Steven Butler is by admission, “. .a musician of sorts, and technically now a writer of words..” But more than that Steven’s “…main occupations are existing, and thinking about existing.” When talking to Steven, it’s apparent that he is passionate about consciousness, the state of being aware, responsive and ultimately perceptive about his existence. Steven chooses to express these thoughts occasionally through painting, through his band, Matua Trap and beyond that, writing for his website, "The Blog Of Lies".
This conversation was recorded in LOFT studios, Belfast. Artist Brian Kielt was also present for the duration, making one interjection and providing a photo to illustrate for the interview below. Thanks. Steven and I talked about how each of his creative outlets allow him to communicate, the ultimate goal for any creative.
DB: So a good jumping off point is probably referencing some of the things that have contributed to where you are now with both Matua Trap and theblogoflies.com. So previous to both of these, we attended art college together doing painting in fine art and you were apart of the band, Kasper Rosa at the time…
Do you want to talk a little about your influences with both artistic endeavours and the kind of subject matter you liked to think about and then, how that maybe informed your music at the time, in Kasper Rosa?
SB: When I started art college, I suppose like everyone, I was sort of wondering lost a wee bit. That’s how it is I suppose with art college. Cliché, finding yourself, whatever. Finding what you’re passionate about. In terms of my intellectual life at the time, I had a real fire up my ass from the whole, well, I was very into science and the whole new atheism thing. I was thinking about big questions about the universe. But I was very informed by people like Richard Dawkins, very scientific, materialist sort of, perspectives. I had a very big problem with established religion which I wasn’t shy about at all in college. That sort of grabbed me around first year.
In terms of music, in terms of how that affected my music, I’d say not so much. I never really combined the two. My creative output, in terms of music and my intellectual life. I didn’t really bring them together until much later. So, the music was always very separate and informed, mainly, by other music. Post rock stuff and instrumental music. It was very straight down the line in that regard. I mean I had my own influences that were bubbling under the surface which I still have, some older pop music and stuff like that, but in terms of Kasper Rosa, which I joined in second year of uni. It was music for it’s own sake.
DB: Kasper Rosa are on hiatus or?
SB: Well yeah, I still maintain that it’s a hiatus. We’ve been chatting a bit lately about going back and finishing a few songs. Obviously, I have a whole lot on at the minute so it’d be hard to fully integrate that again but I do maintain that it’s a hiatus, however long that may be.
DB: So, where does Matua Trap come from?
SB: (Laughing) Okay right, I knew you were going to ask me. It’s funny right. It just came to me. I was thinking about a band name and I’ve always been aware that a bands name is, sort of, half the battle. If you’ve got a shit name, people usually don’t really go much further than that, but at the same time I wanted it to be meaningful.
I was looking at the globe one night and I just saw this little island called Matua which is in the Pacific Ocean and looked it up. I just thought it was really interesting, not really not the surface of things I mean it’s basically just a volcano and it’s uninhabited. There was some activity on it during World War 2, occupation, used as an outpost by the Japanese. I really liked the word and I just love the word “trap" for it’s kind of duplicitous quality. And it’s a weirdly musical word as well, kind of like “tap”, at least I consider it to be anyway.
DB: Well I suppose there is a form of music called “Trap” music but that’s not really…
SB: Yeah, yeah, totally, well this is obviously a very skin deep analysis of it, but I like the sound of it and that’s where the physical inspiration came from. As with a lot of ideas I have, I notice that they get deeper as time progresses and I notice different correlations and you know, subtler levels of meaning.
DB: It’s quite multi-facetted then…
SB: Yeah, yeah definitely. So I frame it a lot of different ways in my head, but mostly it’s about, you know, the volcano is obviously a creative and destructive force and the fact the island is uninhabited by humans, it’s got this connection with latent potential in human existence, essentially. The sort of “trap” being, the trap of society and civilisation as we know it.
Also, everything’s a trap in a way. As soon as you start to think about the world in one way, it sort of closes off other possibilities. It’s a deep psychological and spiritual meaning as well for me, on top of the physical basis.
