense of purpose.

That led her to collaborate with gal pals Katie Herzig and fellow Aussie Missy Higgins, get involved in side projects Ten Out of Tenn and Elle Macho and perform in bands with friends such as Sarah McLachlan, who gave Boucher her first major break during the worldwide Afterglow tour in 2004.

The experiences with Herzig, another Ten Out of Tenn alum, and Higgins seem particularly fruitful. They worked on each others albums, and Boucher, who co-produced hers with Jamie Kenney, also shares production credits on Higgins' long-awaited project.

Two of the 10 songs on Butterfly Boucher co-written by Boucher and Herzig -- "5678!" and "Table for One" -- take listeners on an extreme mood swing.

For starters, "5678!" is an unabashed dance track that shouts out for an extended remix. It's explosive, thrilling and silly, taking Boucher back to when she was a child of the synth-laden '80s and early '90s. She sung along to such kooky cuts as "Blinded Me With Science" and "Groove Is in the Heart."

Butterfly shoulderIn fact, she still does. "Groove is in the heart," Boucher blurts out beautifully over the phone to demonstrate her fondness for one-hit wonders Deee-Lite and the "tons of songs" from those days with house party elements.

Of the track that was a No. 1 hit in Australia, Boucher adds, "There's this great whole middle section that has this whistle that goes (she capably reproduces the sound) and all these funny noises. And if that ever comes on in a dance club, everybody knows those weird little things. I love that."

In that happy-go-lucky mindset, Boucher and Herzig wrote and demoed "5678!" figuring someone else would record it.

"You start to write ridiculous lyrics," says Boucher, who began falling in love with it.

Unbeknownst to her at the time, Herzig played a starring role on the bridge that ends up in the final cut. Sounding like an elderly lady out to prove she's hip, there's a touch of electronic wizardry in a voice that should find its way on many a dance floor this summer:

So you think you can dance do you?
So you think you can ddddddance do you honey
everybody thinks they can dddddance
WATCH ME DANCE!

Herzig had to be persuaded to allow her voice to stay on the track that finally wound up on Boucher's album and the ABC hospital drama Private Practice.

"I've always kind of tried to be apologetic about trying to be happy," Boucher says. "Acutally, '5678!' is a good exercise in me trying to make myself not apologize for being happy. And just be happy."

Boucher can't stop laughing while thinking about the impressive granny impression, saying of Herzig, "She's a very serious person, too, but she's also incredibly geeky and nerdy and silly."

Apparently, Herzig and Boucher, who toured together last year, enjoy being merry pranksters, too.

For her bio, Boucher's list of instruments, including bass and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, drums and various forms of percussion, became so lengthy that it ended with "other odds and ends."

Asked about it, Boucher lets out an embarrassed giggle, then says, "At that point, I was like, 'Well now, it just looks like I'm bragging.' "

Now, thanks to Herzig, she can add Chinabot to the list. Boucher was credited in the liner notes of Herzig's last album, The Waking Sleep, with playing the "instrument," and cracks up after getting busted for it.

"We totally made that up," Boucher confesses of the clanking effect on "Daisies and Pews." By muting some guitar strings with a piece of cardboard, it made bizarre, sitar-like sounds "like a Chinese instrument mixed with a robot," she says. "But it's pretty subtle."

Especially compared with their playful gags.

Time to get serious
There's no Chinabot on "Table for One," though. Her joyful glee on "5678!" and deliciously desperate determination in "I Wanted to Be the Sun" notwithstanding, Butterfly Boucher is essentially a Breakup Album.

"Table for One" is so stunning, anchored by the infinite sadness in Boucher's rich, expressive voice and anguished state, that you can't help but root for the lonely girl who awakens "to find the daylight sitting by my side."

Three songs Boucher wrote in January-February 2010 -- "Not Fooling Around," "Warning Bell" and "None the Wiser" -- were inspired by the sorrow she felt while witnessing other devastating relationships fall apart.

