Jason Aalon Butler has never exactly been a shy, retiring type.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Fever 333 want you to know there’s strength in numbers. Since the promise of debut single, ‘We’re Coming In’, the band have loudly, proudly and passionately shared their mantra of the three c’s with soul-prickling conviction. Community, Charity and Change provide the foundation for this revolution while their debut album tears down anything standing in their way. You feel that? There’s a fever coming.
“I want people to feel power,” starts frontman Jason Aalon Butler. “I want them to feel the power they have within themselves. I want them to know the sense of power they get from being represented by others that speak to them and along with them but never for them. Very simply put, it’s power. I hope we can offer power on this album.”
Last year was a whirlwind for Fever 333, “but in the best way possible.” Their debut EP ‘Made An America’ was released with no warning in March then two months later, they did the same again with the gun violence questioning of ‘Trigger’. There was a surprise appearance at Download Festival, a scheduled but no less raucous demonstration at Reading & Leeds before a bounce around Europe with Bring Me The Horizon saw them take control of countless arenas and make it look easy.
There was also the small matter of a Grammy nomination in Best Rock Performance for ‘Made An America’, which was “not anything I expected,” Jason reflects. “It wasn’t something I’d put on my list of things to do in 2018, but it’s cool to be recognised by our peers and by an industry that I see as rather antiquated. It’s an interesting place for us to exist, among the recording academy but it’s cool.”
Fever 333 have been followed by a swell of excitement, embraced with open arms and hungry hearts. It’s not just because they make music you can thrash around to, or because their live show is a carnival of chaos. It’s a band formed on belief, preaching belief, offering reasons to believe.
“I hoped that the things I was feeling would offer representation to others that may feel the same way. That’s politically, but also emotionally and artistically. With this band, I wanted to challenge the ideas and conventions that I thought were a bit tired across politics and art. It’s nice for this project to be received the way it has been, but a lot of it has to do with the people themselves. The people, they wanted this, and they created it. We’re just a reflection of what we’ve observed in society.”
In everything they do, Fever 333 refuse to wait or second-guess themselves. It’s heart-led, gut-driven. There’s no time to wait.
“I had a kid at the end of 2017, and that kicked me into gear with everything in my life, even artistically. It’s made my decisions in life a lot easier. Every decision I’ve made for this project has been led by the idea of my son and what he represents, which is the future and the youth.”
‘Made An America’ was full of broad strokes, big statements and wild freedom. Crashing out the gates, it had a lot to say and not much space to say it. ‘Strength In Numb333rs’, for all its kinetic charge and wide-eyed excitement, is more considered. The band know what they’re here for and the record stands firmly with unwavering focus.
Some of that’s down to time, but for the most past it comes from “observing how the project was received,” Jason explains. “People understood that this was a socio-political effort that was being made through music. That gave me the fuel to dive directly and deeply into the issues that needed to be discussed. I knew what I wanted this band to be the moment it was unveiled.
“This is an idea I’ve had and been working on for years. I knew what I wanted from it, but now I’ve seen it actualised. It’s manifested in a very tangible way, and I now see its potential.”
From day one, Fever 333 have moved fast and furiously. It’s been constant flashpoints of brilliance and then onto the next thing. People haven’t had a chance to predict their future.
“That is exactly the way that I would want to usher in this new album,” grins Jason. “Things have moved so quickly and in an unusual manner. For this album to come out and be so varied and eclectic, I don’t think it’ll catch anyone off guard or that anybody necessarily knows what to expect, but it will excite them. That’s the name of the game with this band: exciting people and empowering them.”
That excitement is why Fever 333 have moved so quickly. It’s also why Jason has given it everything.
The first spark of Fever 333 came about after Jason and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker were introduced through a mutual friend. They started talking music, obviously, and arranged to meet up alongside producer John Feldmann on Superbowl Sunday 2017.
Ideas about music, the state of the world and the status quo were shared. Words soon turned to action, and more inspirational friends recruited to the cause.
“Myself, the boys Stephen [Harrison, guitar] and Aric [Improta, drums], but also Travis and John – that’s our collective. Every time I stepped into the studio with someone in the collective, we left with a song. Literally every single time.”
‘Burn It’ was the third song they ever wrote. ‘Animal’ was the fourth.
