Fronted by Joe Genero, Butterfly Joe is the ongoing product of an inquiring mind. Always questioning, always reacting quick with the quip, Genero has been writing songs to make you go “huh?” for the past 20 years. Originally the front man for the 80’s quirky punk band, The Dead Milkmen, which also contained his current bandmate Dean Sabatino found acclaim in the 80’s with the release of their album, BIG LIZARD IN MY BACKYARD, which is still considered their best work. Other albums followed, but with the exception of the single “Punk Rock Girl”, the Deadmilkmen, well, died. Genero continued to write and record with various people and continues to play in bands other than his own. In his own way he is a true artist, always creating and participating in the creative process. Genero lives and works in his home state of Pennsylvania and e-talked to me recently.
CA: Hi. How’s it going?
JG: It’s going okay. I just got back from Lancaster PA. How are you?
CA: I’m swell, thanks. I couldn’t help noticing that there’s a lot of space between a name like the Dead Milkmen and Butterfly Joe. How did those names come about?
JG: Well, the Dead Milkmen name came to me while I was in High School writing some type of story about a ridiculous punk folk band. I was mixing Dead Boys and my idea of rural … milkmen. I grew up in a somewhat rural setting. There were cows and milkmen when I was little. But the milkmen disappeared and were replaced by convenience stores, or something like that. The story kind of grew into a fake fan club newsletter which grew into a fake band, complete with cassette tapes that I recorded with some friends, including Rodney. I must have been pretty bored. When the band eventually became a real band, after Dave and Dean joined, the name stuck. Butterfly Joe came about in 1993. In the late 80s a friend of mine named Alex came up with a new name for me, Butterfly Fairweather. I was in the habit of changing my stage name about every nine months, so I figured I’d become Butterfly Fairweather next chance I had, and I did. I made a home-recorded tape called “Halvin’ My Baby” under my new moniker. I was supposed to be Butterfly Fairweather for the next Milkmen album too, but we decided to use symbols in place of names for that album. So I had to wait for “Soul Rotation” to be Butterfly Fairweather. That was also around the time I first performed with the Big Mess Theater Cabaret. So for the Big Mess I was Butterfly Fairweather. In 1993 I made a tape, a home-recorded cassette of songs I wrote, and I couldn’t decide whether to be Butterfly Fairweather or Joe Jack Talcum for that tape, so I settled on Butterfly Joe. When we got a band together in 1995 we first used the name Butterfly Joe Armada, but that quickly was shortened.
CA: I, like a lot of my friends, were fans of the Dead Milkmen in the 80’s and I wasn’t aware that you were still writing. (my bad) Obviously, you never stopped. How important is the writing process to your daily existence?
JG: It’s not super important, but I do enjoy songwriting and recording on my Tascam 4-track. I would consider songwriting and home-recording to be my favorite hobby. It’s a great boredom killer and I also find solace in it.
CA: Do you write everyday or only when the mood strikes you?
JG: Not everyday. And not always just when the mood strikes. I sometimes just write for the sheer pleasure of seeing where a song might go once I get a basic track down. I kind of use my 4-track recorder as a notepad. I don’t really write anything down except lyrics. Other times when the mood strikes I’m nowhere near my tape recorder or guitar.
CA: How does the band go about putting together a song? Where does the music come from? Do you gather in a room or is it a slower process?
JG: : I make these tapes. I mix down my 4-track tapes and make cassette albums. I make photocopied sleeves for them with art and titles and Andy picks the songs from those. Andy does just about all the arrangements too, as far as instrumentation and writing out anything that needs to be written out for other musicians for recordings or Big Mess. When we learn a new song I will usually play it for the others all the way through once by myself. Then Andy will describe his arrangement idea. Sometimes Joe and Dean will start playing with me around the second or third verse of the first time I show them the song. Joe will offer arrangement ideas too from time to time. And Dean sometimes throws in an idea or too. It’s not too strict. And it doesn’t always work the same way, but I think I described the usual manner.
CA: What’s with the polka beats and accordion? It all sounds cool and there’s a strange continuity to all the songs, but why those choices?
JG: Andy has an accordion, so he might as well use it. Also, I like accordion. I have fond memories of my dad playing the accordion when I was little, polkas and Italian melodies. He tried to teach me to play. He got me a little accordion when I was six. But I never really learned. Anyway, when I first heard hardcore punk music in the early 80s, before speedmetal, It reminded me of polka music, at least in the beat. Well, it might have been faster but it had the same 1-2-1-2 beat and it made me feel happy like polka music did. The lyrics might have been angry but the music seemed uplifting.
CA: The songs on this album are a little more self-abusive and dark rather than society bashing, granted there is always an element of the self in society, but what’s been influencing your writing over the past few years? A song like “Fancy Walls” for instance, where does that come from? Or ” Whale in the Sea”? They are both melancholy and ridiculous at the same time.
JG: Well they are both like fairy tale songs to me. “Whale” is about a woman losing the love of her life and having nothing to look forward to except tedious daily work. At night she cries for her lover to sing to her from beyond (from the Whale). “Fancy Walls” ends on an optimistic note, I think, with the main character finding solace in dreaming of the unreachable heavens.
CA: How much of your songs are autobiographical?
JG: I’d say about 30%. Most of the autobiographical ones were written in the mid-90s, songs like “Waiting for Coffee” and “Give Me a Kiss.” I think I’m getting away from the autobiographical because my life just isn’t very interesting. I’d have to do a lot of embellishing. I’d rather write about skin cancer.
CA: Do you miss the Dead Milkmen?
JG: No. I enjoyed it while it lasted and I have a lot of fond memories. Right after we broke up I missed touring. But now I don’t miss it.
CA: What are some of your favorite bands playing around today?
JG: The Persons. Farquar Muckenfuss. (Both from the Philly area.) The Mermen. The Melvins. Trailer Park Riot. Secret Chiefs 3.
CA: Who would you most like to have as an opening band? Who would you most like to open for?
JG: I’d love to have The Persons or Farquar Muckenfus either open for us or us open for them.
CA: Are you going to be touring with Butterfly Joe?
JG: Not extensively. There are constrictions due to jobs and families.
CA: What do you do in your spare time? Is PA a hopping state?
JG: PA is kind of a wobbly state. Besides writing and recording songs and song-type things, I play organ for a band called The Low Budgets. We just played last night in Lancaster PA, which is a much rougher city than I remembered from my youth. The Low Budgets play garage punk, fun stuff. I like to go to movies in my other spare time, hang out with friends, the usual.