Letlive's Jason: "They shot at our windows. At my mom."
How Letlive's frontman went from the ghetto to greatness.
"I believe so strongly in what I do, I don’t want it extinguished or lessened by the fear of death.” Sitting on a sofa on the top floor of Metal Hammer’s offices is Jason Aalon Alexander Butler, lying back into his seat and eating some snacks from a nearby café. Despite the weight of his words, he’s unassuming, genuinely polite and well-spoken – and he might just be the most vital voice in alternative music today. His band Letlive are infamous for their anarchic live shows – of which Jason is always the ringleader – and their powerful, emotive, socially and politically aware lyrics. Fourth album If I’m The Devil... is the most compelling and captivating of their career so far, withcrosshairs pointed firmly at the often taboo subjects of racism, feminism and sexuality. Of those three topics, the concept of race is very much at the top of Jason’s hit list. With a white mother and a black father, Jason grew up in the predominantly black area of Inglewood, California, with his younger sister and older half-brother. Crime, guns and gangs were on his doorstep – in fact, as he reveals to Hammer today, they were often too close for comfort.
“Some people came and shot our neighbour, so my mom came out and started yelling at them. Then they shot our windows out trying to shoot my mom,” Jason says, a degree of jadedness in his voice hinting that it was nothing out of the ordinary in the life he used to lead. “When you gotta try extra hard to make sure you reach your destination, whether that’s not getting caught by the police or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, it gives you thick skin, but also a sense of endurance.”
However, avoiding trouble wasn’t always an option. At times, Jason had such disregard for his own skin he’d find himself in life-threatening situations, something alluded to in new track Another Offensive Song, in which he worries his “big mouth” will get him shot.
“People from different gangs turned up at my prom, and I was with my friends who associated themselves with another gang. I got called over by some dude who held a gun to a part of the body that is… vital. If he’d pulled the trigger, that would have been it. I said things I shouldn’t have said when he had the gun to me, but for some reason he didn’t do it.”
While Jason was able to count his blessings that day, not everyone manages to escape the barrel of a gun. Having seen his friend shot and killed in front of his mom’s house, the singer is keen not to sensationalise or romanticise gang culture.
“This shit is not cool,” he states firmly. “There’s a really big misunderstanding of what it’s like to be around violence. I’m not any cooler because someone pulled a gun on me. It’s this weird, twisted perversion of our environment and I do not wish to perpetuate it at all.”
Gang violence is rarely reported on with any degree of magnitude in the media. Stabbings and shootings have long been commonplace in areas such as Inglewood, Compton and South Central, yet there has been a lack of coverage from national TV and newspapers. However, in the past two years there has been a noticeable rise in the reporting of white cops killing black people in the street. Cases like Eric Garner, who died as a result of an chokehold applied by an NYPD officer, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot for playing with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland. Neither police officerwas indicted for their actions.
“My friend’s brother in Long Beach was shot by a police officer and was said to look like he was reaching for a gun, when in fact he was not armed,” reveals Jason. “He had no gang affiliation, no gang injunction they could place on him. He’s seen the Reaper by the hand of a police officer.”