Heavy music progenitors Black Sabbath played the final show in their 40-plus-year career on Feb. 4, 2017 in the city where it all began: Birmingham, UK. Subsequently, frontman Ozzy Osbourne launched his second semi-farewell tour, No More Tours II (currently on hold due to illness), but the musical future for guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward (who was not on the farewell Sabbath tour) and bassist Geezer Butler seemed in limbo.
The influential bassist, born Terence Michael Joseph Butler, was the primary lyricist on Sabbath’s 14 albums, responsible for the iconic apocalyptic storyline of “Iron Man” as well as the indictment of warmongering on “War Pigs.” Between 1995 and 2005 he put out three solo albums, as well as playing on Osbourne’s Just Say Ozzy and Ozzmosis releases. Butler, 69, and his wife, artist manager Gloria Butler, have had a home in Los Angeles for nearly 15 years, and following The End of Sabbath, after a 74-date final tour that grossed close to $85 million, he enjoyed some well-earned down time.
But that’s all changed since he joined Deadland Ritual, a new lineup formed by ex GNR/Cult/Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens and singer Franky Perez (Apocalyptica, Scars on Broadway). The band have released a single and video for “Down In Flames,” a moody, swinging mid-tempo hard rocker, and are in the midst of recording a debut album with producer Greg Fidelman (Metallica, Slipknot), while simultaneously prepping for a first gig at L.A.’s Troubadour. European dates begin June 4 in Denmark. The slightly taciturn but jovial bass legend spoke with Billboard by phone from his home about throwing in the towel on retirement and how Deadland Ritual composes music together.
I understand you were the final piece of the Deadland Ritual puzzle. How did you meet the guys?
I did some charity things with Matt drumming probably three of four years ago, but we did a tour with Velvet Revolver; they supported Sabbath in Europe a few years ago, so I met him then. I didn’t even know this call was for a new band; I thought it was not for Camp Freddy (an all-star cover band), but Kings of Chaos (formed by Sorum, GN’R’s Duff McKagan and Gilby Clarke, plus a revolving lineup featuring members of Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Aerosmith). I thought it was for that at first. They sent me two songs with lyrics already done and I really liked them. Then they sent me a third song and asked me to write lyrics for that, I said ‘I’m not really sure about lyrics,’ but when we had a meeting, and they explained, yeah, that it was going to be a totally separate new band.
What song did they send you? The single, “Down in Flames”? Or “Broken and Bruised” or “Walking into Walls”?
Yeah, “Broken and Bruised.” I said ‘I like the song, but some of it needs to be changed.’ We got together and Franky eventually came up with the lyrics, and after I joined, I sort of pointed out the bits that needed changing and we went from there.
What did you want to change?
There was a part that sounded too much like Sabbath. The whole song has sort of a Sabbathy vibe. You’d listen to it and think it was Sabbath. So we changed that a little bit.
Tell me about the first in-person meeting.
We sat down at my favorite vegan restaurant, Crossroads on Melrose Avenue, and talked about different music, and the kind of things I was thinking about. And the end of it, they all say, ‘we want you to join the band. Do you want to join?’ And I says, ‘yeah.’
You’re so easy.
After 18 months of retirement, I would have said yes to anything! [laughs] After Sabbath finished, I just wanted to take time off and wake up every day and think, ‘Oh, great, I’ve got nothing to do today.’ That was okay for a year. After I put on about 20 pounds and watched every TV show there was I just went nuts.
You’ve done solo albums, including G/Z/R with Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory… had you not considered doing something like that again?
Yeah, I’ll never stop writing. But it became more of a hobby than anything else. I was sorta relaxed and going off on different tangents in my little studio here, with the thought of eventually doing a G/Z/R album, but then Deadland Ritual came about, and that was it.
In those 18 months of retirement, was there a time when you didn’t even pick up an instrument for months at a time?
Yeah, I probably went for a couple months. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling since Sabbath finished. I went on my first cruise. It started off in Italy and went through Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and finished up in Venice.
I’m sure you get recognized on a cruise?