DB: I think for most people, if they were to go from Kasper Rosa to the Matua Trap stuff, obviously, you’re singing a lot more. Before, it was maybe, well, I’d probably use the word anthemic for the Kasper stuff. It wasn't the usual sort of verse chorus verse sort of thing. There’s still probably that melodic influence to an extent, but it’s definitely tied in now to the blog. I mean, you can see the correlation between what you’re writing about in the music, although it’s more, I wouldn’t say paired down but you used the word duplicitous before.
I think what’s really apparent about the blog is that there’s this dual modality to it. So you’re posing a question or you have a concept, and then outline the antithesis of it, so it’s quite holistic. Was that just a natural thing, with Matua Trap that it had to be like that? And also I suppose are the other band members, Clark and Tree are on the same level with that?
SB: Yeah, I’d say we are very in sync in terms of our world views now, I think, attitudes as well. Mate Trap came before the blog and I think that’s important. What I found wasn’t working for me in Kasper was, I didn’t really have anything that I wanted to write about. I started writing a few lyrics towards the end of the time in Kasper and they still had a lot of that materialistic influence that I had in art college. They were a bit more singular, in that I had this way that I wanted to portray the world and it had a lot of scientific influence in those small amount of Kasper lyrics.
I guess I had this sort of revelation, sort of realisation about myself, some time a few years ago and that’s what ultimately led to Matua Trap. Feeling that I did have things that I actually wanted to write about and that I really cared about. That’s where the lyrics started coming and I thought, you know, I want to start singing more because I felt that I could sing and just didn’t really apply myself to it. But with the added meaning, the personal meaning that the lyrics gave me, it allowed me to sing better, in a sense. It allowed me to actually sing rather than just put a melody over something. It was a lot more instinctual.
DB: So that shift gave you the confidence, I suppose?
SB: Yeah, definitely, yeah. I mean, I felt like with the Kasper lyrics, I was peddling something. I was peddling a world view, essentially. I still consider them quite poetic lyrics but they weren’t quite as open minded as the lyrics are now.
DB: So what’s it like as a three piece?
SB: It’s a joy, seriously man. Tree and Clark are just endlessly talented dudes and they’re both really good producers as well, which I’m not. I’m not a technical musician by any means, definitely more artistically driven so we compliment each other very well. Three is just a magic number to work with musically and practically, because there’s only two other guys you need to ring if you want a band practice. We connect, the three of us, I think.
DB: Do you write everything actually?
SB: I would write all of the lyrics and most of the riffs, I’d sort of, come up with and maybe have ideas for, obviously I have a rhythm in my head, maybe not a strict beat for the riffs that I write. I’d bring a collection of riffs and bring a basic outline of how I want them to progress but, it is absolutely a synergistic process. I couldn’t write songs by myself so I never want to take more credit than is due but in terms of the spirit of the band and what the lyrics are about, ‘cause I write those then that would be me. But the band as a whole, is most definitely a three piece.
DB: Another thing I noticed with Matua Trap, is the artwork. Where does that symbology come from?
SB: Well that’s taken from, it’s essentially an endless knot, which is a Buddhist symbol. It’s used all over the world though, but it just seemed to get to the heart of the ideas. It was chosen by my friend John Quinn, who does all the artwork for most of the projects that me and my friends do. So it was just a nice symbol to get across, the very like holistic, interconnectedness of all things. It just sang to it, just a nice wee symbol as well.
DB: Yeah, it is, very nice. Well that’s a prelude of sorts as to what your main passion is. You can’t really quickly explain what this is, but “ The Blog of Lies”, which is a superb name. It's pegged “ Ruminations on reality for the open minded”. So we touched on the holistic approach to it before, I think that makes it a pleasure to read because it’s not dictatorial, it’s not saying this is the only belief of reasoning for existence.
I think it’s very successful in provoking thought, is the blog just an outlet to facilitate this sensibility?
SB: The blog, it’s interesting, I only started it this year which seems strange. It feels like I’ve been doing it for longer than that. (Laughing) I love writing lyrics and I love what you can do with lyrics. I like to put a lot of double, triple and quadruple meanings in my lyrics purposefully and let people take what they want from them. What I found is that I have this sort of strong intellectual sensibility which I can’t really turn off. It’s a whole other side of me to the musical side and I just wanted an outlet, a bit of a longer format to get those ideas across in a more direct way, whilst still allowing people to take what they want from it.
