Local indie-pop group Buttercup sent out a city-wide open-invite last week to participate in their latest music video production. Dozens risked reprimand for taking a much longer than tasteful lunch break to answer the call, including former Spur Brent Barry. Also, myself.
The magic happened at the venerable Charline McCombs Empire Theater, a venue that doesn’t consider itself above catering to local talent. Just from personal recollection, the grand old place has been host to hometown favorites such as Hydra Melody, The Lost Project, Pop Pistol, and Piñata Protest. Buttercup is no stranger to its halls as well, though this day they had considerably more stage time – nearly four hours of confetti cannons, costumed shenanigans, and basement mischief. Those who slept on the opportunity also missed out on lunch catered by Tim the Girl, and not to rub salt in the wound, but it was peanut-sauce-slathered vegetarian soba noodles and sandwiches with a handsome meat-to-bread ratio.
The set of “Acting Thru Music,” a catchy single from the band’s most recent effort, Battle of Flowers, began at the logical departure upon the stage proper. Midway through, it decomposed into a camera chasing various scenes through the labyrinthine underbelly of the Empire’s reliquary, where Barry posed as a suave band manager, and yours truly as a show-stressed mariachi.
Directing the technical side of the production was a joint venture between producer Edwin J. Stephens of San Antonio Sound Garden, director Matt Buikema of 9001 Productions, celebrated scene cinematographer Kevin Barton of Sotial.us.
Buikema, whose background began in audio engineering, has been shooting music videos for five years now. Through his work with musicians, that worked transitioned into the visual arena. This was his first time working with the Empire Theater, he said during a between-scene breather. When I asked how the experience was going, his expression was clear.
“They’ve pretty much given us free run of the place.”
He was also impressed with how accommodating theater staff had been. Between his lines, I read that he was having too much fun to be ‘working.’
I took a breather myself, retiring to the abandoned stage, and caught a whimsical figure in serene repose. The sylvan sage, pictured, is Odie, professional Buttercup bassist.
In the course of pleasantries and small talk, I asked Odie if the music had shifted between this album and the one prior. In the course of puzzling whether this was their seventh album or eighth, he decided didn’t matter because, either way, the answer was ‘yes.’
“Every record, even the EPs, are diametrically opposed to each other,” he pronounced as if Gospel. “But that’s what happens in everything. We’re all in different stages and different learning processes. It’s way different. Not only what it sounds like, but how it was recorded and how it was approached, and how we massaged it and treated it.”
We proceeded to muse about the value of bands in local perception, and again against the backdrop of San Antonio’s working class economy.
“Breaking even is fine. We cut our teeth in art galleries.” With this, Odie gave me some much-needed sense of where their eclecticism comes from. I admit, from my first couple of impressions, I hastily presumed they were just out of touch. And I’m glad I was wrong – I’m glad to know what they really are: the kind of band that goes, “hey, why can’t we put plastic swimming pools in a venue without air conditioning?” The kind of band that follows up with, “hey, we did it, and no one died. Cool.”
“I think that’s part of why we do what we do,” Odie spoke into the air wistfully, no longer completely talking to me alone, but to something else that shared our space, an unseen something that I believe he and I both occasionally speak to for approval. “And the only reason is to do it. When it comes down to it, if somebody only has five dollars, that’s cool, fine. I really like your CD, but I don’t have any money. That’s fine. Take it. We’re not getting rich.”
Something bigger than auditorium itself felt as if it were nodding.
Odie felt it too, and smiled. “That’s not what it’s about.”
Back below decks, the rest of the charades played on quietly into myriad hungry lenses without incident. Edwin Stephens would remark sometime later how easy the day had been. “This particular project was pretty low stress, partly because the team was pretty solid.”
Stephens credits Brittany Garcia, marketing manager of the Empire, and general manager Emily Smith for their hard work in creating a particularly fertile and friendly environment.
“I’ve never gotten to take control of a creative space like that – to interact with such a magical place. I felt like we could do whatever I want. How often do you get to do whatever you really want in an old theater?” Edwin would definitely recommend it. “It’s a really important place in San Antonio. The more people we have highlighting and showcasing a spot like that, it’s really good for the whole city. Some people don’t even know places like that exist.”
As I recall trailing my fingers along decades-old murals that sprawl across the Empire’s catacombs, seen by few, least not myself in ten years of sitting in the gallery above, I can’t help but recommend it too.
Buttercup’s latest album, Battle of Flowers, is available now.
The “Acting Thru Music” video should be released by early August. Keep your eyes peeled.