"However, by the time I finished those songs and by the time I started working on this album and was about halfway through it, I did actually go through a breakup," Boucher admits. "And it kind of occurred to me that the reason I was probably drawn to that subject is because it was kind of in the cards for me at the time."

Scary Fragile coverAnother "incredibly personal" reflection -- "Don't Look Now" -- was first written for Scary Fragile, an album finished in 2006 but not released until 2009. The song became relevant again when she and her partner split up for the second time in an eight-year period.

Still, Boucher can find a silver lining in the darkest of clouds. Three songs from the new album -- "Not Fooling Around," "Table for One" and "Take It Away" -- got placement on ABC Family's The Lying Game. And "Gun for a Tongue" from Scary Fragile serves as that show's theme song.

As a struggling indie artist who can't afford to hire a backup band, Boucher, who's had several more songs licensed to TV and recorded "Changes" as a duet with David Bowie for Shrek 2, is pleased to have any extra income. Such material is "singlehandedly funding my career here in Australia and in America" while she keeps a small team together. "I'm not gonna lie," she adds. "A few more (placements) would be great."

Not that it would make her pain go away. While Boucher agrees to discuss her private life if the subject comes up, she prefers to let lyrics and music speak for her. And, she says, "I kind of admired the artists when they had a bit more mystery to them," before the onslaught of social media. "In some ways I kind of feel like the music takes on its own meaning a little bit more for whoever's listening to it when it's less about the artist. And you're imagining what it's really about."

Understandably reluctant to have her love life start trending on Twitter, she adds demurely about herself, "There's not a lot to know. ... I'm not like somebody who's in and out of relationships."

So getting back in the dating game isn't a priority. "But we'll see, you never know," she offers, leaving an alluring aura around herself for others to admire.

Running in full circles
The middle child of seven daughters to parents Rob and Vivi, who are as colorful as the name they gave Butterfly, Boucher succeeded at an early age. At 15, she joined the Mercy Bell, a band led by her second eldest sister, Rebecca. They toured Australia for years, eventually getting signed and invited to America.

Staying with family friends in Franklin, Tennessee, about 20 miles southwest of Nashville, her love affair with the Music City began. The band bounced between there and London before finally fizzling.

Boucher, who started using a four-track cassette recorder at age 10, revisited the songs she wrote. Without the right visa to return to the States, she stayed in London, preparing demos that were the foundation for her first solo album, Flutterby, for Geffen/A&M.

Two producers she soon met -- Brad Jones and Robin Eaton -- asked her to record -- in Nashville.

"It was kind of crazy. I really didn't think I was going to go back and ended up straight back in Nashville," Boucher says, reveling in her good fortune. While most of the other Bouchers relocated to London, Butterfly became the only family member to stake a claim in America.

"I'm just really proud of Nashville, actually," she adds. "It's changing because a lot of new blood is coming into town. And it helps when people like Jack White start to call Nashville their home.

"What it is about Nashville is that there's ... the common interest is just music and the love of it," she says. "That was the first thing that hit me in Nashville is that everybody was a songwriter and I didn't feel looked down upon for choosing to do music as my living."

With the moderate hit single "Another White Dash," Flutterby led to her opening for McLachlan in 2004. Her popularity with live audiences grew so much that Boucher said she got audited by SoundScan, which claimed her reported numbers from CD sales at concerts were inflated.

It was hard not to notice Boucher, especially when she strapped on a "massive" white Gibson Thunderbird bass she borrowed from the company during that tour. It also took a physical toll.

"I came out with bruises on my right arm because the bass would fall forward and I play pretty aggressively," says Boucher, who finally sent it back.

Years later, she bought the same powerful instrument back from Gibson, saying, "It just sounded so good. ... I love that bass. I guess I just had to grow into it."

Though she might have been considered McLachlan's protege and became a Nettwerk artist alongside the Canadian songbird, Boucher said they didn't connect right away, either.

Butterly Boucher (right) with Sarah McLachlan"I actually lost contact after the Afterglow tour. We didn't really talk. ... I knew her, but she was like Sarah McLachlan, you know," Boucher says, soon realizing her rising star was a mere flicker in the heavenly skies.