And also, I said this in one of my post a while back, it does have this discovery aspect to it as well, where I’m writing for my own sake, because it helps me come to different, if not conclusions, maybe realisations about certain things that I didn’t know that I thought. I think writing is really, really helpful for that. Anyone who writes a journal or a diary probably knows that. It’s therapeutic in a psychological sense to just write and not necessarily, discover what you think but discover what it’s possible to think.
DB: Would you say, well, having read pretty much all of it (laughing) there’s this kind of very strong skepticism. There’s this aspect which has a lot of integrity, because you comment on how people claim to be skeptics, yet have this very singular view, whereas you have this dual, sort of, two thoughts run along side each other and they both have a certain weight.
The beauty of it, I suppose is that different people fall on different sides of it and that’s what make us different. What a lot of people could gain from it, is opening their perspective. What does it look like when you come away from writing something, posting it and wondering if anyone will get anything from it?
SB: I definitely get a lot from writing. Sometimes, it’s just a real immediate satisfaction of creating something and just putting it out there. When it comes to whether or not people will get something from it...well, I take a lot from and I feel others could too. It's a process.
DB: Well, do you feel obliged to do that? I suppose we’re talking about growth. I mean there’s a lot of people, for example, who go to art college or university for the sake of it Do you feel like you like you’ve grown more since you started the blog, in a period of months than you maybe did in a period of years, then?
SB: Yeah, I would say so. I’d say it’s all important and I look back fondly on all my stages of development if you want to call them that. Art college was really important for me and I always do say that even though I would totally disagree with myself if I met myself from art college. I would totally disagree and I think I’m a bit of an idiot but I do see it as all pretty important. I see the blog as a natural outgrowth of that process, both art college, music and everything else. And yeah, just in terms as a creative outlet in it’s own right.
Although, I haven’t always been a writer, I’ve only written this year, in any serious way, despite enjoying writing essays in art college a little more than the average person. But there’s a freedom to your own writing which is very fulfilling. And also, just, not having to reference things. I was always very skeptical of blogs, because you’d hear someone’s a blogger and you’re like, okay, it’s just here’s what I think, intellectual hubris kind of thing. I knew I wanted to keep it very open and just point to stuff, just sort of, "Hey, look at this guys…" I’m not saying what it is but just raise awareness. As much that’s a horrible term for some people, when your awareness is raised about something that you didn’t know about previously, it makes you re-evaluate things.
DB: I guess you’ve had this sort of awakening, if you want to say that?
SB: Well that’s a word I do think about a lot. I refer to it explicitly in one or two posts and you do hear it everywhere now but it’s a good word for it. I don’t want to get too mythological about it, but, that is essentially what happened to me. An awakening of sorts, hesitant to say an enlightenment, because enlightenment is a life long process. It merely starts at a certain point, you don’t just achieve this, it doesn’t just happen over night.
DB: What was that specific moment, do you remember?
SB: Yeah I do, I even refer to that in the blog. It’s a guy called Alan Watts, who was a philosopher, very prominent in the ‘60s, the whole counterculture movement, hippy movement and psychedelics. He brought a lot of thoughts from Eastern philosophy and Eastern mystical traditions and stuff, combined them with Western ones, did the whole comparative philosophy thing.
He just talks in a really matter of fact way about being a human and existing and different ways we have of framing existence. It was one of those videos with the music and the beautiful pictures of earth and it just sparked something. (Laughing) And from there I just watched all of his lectures and read any material of his I could find. A lot of it is on Youtube if anyone wants to check it out.
But yeah, everything in the beginning before that mode of thinking was characterised by this Science Vs. God debate and I guess it drew me in and I thought, yeah come on, science motherfuckers!
DB: Haha Science bitch!
SB: Science bitch, exactly. And then, the whole fallacy of that argument became apparent to me and I saw it as a very old fashioned, out moded way of thinking. And I started thinking on a deeper level. Essentially that led to the blog and to everything I do now.
DB: I like to think about this, but I guess more so probably because there’s been quite a shift in my life recently. I’m focussing on something that perhaps I want to do. Do you feel that as person who’s creative, this is for anyone that reads this, you feel that you can potentially meander and sort of fall into this conditioned way of living. Me and Emic touched on it before, you’re sort of brought up in a school environment, then potentially university, or straight into a job and you’re given this sort of path and if you deviate from it, you find that you can lose this sort of grounding you’ve been given. What do you think your purpose is?