No, everybody else is even older than me!
When was the first time you played with Deadland Ritual and what songs did you play?
We recorded the first three that were written, I suppose that would be… God, I have no concept of time whatsoever—probably October/November we went in the studio and recorded the three songs. I’d already been to Steve’s house, and we came up with the third song, “Down In Flames,” which is the one that’s out now.
Lyrically, you’re not on any of those, right? And what topics are you writing about these days?
Yeah, I’m writing lyrics for the fourth song we’ve done, which I think is going to be called “City of Night”; that’s the working title, anyway. I just finished writing those lyrics. It’s just about… it’s hard to explain really…any old crap. About the end of things, the End of Days. And looking back on your life wishing you’d done things you could have done, but it’s too late. It’s a bit like the ‘song before I died’ kind of thing. I don’t actually write the lyrics at home, just the music. In writing for the new G/Z/R album, I hadn’t gotten as far as lyrics, because I haven’t got a singer. And I’m useless at singing. I was just coming up with different riffs and stuff.
Did you bring any of the songs you were working on for G/Z/R into Deadland Ritual?
Yeah, we’re doing two of them. I made a CD of about five different ideas that I had, just to see if there was any interest in them, and we’ve ended up doing two of them so far. It’s good to have Steve’s feedback on it; I had in my mind how it should go, then Steve suggested this, that and the other. And I was like ‘yeah, I never thought of that,’ and it made the whole thing come alive. Which is what I miss working on me own; that bounce-back. We were working on it yesterday. It’s really very heavy. Probably the heaviest one we’ve done so far.
I see there’s a Deadland Ritual show at the Troubadour, which is a tiny club compared to Sabbath’s arena shows.
That will be the first gig. I’ve never played there. I think I’ve been there once or twice years ago. It’s like starting from scratch; I haven’t done clubs since 1970. I’ve done the odd one here and there, but not a whole tour of clubs. Or fifth on the festival bills.
What songs will fill out Deadland Ritual’s live set?
We’re thinking about doing seven original songs, which we’ve done up to now, unless we write more between now and May. Probably three or four Sabbath songs. “N.I.B.,” because that’s what I’m associated with particularly; the bass intro and all that kind of stuff. And some stuff that Sabbath didn’t do, like “Symptom of the Universe.” Steve loves that one. And Franky likes “Heaven and Hell” and we might do one or two others; see which ones work out best in rehearsals. But more obscure Sabbath songs, rather than “Iron Man” or “Paranoid,” that’s been done a million times. A couple Velvet Revolver. “Slither” definitely, I’m not sure bout the second one, and I think we’re going to do “Rebel Yell,” Billy Idol! [Laughs] I have to learn them all between now and May!
How far into the future do you look with Deadland Ritual?
At the moment we’re just going to see how it goes. We’ve written seven songs up to now, so we have to get those recorded. We’ve got quite a few record companies interested. But at first, it was ‘have a jam, and let’s do some festivals.’ But it seems to have gone beyond that, people are taking it more seriously now. So if things work out with the gigs that we do we’ll carry on. I’m excited about it. I really like the music we’re doing, not restricted to any kind of formula. And as I say, each track stands on its own, different in its own way. I’m really looking forward looking to it.
Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video
YouTube “We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.” That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic…
“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”
That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
Courtesy of Atlantic RecordsAnd on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.
What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”
Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love
Getty Images/April Blum The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new? Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by…
Getty Images/April Blum
The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?
Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by genre and can include anything — it’s a snapshot of what’s on our minds and what sounds good. We’ll keep it fresh with the latest music, but expect a few oldies (but goodies) every once in a while, too. Get ready: The Bop Shop is now open for business.
