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Butch Walker relinquishes the producer crown 

Singer/songwriter lends creative reign to Ryan Adams for intimate new album

Losing a loved one is tough. That's why singer/songwriter Butch Walker went down a rabbit hole of sorts when his father died last year. Walker, 45, needed to take a break from music in order to properly mourn his father's passing. But when Walker popped back up, he jumped straight to the studio to record his seventh solo album, Afraid of Ghosts.

That might seem like a natural, therapeutic thing for a musician to do, but when anthemic pop hooks are something you're known for, making a melancholy move in songwriting is a risk.

Nearly 80 percent of the album, released on Dangerbird Records, pays homage to Walker's dad — it's crystal clear on the sullen, heartfelt track, "Father's Day," featuring a guitar solo by Bob Mould.

Walker comes to Charlotte on May 8 for a performance at Visulite Theatre in support of the new record.

What's even more surprising about this new effort from the former frontman of Atlanta alt-rock band Marvelous 3 is that he took off his acclaimed producer hat for its making. Walker has been a one-man army on most of his solo records, and he's crafted pop tunes for the likes of Pink, Fall Out Boy, Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr., Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift and other popular artists over the years. But instead of producing Ghosts, he handed the creative reign to singer/songwriter Ryan Adams.

Walker had previously talked about producing one of Adams' album's prior to his father's death and the alone time that followed. Instead, the cards turned, giving Walker the chance to try something new, after years of being king of his music domain.

"I'm not real sure that on my own I could have pulled this off by myself, because I just wasn't really enjoying recording myself anymore," Walker says. "There was no struggle, but sometimes you fall into the same routine and the same bag of tricks. I just couldn't feel anything from it anymore.

"I wanted it to flashback to that excitement that happened when I went in to make my first couple of records ever and see the same thing I see on everybody's face when I'm making their first record. It's not that I was burned out on making records or not that I wasn't inspired. Lyrically, song-wise I definitely was inspired, but that being said I wanted to be careful about how it was rewarded. I wanted to feel something from it."

Walker felt Adams was the right man for the job when he fearlessly critiqued his songs after hearing them one night in a hotel room after the two had performed a gig.

Since Adams was familiar with Walker's work — both as a musician and as a producer — he had a keen ear for hearing pop hooks that would emerge without Walker even noticing. Walker wanted to shy away from those familiar jingles.

"I still love making pop records," Walker says. "I think it's awesome, fun and a cool day job. It is also a skill set on its own that a lot of people can't do."

Walker attributes his time in Marvelous 3, from 1997-2001, and his immediate solo record that followed as being what paved the way for his work as a producer. "When I started doing it [producing], it was because people liked those records of mine and had heard them," he says.

But Walker's own desires for success in the music industry have since shifted. While in Marvelous 3, he says he wanted to be popular and accepted by a mainstream audience, but ever since his successful stint in producing, he's wanted something different for himself.

For Ghosts, he feels like he's achieved that goal, partly in its being a genuine album that pays respect to his father. "I didn't have anyone going, 'Hey! Give us a hit single,'" says Walker. "There's none of that on there and it's not about that and I wouldn't want it to be."

Currently dividing his time between California and Tennessee, it's Georgia — Walker grew up in small town Cartersville — that still holds a special place in his heart. But Walker says he's glad he got out and followed his dreams. "I love the fact that I did get away and I did go learn and broaden my life, my philosophy, my whatever." On "21+" he sings about a man who never got out of the humdrum, small-town confines.

For the same track, Adams asked actor Johnny Depp to join Walker in the studio for a guitar solo. Walker wasn't told beforehand that the person joining him would be one of the most renowned actors in film, but was pleasantly surprised.

"It was no different than somebody popping by and putting a local on it that no one knows or a guitar solo from a friend of the producer, but it just so happened this was fucking Johnny Depp, a face known in every country around the world," Walker says.

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