Nobody writes like Blake Butler. The Marietta-based author and editor has spent over a decade sharpening a stylishly grotesque approach to storytelling that draws comparisons to everyone from Dennis Cooper to Williams S. Burroughs. His words and ideas twist and turn inward, dissecting themselves, and revealing layers of depth and multiple meanings that linger in the mind long after the page is turned. With his latest novel, Alice Knott (Riverhead Books), Butler weaves an hypnotic and wildly inventive story about the destructive act of finding meaning in art, and navigating a world that grows more corrupt by the minute.
On Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. (EST), Butler will join Atlanta Music writer Chad Radford and A Cappella Books for a discussion of his new book and more. The conversation is free to attend via Zoom. Click here to join the event.
In January, post-punk outfit Algiers released their third album, There Is No Year via Matador Records. The album takes its name from Butler’s dystopia third novel. Before Butler’s talk, Algiers guitar player Lee Tesche took a few minutes to talk about Butler’s influence on the group.
Chad Radford: This year, Algiers released a new album that takes its title from Blake Butler’s 2011 novel, There Is No Year.
Lee Tesche: Yes. I met Blake in probably 1997, or maybe it ’98. … Someone recently posted a handbill from the DIY show listings back in the ‘90s on the Old School Atlanta Musicians Facebook group. The handbill had a listing for the first show that Blake and I played together. I was in F-64 and Blake was in Manhattan. It was at Sprockets, which was a bike shop in Roswell that hosted DIY shows for about a year. That was kind of when we met—we met through music and playing in bands in the late ‘90s. We went to different high schools, but it was through that show that we got to know each other. We’ve known each other for a really long time now, and, funny enough, There Is No Year is not the first album that I’ve done that had a Blake reference in the title. The first Lyonnais record, Want For Wish For Nowhere, is also named after a chapter in Blake’s book Scorch Atlas.
I had no idea.
The title for Algiers record There Is No Year, happened in a more roundabout way: it was suggested by my bandmates, whom I think didn’t realize that either. It made me laugh, and I said, ‘okay, cool. That’ll be my second Blake-related record!’
I remember seeing Blake play with the band Sleep Therapy at MJQ, probably 15 years ago, back when MJQ still did shows in the big room.
Blake is an awesome individual, and I’m curious to hear how he’s doing these days, and to hear him talk about the new book. I’ve been living in Florida since the pandemic started, and I haven’t seen much of anyone. But the new book is on my list.
I am a slow reader, and have found that with Blake’s books I need to read some lines, or sometimes entire chapters, twice just to make sure I fully comprehend what he’s saying.
I am the exact same way, and I read Blake even more slowly than usual, because he does so much with language. I’ll pour over every single word—more than I do with anything else that I read—to the point where I’ll do that too, read sentences and passages over and over again, just to make sure I’m pulling the full meaning that he was trying to get across.
Blake has a way of honing in on an idea, even if it’s a passing thought, a character trait, or a description; he’ll say it one way and then say it again in four different sentences in four different ways. It’s like he’s doing loops around his ideas and the details he wants to convey. I’ve never encountered anyone who writes like this.
Yeah, and after I had reached out to him to let him know that we were calling the record There Is No Year, and hopefully get his blessing, I thought it would make sense to have him write the bio for the record—to send out for press. He was into it, and he was happy to write the bio. He’s written a ton of music reviews, but he kind of hinted that there are several people out there who’d be a lot better, and who have more experience in writing bios. But I was like, ‘No! This is super appropriate for this album!’ And so he wrote his first draft of the bio in the language of that book. I thought it was brilliant. But Matador and the publishing people took one look at it and said “no … Absolutely not. We can’t send this out to writers!” I thought it was such a clever way to go about writing a bio for a record that’s named after his book. And it was just really clever stuff.
Are there overlapping themes between the book and Algiers’ album?
I read the book when it came out in 2011. I remember both Farbod Kokabi, who designed the album’s cover art, and I read the book at same time, and it took both of us like three or four months to finish it. We went through it really slowly, and it felt like an accomplishment when we both finished.
Our bass player Ryan Mahan has always been a huge fan of Blake’s work as well. When we were finishing the record, Ryan was reading Franklin [James Fisher]’s song lyrics. Frank had just been pulling from his own literary tradition—actually, I think Frank and Blake went to highschool together in Marietta in the late ‘90s. Anyway, when Ryan was reading Frank’s stuff it reminded him of the spirit of Blake’s writing, particularly in that book. Thematically, it was dealing with much of the same subject matter. Ryan suggested the titles as a kind of tribute to Blake, and a nod to some of the overlapping similarities that we saw, and it stuck.
Now it’s such an amazingly prophetic thing to have taken for the title of a record that came out within the first weeks of 2020. Many people have thought it was an original concept on our end, or something like that, and have reached out to ask about the title. It always goes back to Blake.
He’s an incredible writer. He’s written countless record reviews for Allmusic. He’s written a lot of nonfiction kind of essays as well, which are brilliant. He used to have that Vice column that I would read regularly, which I always thought was clever and brilliant. Many, many moons ago—back when doing these kind of Jackass-like stunts seemed like a cool thing to do—myself, Blake, Farbod, and our friend Tom Bruno went to a Ryan’s Steakhouse and tried to eat from open till close on the $3.99 or $4.99 buffet admission. Blake wrote an incredible essay about our 17 hours eating at the Ryan Steakhouse. I’ve always been a fan of his nonfiction writing, too, because it reads in a different way than all of his fiction stuff. He’s such a master of language in that sense. He’s a great communicator, but he can also convey ideas with words and meaning in interesting ways.
On Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. (EST), Butler will join Atlanta Music writer Chad Radford and A Cappella Books for a discussion of his new novel, Alice Knott, and more.
The conversation is free to attend via Zoom. Click here to join the event.