“I had access to two amazing studios, John’s and Travis’ at any time I wanted. And I did.”
Jason would start an idea at one, go home and have dinner with his wife, put his son to bed, then head out to the other. It came together very quickly because “no one says no,” he explains. “No one is inhibiting; no one presents hurdles. Everybody and everything is about expression. It’s daring, we get to take risks, but it’s easy.
“Everyone is so willing. This is the easiest, most encouraging environment I’ve ever been in artistically, without a doubt.”
Each member of the collective comes from a different musical world and listens to such different things that every Fever 333 song has to go across the panel and make sense, in some way, to each of them.
There was a similarly democratic setup for Jason’s 2016 album ‘If I’m The Devil…’ with his other band, letlive., but rather than finding the differing opinions inspirational, it left them spread “pretty thin, emotionally and personally.”
Still, the initial plan was to do Fever alongside letlive.
“I was like, I’ll just run them both, and that’s that. As I was doing that, one of them was moving in such a way that I had to give it the attention. Fever made me feel I had to invest; it also offered a compare and contrast. It showed me what [letlive.] meant to me and everyone else at the time. It was so special that I wanted to make sure it was remembered as such.”
Twelve weeks after that first hang out with Travis and John, letlive. announced their breakup.
“When it comes to making art it’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to love it, feel inspired and share that art with other people. When we were creating ‘If I’m The Devil…’ that idea of creating together and the very disparate thoughts and beliefs started to make letlive. take a turn that would have been damaging for the idea that was letlive.. That’s why it happened.
“With Fever it became so clear to me – I was having such a good time, making so much art and being so encouraged. I was being told I could say whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want. Honestly, it was so nurturing for my health and my artistic wellbeing. This was the move that I had to make in order to keep letlive. special to everyone, myself included.”
Jason has been telling personal stories through music for years, but this time it’s different. There are tales he’s told in interviews to explain his thought process behind certain letlive. songs that, for the first time, he sings about on Fever’s debut, ‘Strength In Numb333rs’. This record sees him direct, fearless and at peace with what led him here.
“I got more comfortable with my past and who I know that I am, rather than the person I was afraid to be perceived as. I’m now way more comfortable in explaining that yes, I’ve been arrested and spent the night in jail because of an issue with a police officer,” he explains.
In 2007, Jason was arrested for assaulting a police officer after being stopped, beaten and choked when trying to walk a friend home from a party. It was later determined in court that the officer was in the wrong.
“Yes, I grew up on welfare, and yes, I lived in an underserved community,” he continues. “Growing up poor gives you a complex. You see the inequality in the everyday; you fear the unknown. You’re on the outside, and the world is going to try and keep you there. Having to deal with authority who see you as less because of where you’re from or the colour of your skin only increases that distance and makes the struggle even harder.
“I used to worry about being perceived as someone who may feel sorry for themselves, so I wouldn’t speak about it or write about it so directly. My wife has helped me become way more comfortable with who I am. If I know who I am and what I mean by the things that I’m saying, I can now explain myself in a way where I don’t have to fear what people may perceive me as.
“With this album and this project, I wanted to make sure there was no question as to what I was talking about. We have to be very, very distilled in this message and talk about the sense of empowerment that I believe is systemically taken from people every single day. I made sure I distilled my own truth so I could offer a sense of authenticity.”
There’s no better example of this than ‘Inglewood’. A warts-and-all autobiography of growing up poor and downtrodden, that song “really is a roadmap of my life,” he says. It starts with where Jason was born and “the eerie irony that there’s a fucking cemetery across the street from the hospital,” before leading you down “the streets I got beat up on, the street where my friend was shot.”
“I’m trying to offer a glimpse into why I may feel the way I do, why I may say the things I say and why I behave in the manner in which I behave at times,” Jason explains.
The track is an opportunity to look into someone else life and feel empathy.
“I don’t necessarily want the empathy myself,” starts Jason. “But I want people to feel empathetic, to take that and then apply it to other people, other stories, other environments, and other cultures. Perhaps they’ll then see them in a more positive or understanding manner.”
The reason ‘Strength In Numb333rs’ connects with such fire, offers such power and moves you in the way that it does, is because of how close the band are to it. Rather than observing inequality, injustice and prejudice with the luxury of distance, Fever 333 have been on the front line.
