Caity Shaffer and Shane Butler open up about their new LP, Living Theatre.
When I ring up Caity Shaffer and Shane Butler to talk about the psych-folk duo’s latest record as Olden Yolk, I find them working on a new one.
“We were hoping to start the new record today and were wondering if you’d collaborate on it,” Shane says, in between muffled guitar strums. “Are you recording this?”
The three of us joke back and forth about my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what could be a Voice Memo-recorded album. But given the title of and intention behind their new LP, Living Theatre, it isn’t hard to imagine these two casting their next record on the fly.
On Living Theatre, Olden Yolk preserve the psychedelic, knotty folk of their first record, while leaning into a darker instrumental palette. Shaffer and Butler have transformed their poetry into an ambitious record whose boundless atmosphere complements the duo’s affectionate lyrics.
Living Theatre is out May 17 via Trouble in Mind.
AdHoc: How did you first come into contact with the work of the Living Theatre? When did you decide to use that as the title?
Caity Shaffer: It was something that just popped up in my subconscious. When we were writing “Distant Episode” it came up as a perfect fit for one of the lines I was writing. I had known about the movement and it was inspiring for our songwriting situation, where we gave ourselves a constrained period of time of three months in [Los Angeles] to write and record the album. We wanted to push each other’s boundaries and work collaboratively on these songs. The Living Theatre’s mission was to counteract complacency through this direct spectacle, and we were inspired by that.
Shane Butler: Caity brought it up and it made perfect sense with what we were working on. The Living Theatre itself was an extremely collaborative movement that focused on working with the audience and constantly jumping mediums. Particularly when it comes to social media, it speaks to how we live today. Living theater [is] always taking place. So the title looks backward and forward at the same time, honoring the past and the future, which is something we’ve always tried to do as a band.
Caity: It’s hard to put that fourth wall back up, when you’re so enmeshed in social media platforms.
Do either of you have experience in theater?
Caity: Not at all. I was painfully shy until I was in my 20s. But I was obsessed with plays and musicals. I liked Les [Miserables], Sound of Music. That’s what we sing in the tour van.
Shane: I’ve always been really into performance—I started doing music at 14. But skateboarding for me is a really performative, theatrical act. There’s so many ways to create theatre.
Where did you write the album?
Caity: We were in-between tours in [Los Angeles]. It was a challenge to have the time constraints, but it was also thrilling. I wouldn’t change anything.
Shane: We took a long period of time with the first record, and we wanted to really capture these songs fresh, as they were being written. For them to be living artifacts of that time. Looking back we always wish we had more time. Particularly with the actual recording.
What was the first track that came into focus on the album?
Shane: It’s hard to pinpoint, because we were working on a bunch of songs at the same time. The whole batch was coming alive at once. We looked at all the songs collectively and worked them into one another. We were taking them immediately from writing in an upstairs room to recording in a windowless studio downstairs.
Caity: There were fragments from older songs, so those may have been the first. I started writing “Blue Paradigm” when I was eighteen. So that one took about a decade to finish.
Shane: We share a lot of song fragments with each other. We would go through each other’s old recordings [and] what we had from stuff on tour. We chose the ones that we kept going back to, or that related well to the other material.
Caity: All in all, we must have gone through about 100 songs. It was pretty exhausting. The first thing we did was revisit the past and see if there’s anything we wanted to bring to life now.
What track was the most rewarding to complete?
Shane: One that was really fun to work on in the studio, was “Grand Palais.” The process was extremely collaborative. It started with a very vague form of a song, but once we got into the room together, weaving the vocals in, and then adding Booker Stardrum’s percussion, it became it’s complete own thing—a mistake that we caught and reformed. It felt really alive in the studio.
Caity: “Grand Palais” was really gratifying. We had so many friends playing on that. We were joking that it sounded like a Jeep commercial at one point. We meant [that] in a complimentary way—it just sounded very outside of ourselves [and] became this mess of sound. I’d also say “Castor and Pollux.” I felt really proud of that song after we finished it. Lyrically, I feel really tied to that song.
Shane: I second that. That’s one we spent a lot of time on, getting the form. I love Caity’s singing on it. It’s the first song on the second side, and it’s perfect in that position.
Caity: I was thinking a lot about reincarnation on that song, and I wanted to make it feel like it came full circle at the end. I feel like it worked out.
Y’all are getting ready to go out on tour. What’s on the tour playlist this time?
Shane: Lots of stuff. We split a lot of our listening time between experimental, ambient things and then song-songs. Podcasts get mixed in at random.
Shane: I really love the new Aldous Harding record. Her voice moves around, and she uses a lot of different kinds of voices and production techniques. I get really excited when I hear an artist who can work within a bunch of different territories.
What shows are you most looking forward to?
Shane: In Austin we’re playing with RF Shannon and The Zoltars. In Chicago we’re playing with Matchess. In San Francisco, Rays. In Seattle, Mega Bog. We’ve got so many good shows and we’re really excited to be playing with a lot of friends this time around.
Caity: We always love playing the hometown show in New York. And LA is always a favorite.