SB: Well yeah, yeah, that’s getting really deep but you’re so right. It’s seems as though there has been this slow build of distrust in the way that our society is run, and Western civilisation in general. It’s manifested a lot in what people call conspiracy theories and things like that. But increasingly today, it’s very mainstream, you know, any smart person you chat to in the street will probably say, I don’t trust what the government’s doing and maybe I’m a bit disenfranchised with the way we’re supposedly meant to be living, stuff you’re getting at. It can feel like an existential crisis when you step back from that and go, oh shit, okay, I’m alive. I can pretty much do anything but there’s this linear system, (laughing) this fucking treadmill or like…
DB: Conveyor belt…
SB: Conveyor belt man. I talk about that a lot in the lyrics for Matua Trap, but in terms of my purpose. It’s funny ‘cause I have so many different, I’ve read so many different things that I have so many different ways of framing my life, if you know what I mean? I talk about it in the latest blog post where there are sort of deeply embedded Christian ideas in our society, which go unnoticed, I think.
DB: Sorry, do you mean, just for us, geographically, in Northern Ireland or?
SB: Well, just in general, Western civilisation is sort of seeded by Christian thought and especially America and Britain. Ideas about identity and what your purpose in life should be, that everyone has autonomy and everybody is equal. It’s all, once you go back far enough, really Christian ideas. So it’s hard to talk about purpose. I think I ultimately take the view that we, or all creativity that is, is the creativity of the universe.
Anything that you want to do or feel driven to do is natural, in the same way that stars form and birds eat worms (laughing). It’s all just an outpouring of this inherent creativity in the universe so I like to not get bogged down with psychological doubts and things like that. Obviously I have my bad days but I like to see everything that I do as a manifestation, not just of my creativity, but the creativity of the universe. I could be doing the least creative thing imaginable but I could still frame it in that sense where we’re creating in every moment. Every conversation we have, every interaction, everything we do or don’t do is sort of contributing to this process which is the universe and being able to just engage with that without judging it, I think, is where I’ve come to.
Mostly. (Laughing) Obviously, you know, different philosophical outlooks creep in now and again and some days I do entertain full blown, fundamentalist interpretations of things just to imagine if that could be true.
DB: It can completely blow your mind if you focus on that, in fact, I was checking out your interview with Chill Island (podcast) and…
SB: Ah yeah, with Kit..Kit Grier.
DB: Yeah and there was this reference to the world being like a big computer game…
SB Hahaha yeah, yeah, man! I love that. That is one of my favourites because obviously technology is our big fucking myth. It drives our society in so many ways and I see computer games as a really, really important staple in terms of our evolution of consciousness and how it can maybe help us think about the way the universe is. This gets into a lot of metaphysical questions about reincarnation and stuff like that but…
DB: Well yeah you could pair it back to any game, even Pac-Man, where you’re this character, you’re eating, living, going down these different paths, different directions and choices and you can die, or, you can kill yourself, but you can start again.
SB: But it’s very low stakes. You’re just plonked into this world and you can do anything, as you say, start again, if you want, but it is very low stakes. It’s funny how when you get really, really into a game and start playing it for ages, the stakes are getting higher and higher, people who really care about games and that’s their life, it’s so important to them. Getting through that story, completing it.
DB: Is that because as humans, we like to live outside our own world that’s been created for us, so we seek this sort of escapism, this made up, this other world?
SB: Yeah, it’s strange, when you play a game, you’re a consciousness controlling an avatar in the game. This avatar is ultimately powerless, you’re the one controlling it, so we’re gods essentially when we play games. We are god. So, I find that to be a very profound metaphor for how the universe might be working. It could be that if consciousness is fundamental and it is what’s controlling all these avatars who are us, just having a laugh, seeing what they can do. The stakes might be really low. It might not matter. We might just reincarnate after this but that’s a very linear way of thinking about it.
