Butterflies on demand

MIKE ROSS

, Last Updated: 5:13 PM ET

Jethro Tull somehow got hold of Feeding Like Butterflies' demo tape. Something about Vicki Gabereau's hairdresser knowing the cousin of a guy in the band.

Tull thinks the tape is "cool," according to Butterflies singer Jason Johnson, who may or may not be Ian Anderson's illegitimate son. Consider the similarities: Both sing in a "unique" style, play rock 'n' roll while occasionally toodling a flute. Both write songs populated by wood gnomes, fairies and sprites and such. Both ponder the impenetrable metaphors found in existential philosophy and so on.

Feeding Like Butterflies are just a little more energetic, that's all. Think Jethro Tull meets Great Big Sea while snowboarding on magic mushrooms with Phish. There's your rough musical mathematical formula. Asked which section in the record store he'd like his band to be racked in, Johnson is coy: "Hopefully the one people are buying lots of records from."

After nearly two years on "hiatus," the Butterflies have returned to Capistrano - the Sidetrack Cafe, actually, where the band is expected to pack the joint tomorrow night. They always do.

The question was raised recently: How long must a band be away to qualify for a comeback when they do come back? Two years of little or no activity is considered the norm, and charity gigs don't count. It's been three years since the band's last album, Inside the Medicine Man, speaking of getting deep. They hardly played at all - until now.

"It's more of an on-demand thing," Johnson explains. "All things converged to cause this date to be booked. Lots of requests from fans, the venue called and asked us to play, everything seems to be lined up. Might as well just play it and have some fun."

For the uninitiated, Feeding Like Butterflies is not an easy band to like. Aside from the lyrical complexity of the songs and the numerous fashion crimes against nature - the last time I saw the band, the singer appeared in a huge coat that appeared to be made out of a psychedelic musk-ox - Johnson sounds like Dave Matthews on a good day, Ethel Merman on a bad day.

Let's just say he has a "unique" voice.

He laughs, "Gee, thanks. I've heard that before. It's just an expressionistic type of thing, very much in keeping in whatever the concept was behind the song. What's really funny is that I can bellow a pretty decent baritone when I want to, but pop music isn't opera."

This next bit Johnson sent via e-mail after he'd had a chance to ponder the issue further: "It's all about storytelling. I write and appreciate an obscure storytelling type of music. Opera is a great storytelling style, but in writing opera, you are apt to develop the scenario and music around a particular, narrowly defined, vocal style. With pop music and other singer-songwriter genres, you have the flexibility to adapt the voice a lot more dramatically to fit the mood or the concept.

"I'm not sure if I write strange music because I have an inherently strange voice. I'm pretty sure it's more the other way around. But I'm an artist, so who knows? Least of all me. That's the explorative, cathartic part, right? This is why I like Cat Stevens, Ian Anderson, Leonard Cohen and others who bend the envelope."

The last two years were taken off because Johnson has a new baby and also because of "the need to distance myself from the music industry to appreciate music and writing again."

It is widely known how the music industry can sour one's taste for actual music.

There's no new album and no concrete plans for one, which is just the way the Butterflies want to keep it. Johnson says he's looking for a "common thread" to string his new songs together, but he's not looking too hard. "We're having too much fun writing right now to formalize anything."

It'll come to him. Meanwhile, fans will get a chance to hear new Butterflies material at the gig. Miss Supernova may sound like the title of a summery pop song heralding a bold change in direction, but like many aspects to this band, there are deeper, hidden meanings.

Johnson explains, "It's about a passionate relationship. It's not a personal but situational, mixed between healthy and unhealthy. It's like when you trip and hit your head, there might be a purpose to it. You might see something on the ground you've never seen before. Relationships can be like that."

So can rock bands, brother.


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