Before his band has even released its new album, Battle of Flowers, with a live concert Friday, April 14, at the Empire Theatre, Buttercup lead singer Erik Sanden’s imagination already is leaping ahead to future possibilities.
Once you’ve wandered through the bowels of historic musical theaters and built your own stage to play a different show every Monday for a whole year, it’s a logical next step as a musician to seek the biggest – or tallest – venue to explore your art in.
“I want to take 100 people into the Alamodome, an experiment in icy distance versus extreme intimacy,” Sanden said. “The Tower of Americas would be nice, too – play elevator music while people ride up.”
The band, which is entering its third decade, hasn’t played a featured show since its artistically savvy and musically dynamic exploration of the Majestic/Empire Theatre complex in May 2016, during which audience members were taken backstage and through the catacombs of the adjoining theaters.
Instead, the longtime San Antonio favorites have been saving up their creative fuel to run at full steam this Friday. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.
“Something wild will happen at the live show,” Sanden said. “A lot of what we’ll do is just enjoy songs from the new record.”
The album is an exploration of brand new tunes, songs that change every time they’re played, and a handful of compositions that have been waiting patiently to be pressed into vinyl’s perpetuity.
“The song ‘Acting Thru Music’ was inspired by Liza Minelli, [and] the idea of bands who still care about performance,” Sanden said. “And ’68 Playmate’ was one of the first songs I wrote, maybe back in 1995.”
Regardless if it’s the dream sequence smack in the middle of “Vicious Rewind” or the ethereal harmonies and sentimentality of “Champagne From Spain,” every track maintains the same youthful exploration that is Buttercup, while registering a more patient sense of maturity, which Sanden confessed is not an accident.
“I originally was a tight player, fast and hard, but SA sunk its teeth into me and I can finally play calmly. It feels and sounds better,” Sanden said. “The city has done that to me – made me love basketball and Morrissey and heavy metal.”
Yet in a relationship that Sanden deems “a marriage,” the development of the band – Sanden plus guitarist Joe Reyes and bassist Odie – only happens through the members’ support for one another.
“We’ve been there through all kinds of losses and victories that we’ve shared together on stage and with our families,” Sanden said. “I never tire of Odie or Joe’s companionship. We all feel so strongly about music, it makes us all feel alive.”
Over the course of that long-term friendship, the band has felt pressure to become a more traditional rock band.
“We spent some toiling in the industry,” Sanden said. “It’s not really us. Our best performances are the ones off the beaten path, off the path into the ditch.”
The evolution of the members and the music is often a direct reflection of the city that has opened up to their whimsical expression.
“The city has changed and the city has remained the same. The band Buttercup has changed and remained the same,” Sanden said. “San Antonio has been off the map for so long, people have no idea that we are at least 23% cooler than Austin – 23% to 28%, actually.”
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The group’s most explicitly patriotic tune from Battle of Flowers – conveniently released just two weeks before the Fiesta parade of the same name – is the riotous and righteous “Henry B. Gonzalez.”
“It is a love song to San Antonio as much as a pride song for civil rights,” Sanden said. “We have a fierce love for our city.”
The city seems to share that love, as leaders at the Majestic and Empire theaters have collaborated multiple times with Buttercup and other local bands to support them on one of the city’s premier stages.
“Doing the release at the Empire is a step in a long-term collaboration with the folks there,” Sanden said. “They [passed on] bigger shows because they believe in us, and have a similarity of vision. The Empire feels like home to us.”