A lot of people think that it could be that we’re incarnate in multiple different dimensions at the minute or different universes at the same time. There’s no real way for us to actually prove that or anything but I find it a very stimulating way to think about things. Games are important. I don’t play them as much as I used to, obviously (laughing). I don’t have that much time but I think they’re incredibly fascinating and with all the VR technology coming out now, I think it’s going to get deeper and deeper. You know, we cam simulate reality to such an insanely real degree. Really hone that illusion, it’s going to blow people’s minds.
DB: Well yes, shout out to Kit, at Chill Island…
SB: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great podcast.
DB: Yeah I actually ended up listening to another one with Son of the Hound after your one. So let’s jump back a bit, you’re putting a lot of time into the blog at the minute. Where do you want that to go, and what about those people who maybe won’t pull something from your material, the less open minded maybe? Is there a path for it?
SB: Well, I don’t want to force anything on anyone. I’m not dogmatic about anything which is quite duplicitous again, because obviously the blog isn’t dogmatic so if I were to force it upon people (laughing). You know, it wouldn’t really be, THINK THIS! What I’m trying to do, is make people think for themselves, not make them obviously, just invite them as to how amazing it can be to entertain all these different notions.
Originally, I just started writing it because I wanted to write a book. I had this idea I wanted to write a book and had no real way of starting it or what it would be about and I though, I’ll just blog, you know, work my way up slowly. Especially since I hadn’t written in any serious way since uni. In terms of where I see it going, I don’t know, it’s obviously not a money spinner (laughing) It’s very personal at the minute, but part of me would like to get a wee spot doing an article for a local publication, even like a monthly one just to write in a more public form.
DB: WINK WINK
SB: Haha wink wink guys…
DB: Well, we’ve spoke about this, potentially a little "Think Tank" section to the Deadbeat site which I’m open to coming to fruition. I think it’s worthwhile.
SB: I do want to get more people on board, you know. I think the beauty of it, is that, what I’d like to see is a very multi disciplinary approach to things. Get creatives, like artists and more scientifically minded people and philosophically minded people to just actually talk about life and reality and what it actually is because it’s not something that engages a lot of people.
I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing. I can frame this in a lot of ways but I like the Buddhist perspective, where the highest form of Buddha is someone who doesn’t realise that they “are”, and someone who’s just like a cog in society and does their bit and just lives their life and doesn’t really think about any of this stuff. I don’t for a second, put myself above or set myself apart from those people because I see that as a very important aspect of our evolution.
It’s clearly vital that things keep ticking over and you can’t ever really be stuck in either, existential crisis or existential excitation for too long if you’re going to have that kind of life. So I don’t frown upon that and I don’t want to try and convert anyone to anything it’s just, if you have the slightest interest in the actual nature of reality, the nature of being, I’m just trying to invite people to think about it on multiple levels.
DB: So to make the whole circle, let's go back to the music side of things, where do you see the band going? Are you guys recording at the minute?
SB: We are, yeah. I want to say we’re finishing an album. We’ve got about 7 tracks at the minute.
SB: There’s 2 up on Bandcamp, which you can listen to. It’s M-A-T-U-A…Trap (laughing) But we’re near enough finished, it could be good few months yet, we’ve got a few tracks to record and some others are getting more complex as we go along, as we write them and we want to go back and re record a few wee bits. We just want it to be right. It does feel like this sort of weird hibernation phase where we’ve just sort of gone inside ourselves and really engaged with the music. It feels like releasing the album is going to be this sort of "coming out” party (laughing) and it’s be like okay, we can gig and we can seriously do this.
I don’t think the blog would have happened if it weren’t for that more insular period where I was really getting my own head straight or letting it do what it wanted to do (laughing) That’d be more to the point. I still see my ultimate career, if you want to put it that way, being in music and that’s where I get most joy in terms of engaging with people. In terms of my creative outputs, I definitely see that as my most relevant in a social context, if you know what I mean?
DB: Yeah, I suppose you’re making this body of work and then…
SB: The immediacy of music, I think, writing can never trump that. There’s a reason as to why music is the highest of the art forms, you know you can’t fucking pin it down. What even is it? (Laughing)
DB: I suppose with all creative mediums, there’s this sort of emotive quality. It makes you feel…something.