It wasn't until she joined McLachlan's touring band that they drew closer. "I was a bit older and had gone through a lot more, so it was a lot more equal kind of footing, I felt," Boucher says. "She's really become a sweet friend of mine. And she's just so down to earth." (Boucher, right, with McLachlan in 2010.)

Experiences such as the return of the ill-fated Lilith tour in 2010 were rewarding creatively, if not financially.

"I actually really enjoyed that tour," Boucher said, admiring a diverse lineup that included the Indigo Girls, Metric, Mary J. Blige and Emmylou Harris. "I know it got a lot of flak and seemed to be the poster child for bad ticket sales even though nearly every concert that was put on that year had terrible ticket sales."

Almost everyone took part in the "Because the Night" encore that featured Boucher belting out a bluesy vocal.

It was over lunch with McLachlan one day that Boucher suggested they use the Bruce Springsteen-written anthem made famous by Patti Smith to close the show, and it certainly elevated the concept of "a celebration of women in music."

butterfly crop"The spirit was there," Boucher (shown at Lilith in 2010) said. "It's just a shame more people didn't come out, 'cause they were actually really good shows."

Boucher managed to turn another minus into a plus, though, forging what could be a lasting working relationship with Missy Higgins, the delicate folk-pop darling from Melbourne whom she met at Lilith.

Higgins made the most of Boucher's invitation to Nashville. They wrote together, made demos and -- other than the cowbell breakdown -- recorded two different versions of "Unashamed Desire" that appear on each of their albums.

Boucher has played in Higgins' band that now has several Nashville musicians. Expect all of them to be included in a tour that hopefully will make its way to America later this year.

Boucher even convinced her G'day Mate to let her co-produce (with previous collaborator Brad Jones) The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, Higgins' June release.

Recorded in the same Nashville studio (Alex the Great) as Flutterby became another common thread for two artists who have experienced moments of doubts and disillusion.

"It's kind of funny," Boucher said. "I've kind of come full circle in a way. Now I'm producing an artist."

Peter Pan complex
In the tradition of Broadway leading ladies like Mary Martin and Sandy Duncan who played the part, Butterfly Boucher would make a great Peter Pan. There's the short-cropped hair and the spunky persona, but most of all the desire to keep that youthful essence, a quality that makes the Boy Who Could Fly so universally identifiable.

Now Boucher's status is soaring with "Take It Away," a contemplative, more sophisticated version of "I Won't Grow Up."

Worn down by a record company that wanted her to make all the compromises, she was motivated to write the song after years of legal haggling to get out of her major label contract.

Making music was no longer fun and it was time to consider taking that career path to the end of the road.

Remembering the cathartic release that writing provided when she was just a shy kid roaming through Australia, Boucher wanted to get that feeling back again. Fittingly, "Take It Away" serves as her album's grand -- and bittersweet -- finale.

Take me away please take it away
and play it loud like it used to sound when I was young
Take it away please take me away
I wanna feel the way I did when I felt young

Boucher took her own lyrics to heart, shifting her goals, keeping an open mind while saying yes to other outside opportunities and returning more often to her homeland, even if Aussies still think her only album is Flutterby.

"It's a bit kind of like starting from scratch," she says while promoting this upcoming release and touring Down Under. "There's a certain amount of being humbled by it, but it's also ... honestly, my priorities have changed so much in what I want from this and what I expect my career to be now. I'm just a lot happier and a lot more grateful for anything I have and for any positive thing that comes along."

Butterfly Boucher, the artist, is finally learning to experience the best of both worlds. On Butterfly Boucher, the album, she captures the exuberance of her playful past with the wisdom that maturity brings.

Somewhere in Neverland, Peter Pan is smiling.

Publicity photos courtesy of Butterfly Boucher.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more from the 2010 Lilith tour stop outside Denver.

See Butterfly Boucher's official video for "5678!"

 

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