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Butch Walker: musician, rocker, Georgia boy. Composer of dozens of songs that stick in your head; Choruses you want to sing (or shout) along to; Purveyor of authentic stories of exploits and predicaments and romance that are filled with optimism; Architect of albums that have few boundaries, embracing hard rock and ballads, pop rock, Americana and singer-songwriter. Or, as Butch says, “I think it’s all just rock & roll.”

Stay Gold is Butch’s 8th album. The last one, 2015’s Ryan Adams’ produced Afraid Of Ghosts, was a cathartic record that dealt with a devastating personal experience, the passing of his father. This one’s a celebration. In Butch’s words, “After coming out of the AOG album cycle and tour where, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I spent a lot of time on stage bawling my eyes out, I felt a very calm sense of peace. Like I’d done what I needed to do to get it outta my system. Every song that came after that was almost a nostalgic, celebratory … for lack of a better word – “jam.” And the songs just kept coming to me (snaps fingers three times), which was good cos that’s not always the case!”

You’ll find that the stories on Stay Gold are very well fleshed out, something Butch credits to “growing up on some of those dudes – Elton John and the (Bernie) Taupin lyrics, Springsteen and Joel. I love that stuff. I had a buddy, Matt Marston, who was actually dating my sister back in the early 90s. He was a songwriter and ended up being a pretty big unsung influence on me because – well, there’s no escaping the fact that I had a hair metal band in the late 80s / early 90s and it was a lot of fun but it wasn’t always very broad, lyrically. I certainly listened to people whose words blew my mind, like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and others, but I couldn’t cop it. I didn’t even understand how to go about it. And this guy, Matt, opened my mind. He could paint these vivid pictures and stories … so, I asked him how he did it. He told me, ‘I just kind of pay attention to my surroundings, sitting on the subway or the bus and I see a guy over in the corner reading the paper, he’s maybe like fifty-five-years-old, sixty-years–old, and I’m wondering what his story is.’ For some reason, the light bulb went off in my head. I gotta give it to that guy, Matt, for helping me figure it out.” That long ago ’eureka moment’ still informs Butch’s writing and the material on Stay Gold is clearly his most articulate to date. When asked if the stories are real or imagined, he replies, “All the songs are half true.”

The new album kicks off with the title song, a straight-ahead rocker, loaded with swagger and lyrics that call out native GA locales. It’s a tale Butch says is “about being from a shit-dead-end-town and not having a glimmer of hope. I wanted this record to somehow spin all of those negative stories into a positive light.” The title comes from a borrowed catch-phrase – ‘Stay gold, Ponyboy’ – from the S.E. Hinton novel (and later, a Coppola film), The Outsiders. “It became a positive send-off, to tell somebody to not give up hope, ‘Stay gold’, ya know?”

The freedom one senses from a Butch Walker album is a big part of the attraction. He makes them exactly the way he wants to and never does the same kind of record twice. And he’s able to do that for two reasons: First off, on the financial side, he’s produced and/or co-written with the likes of Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Pink, Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift, which pays a lot of bills. “I love helping other people make their music. It feels good to get outside of my own box.” Secondly, in artistic terms, he’s with a label that gives him a lot of elbow room, Dangerbird Records. “Jenni (Sperandeo) and those guys over there have been great. They let me do the creative part, they do the business part and it’s awesome!”

Having ace players on Stay Gold, like keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Beck, AIR), drummer Mark Stepro (Ben Kweller, Keith Urban, Panic! At The Disco) and Suzanne Santos (HoneyHoney) on backing vocals and violin, adds to the considerable strength of the recordings. “It’s been fun to listen to it in the car. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to my records after I do ‘em. And it’s a blast to drive down the PCH and listen. I wanted to make that kind of record.”

When Reuben Bidez sings, he opens his heart and projects a vulnerability that draws you into his intimate portraits of lovers facing the pleasures and woes of romance. “I want to write songs that explore real emotions,” he says. “Songs that awaken people from their slumber of distraction and make them feel something.” On Turning To Wine, his first EP, he’s as good as his word. He delivers a collection of inviting melodies and insightful lyrics that illuminate the mysteries of the soul, with a vision informed by sorrow, uncertainty and the warmth of unconditional love. The songs are a record of the transitions he’s been going through since he moved to Nashville from Atlanta. “The record is a snapshot of the changes I’ve been experiencing in my marriage and my music, for the last two and a half years. They’re more honest and open than anything I’ve written before.”

Bidez worked with Grammy winning producer Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay, Humming House, The Kicks, Ryan Horne, Rob Blackledge) to capture the dynamics of a live performance, with arrangements that move from warm, ambient overtones to the brittle chiming of electric guitars. Bidez plays acoustic12-string on the title track to support his hushed vocal, slipping into a doleful falsetto to underline his message of fidelity. When the band joins him for the closing bridge, consecrated organ and mournful harmonies underscore the painful realization that even the

most dedicated love may have its limits. On “Intruder,” the dark tones of a spectral cello adds resonance to the hesitant phrasing Bidez uses to break familiar words into unexpected shapes and give them new meaning. Icy sustained notes from a slide guitar and keening vocal harmonies intensify the sentiments of “Can We Survive.” It’s a question most lovers ask themselves and Bidez answers with a resounding “yes,”

supported by a soaring string section and his jubilant vocals. The pealing 12-string guitar returns to highlight “Holding On,” the record’s quiet final track, another testament to unlimited devotion in the face of life’s uncertainties. “This album takes the listener on a journey through the ups and downs of a relationship,” Bidez says. “We deal with hope, fear, betrayal and disappointment every day. I find it challenging to address those emotions in a four minute song.”

Reuben Bidez grew up in Fayetteville, GA, a small town near Atlanta. He’s been singing and performing for as long as he can remember. “In grammar school, I was always the class clown,” he says. “I’d do anything for a laugh, but I didn’t really hit my stride until I joined the chorus.”

Bidez taught himself to play guitar after landing a job in a small mom and pop music store. “They gave me a job, despite the fact that I didn’t know how to play guitar. I learned on the job and discovered I had a natural musical ability. I started playing for my church youth group’s Wednesday night services. Not everyone would show up each week, so I taught myself bass and drums, to fill in for whoever was missing.”

During his years at Georgia Tech, Bidez started a rock band. They toured the Southeast and put out two EPs and an album before disbanding. Bidez had been writing upbeat pop tunes during his church years, but the songs he wrote for the band had a more personal, introspective tone. After graduation, he stayed in Atlanta, performing at open mics; the songs he put up on ReverbNation won him thousands of followers, but he was struggling to find his place in the Atlanta music scene. After some soul searching, he felt his best career move was to relocate to Nashville. “It was a leap of faith, but I had to do it. The fact that thousands of others are here trying their hardest, makes me want to try harder.”

The move to Nashville gave his career the expected boost. He put out Colors In My Eyes, a self-produced acoustic EP, released a single called

“Learning to Love You,” and landed a video of “Can We Survive” on the American Songwriter website. The magazine praised the music’s “rich, soulful sound.” Bidez will be touring to support Turning to Wine, both solo and with a five-piece band. “The band shows are more raucous than the record,” he says. “Live, we can reinvent the songs, stretch out a bit and give them a different feel.”

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