SB: Yeah, which you can’t put into words…
DB: Yeah, and I suppose if you’re creating something and then taking it out there, gigging. You guys did a few shows last year, The Empire…
SB: Yeah, Empire, Voodoo and stuff like that. We played about 6 gigs I think so far and they’ve all been great. Decent turnouts and great feedback and that’s where the bliss is in terms of playing live and writing new tunes. It doesn’t really get much better than that.I only say that writing is more important to me, right now, you know? I feel like it’s something that I need to do.
That’s kind of why I called it “The Blog of Lies” because words are so facile in that way. When you use words, you’re twice removed from reality, whatever the hell it is, ‘cause we have nervous systems that take in data from this thing we call the universe.
That’s once removed and then we interpret that data and through our language systems, we spew it out again. So in that sense, it’s twice removed from reality so that’s kind of why I call it “The Blog Of Lies” because words can never really get at what, this is. Music is more immediate and more spiritually fulfilling, if you want to put it that way, but at the same time, words are fun. (Laughing) It’s so much fun to play with words and write.
DB: Were there any other names before you rested on that? The word "lie" to most people evokes a negative reaction, so why not “The Blog Of Truths”?
SB: There is that big skeptic in me. When people use the word truth, it can be very misleading. It’s almost a more misleading word than “lie”. It gives me this sickly feeling when people say “Here’s the truth.” and I didn’t want it to be evangelical in that sense, like, “ This is the ways things are…” Because ultimately, I don’t know. Anything I say is ostensibly a lie because I have no access to what the actual truth is. No matter how it might engage you, or engage me, shape my approach to life. It’s still not the ultimate truth. But I really enjoy the…I guess there’s a big troll in me, like the trickster kind of quality where I want people to second guess things.
The name just leapt out. This guy, Robert Anton Wilson, who is one intellectual heroes referred to this book by Aleister Crowley, who was this huge occult figure in the early 20th Century. He wrote this book called ‘The Book Of Lies” and I just thought it was such an intriguing title, like, I just want to read that. I also don’t want to take myself too seriously.
DB: Yeah, I think we could all benefit from that.
SB: Humour is really the core drive of my life, I think. I laugh a lot and have done so for as long as I can remember, just being someone who laughs at things from the sublime to the mundane, I just think life is hilarious.
It’s absolutely hilarious, like what-the-fuck hilarious. And I have never been able to explain why that is, it’s just been in my character. I find it really helpful, obviously you have down moments, I get as sad as the next person but the next day or even an hour later I’ll be laughing at it. (Laughing) I think people take things too seriously, you know this gets back to the whole game thing. You could easily convincingly see life as a game and it’s no less engaging or important for that fact.
DB: Completing the circle then, my first interaction or knowledge of your existence was through art college. Obviously you’ve out the pencil down, maybe other than coming to Drink & Draw in the studio here, do you ever see that coming back into your communicative language?
SB: My lexicon…haha
DB: Yes, your lexicon.
Barney: Good word…
DB: That is a good word (Room laughing)
SB: I always tell myself that I’m going to pick up a paint brush again, whether I actually do or not remains to be seen. About a year ago, I tried painting again but i thought about it too much. if I ever do it again, I want it to be really care free, just go for it. But I don’t think, I think visually, I think conceptually and musically and rhythmically much more than I do visually. I think words are much more related to music in that respect, in that they are much more rhythmic, the words let me get the concepts across. Whereas in painting, I think I have a more symbolic sensibility which I might be able to utilise in painting but then I don’t want to overthink things. I do want it to be for it’s own sake.
What you were saying about communication, I feel that currently, the music and the writing are better ways that I can communicate myself essentially. Painting might come back around but I don’t think about it too much.
DB: Is there anything you want to leave, a kind of nugget, so to speak? Is there a thought you could succinctly leave for the people who read this.
SB: (Laughing) It’s 2015 now, and everything is so cliché. We’ve come through post modernism and we all seem kind of lost, it seems to me and I do think that “ Question Everything.” is a good way to live your life and it does seem clichéed but it’s really how I operate now.
Question absolutely everything and that can be on a really skin deep level, with the government side of things and the penny dropping for a lot of people about what’s really going on there, but more broadly just think about existence. It is a gift man. It comes from somewhere and it is something and we don’t know what it is but it’s mind blowing. And, don’t take things too seriously.
DB: Awesome, cheers man!
SB: That was great.