Friday Night is a live album of performances from Will Butler’s tour supporting Policy, his first album. It was recorded mostly at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on June 4, 2015. Five of the songs are from Policy, two are songs Will wrote for the Guardian newspaper last year, and five are new.
This record exists partly because I had a really good band, and I wanted to document it. Miles Arntzen (EMEFE, Antibalas) played drums (standing up at a full kit—he didn’t use a hi-hat pedal, so he could stand on that leg while working the kick drum with the other). Julie Shore played synth bass. Sara Dobbs played synth leads and Mellotron pads. Everybody sang backing vocals.
We started almost every show with “You Must Be Kidding.” Not only does it build nicely, but the chorus lyric is literally “It’s only just begun.” The blend of humor, Lord of the Flies, and the end of the world also set the right tone for the show to come. But I thought the album should start in medias res to welcome the listener into a sweaty room with a tired, happy band and a loose crowd. So the album starts with the encore “Tell Me We’re All Right” which was only ever played once, and this is the recording of it. We never soundchecked it. It wasn’t even written yet (you might be able to tell). But Miles plays some magical fills, Sara and Julie jump in with good harmonies, and the crowd even begins a spontaneous call-and-response at the end (“You’re all right!”).
This record also exists because I wrote a lot of new songs and the band got good at playing them, and I wanted to put them out to the wider world. Sometimes an artist will take a new song into the studio and polish it until there’s nothing left. I wanted these songs to avoid that fate. “Sun Comes Up” is a love song. “Public Defender” is literally about a group of public defenders—friends from Nashville. Modern justice, in their approximate words: “It’s fucking worse than the ’70s out here. We’re going backwards.” The song “II” is liveliness and texture and energy. “Friday Night,” the other encore, is accurate insofar as I have never been drunk nor stoned (though on the Policy tour, I did get very slightly tipsy at a winery tour in Yakima, Washington, on the way from Sasquatch! to Portland).
Think of this as a comedy record. In some ways literally—Brooklyn comedian Jo Firestone does the introduction and the “solo” in “Friday Night”—but also, it’s an album based on working out ideas in a room full of people, playing off their energy and expectations. It’s about taking complicated emotions and wringing communal joy from them, and then translating that joy onto record. So here you go!
—Will Butler, March 2016