“Obviously there’s the strong political element on this record,” explains Jason, “but ultimately it’s about acknowledging and elucidating the issues that I personally have been observing for quite some time now.”
“I was seven, watching riots… you watched the news, I lived in it,” Jason sings on ‘Inglewood’ before going on to talk about his police officer brother, one of the few people that he completely trusts and who inspires him to be a better person.
“He came home bloody; he was trying to keep the peace. Now I hear a whole new meaning when they scream ‘fuck the police’.”
It’s just one example of Fever 333 showing you that things are never simply black and white.
‘One Of Us’ is an important moment on a record that shudders with importance and creates lasting moments with every agile, glittering twist.
“It’s talking about stripping away the constructs that keep us separated. Whether we want to believe it or not, we share a lot more similarity than differences. I know it sounds fucking cliché, ‘we are all one person’.
“It’s just me speaking my truth. It’s hard for someone to tell me that this isn’t true when it’s what I’ve experienced. My background in being bi-racial has offered me a unique perspective on a lot of these issues. Hopefully, there are elements that speak to other people. They don’t have to be a bi-racial dude from Inglewood playing hip-hop infused punk rock to get it. That’s the beauty of storytelling, but I’ve also made a point to educate myself on a lot of these issues, beyond just what I’ve experienced, so that I can speak about them in a way that is informed.
“Really though, none of this is necessarily about me. None of this is necessarily about the project. We are simply a representation of what we observe in society around the world. We’d rather speak alongside people, instead of for them.”
Across the record, there’s this idea of taking the past and tearing it down. Destruction of the old to offer space for the new. “Sometimes you gotta burn it down to build it up again,” screams ‘Burn It’ while ‘Out Of Control’ chants, “We built our future by burning down our past.”
All around us are “these very archaic ideas that rest on patriarchal, racist and power leveraged foundations,” Jason explains. “There are institutional hurdles that we all run into. Those things need to be eradicated if we want to move forward. That’s just the truth. It’s not conjecture, or bias, or opinion. That’s the truth.
“Politics is about power, and policy was put in place to keep people in power. There are hierarchies, and we call it order. When I say ‘we built our future by burning down our past’ it’s about if you want to move forward, you have to pay attention to the faults that we have made in the past. It’s uncomfortable when discussing or realising those mistakes, but it’s worth that discomfort to analyse them for a better future.”
And Fever 333’s foundations for that better future is the triple threat of Community, Charity and Change.
“We have to have something, right?” asks Jason. “As a band, you have to have a mantra that informs the project, especially if you’re making efforts towards activism. If we were to focus on these three things a little bit more, we would be in a better place. We’d all be able to help ourselves, and each other, a little better.”
Like the saying goes, an injury to one is an injury to all. But if one person does better, it’ll have a knock on effect.
“It affects the family in a positive way, which affects the community, which affects the environments, which affects the state or the country and, this is a bit of hyperbole, but it affects the world.”
It’d change it for the better.
“I want to represent things that I think are positive. I want to walk the walk. I want to be that change I want to see in the world.”
“As long as we feel we’re doing a service to the movement that is already happening,” Fever 333 will keep charging forward. “And I see that everyday because people are supporting this band in such a way that I truly feel overwhelmed. I see people supporting us, believing in us and spreading the message through that word of mouth. It’s just incredible. People are so fucking impressive. People impress me, they blow me away, and they inspire me everyday.
“Here’s the thing though. We are not the movement. We are advocates of the movement. We are allies to the movement, but the movement is the people. We are simply writing a soundtrack; that’s what this whole idea is. As long as we can offer something to that, we will continue.
“The larger idea of this whole project, the idea of strength in numbers, is that we must eventually find a way to work together, even in our disparity. Even with our cultural and ideological differences, the largest sense of power and strength will come from solidarity.
“The power we seek, it’s inherent to us as a people, but if we want to amplify it, maximise it and optimise the idea of that power, we must share it.”
There’s a strength in numbers, and Fever 333 are making sure it counts. As the victory promise of their debut album’s closing track declares, “Together, that’s how we win. We, the people, fight the power to maintain our power. And when we win, because you know we will, it’s all power to all people.”
Fever 333’s album ‘Strength in Numb333rs’ is out now.