St. Vincent ft. Yoshiki: “New York”
St. Vincent, the intuitive musical goddess that she is, must have sensed our collective need for another quarantine ballad. Enter “New York [Feat. Yoshiki],” a classical arrangement of the standout single from 2017’s Masseduction. An added string section courtesy of Yoshiki, a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, beautifully complements the song’s original piano instrumentals. What more can I say? “New York isn’t New York / Without you, love” just hits different in the middle of a pandemic. —Sam Manzella
Djo: “Keep Your Head Up”
Last year, Joe Keery (of Stranger Things fame) released a glossy solo album under the moniker Djo. It was titled Twenty Twenty, and its sparkling arrangements ended up being quite far removed from the overall vibe of 2020 the year, but who could fault him for his optimism? Keery has also long been a contributing member of Chicago psych band Post Animal, but Djo is simply Joe — and latest “Keep Your Head Up” feels like several Joes ripping open a vortex in the funk-time continuum. This is a groove, peppered with buzzy synths and icy falsetto and an honest-to-god sax part. It’s akin to Todd Terje doing Tame Impala, a lightheaded cocktail rush that feels both clubby and bedroom ambitious. Positively galactic. —Patrick Hosken
Mxmtoon ft. Carly Rae Jepsen: “OK On Your Own”
When Mxmtoon’s Maia said she recorded “OK On Your Own” for the girls and the gays, she wasn’t kidding. The mellow bedroom-pop bop soundtracks a journey of self-reflection after a breakup, complete with the soft ukulele instrumentals that put the 19-year-old singer-songwriter on the map. Is it revelatory? No, but with pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen lending her sugary-sweet vocals to the second verse, it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m just waiting for “Party for Two.” —Sam Manzella
Video Age: “Aerostar”
Pleasure Line, the third album from emerging indie pop quartet Video Age, delivers perfectly escapist ’80s new wave vibes for when you need to get outta 2020 for just a moment. “Aerostar” is its punchy center, a hip-twisting, shoulder-shuffling groove that delivers quirky robot dance commands (“Slide to the left, now! Shimmy to the right!”) over hoppin’ funk synths and a kickin’ drum machine. It all harkens to a simpler time, one where dance floors were actually a real thing. Oh, the ’80s! —Terron Moore
Ruel: “As Long As You Care”
About a year ago, Australian middle-part heartthrob Ruel told MTV News that for him, “songwriting is exaggerating to an extent.” On his latest, the technicolor, soulful “As Long As You Care,” his exaggeration is so seamless, you’d be forgiven for believing the 17-year-old is actually a time traveler. The neo-soul groove he rides propels everything upward, even as the sound cheekily looks backward. “As Long As You Care” has one amazing hook, coupled with sonic candy that makes his upcoming third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes (out October 23) one to watch. —Patrick Hosken
Alycia Bella ft. Boogie: “Cue the Sun”
Something magical happens two-and-a-half minutes into “Cue the Sun,” the exploratory new collab between striking R&B voice Alycia Bella and rapper Boogie. After piping in the aural equivalent of stage smoke via jazzy piano and gorgeous vocalizations — “It feel like being lost in the right direction” — Bella’s song enters a more sparkly realm for Boogie’s recitations. By the end, you’re lighter, like your mind’s been cleared of all the cobwebs. Cue the sun. —Patrick Hosken
Carly Rae Jepsen
Who Are You Most Excited to See Perform at the 2020 ACM Awards? Vote!
The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to? Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six…
The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to?
Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks, will come back for the first time in seven years to perform the country-leaning fan-favorite track “Betty.” Meanwhile, 15-time ACM Award winner Urban and Pink will come together for the world television premiere of their brand new collaboration “One Too Many,” which is from the country star’s forthcoming album, The Speed of Now, Part 1.
Billboard broke the news Monday (Sept. 14) that all five nominees for entertainer of the year — Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett — will take the stage to perform a medley of their greatest hits. Additionally, ACM’s freshly crowned new male and female artist of the year winners Riley Green and Tenille Townes, respectively, will also perform.
For the first time in the awards show’s history, the ACMs will be broadcast live from Nashville, with socially distanced performances from the Grand Ole Opry House, the historic Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe.
The 55th ACM Awards will air live Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. ET (delayed for the West Coast) on CBS and CBS All Access. (The event is produced by dick clark productions, which shares a parent company with Billboard.)
So which of the performances can’t you wait to see? Vote below!