In Search of the Bull’s Eye: Dave Boutette in 2010
by Will Stewart
A lot of questions are running through Dave Boutette’s mind these days – questions for which he doesn’t exactly have all the answers.
At least not yet.
He’s been thinking a lot about his home state of Michigan, which has endured more than its fair share of what the pundits and politicians like to refer to as “the economic downturn.” Everywhere he looks, families are losing their homes, businesses are failing, and hardworking people are scrambling to hold onto even the lousiest jobs.
“I’ve been wondering about what got us here and what we can do to get ourselves out,” he said. “The house that our fathers built for us is burning down and, now that we’re adults, we have to decide whether we’re going to be homeless, or if we’re going to build our own house.
“It’s something that’s constantly eating at me. I could write my own ‘Jungleland’ once I get it figured out.”
Leave it to Boutette to think of a problem – as well as its solution – in musical terms. His entire adult life has been devoted to making music. He’s among the best singer-songwriters working today and, if history is any indication, he’ll find some answers in his songs.
Boutette’s musical journey began in the 1980s, three days after he graduated from high school, when he and three friends formed the Junk Monkeys, a post-glam, pre-grunge hard rock band that achieved critical success without any of the financial rewards that were supposed to come with it.
On their home turf in southeast Michigan, they packed clubs with an infectious, melodic brand of rock’n’roll that blended killer hooks and Boutette’s melodic-yet-aggressive lead guitar work.
Outside of Michigan, despite opening up for lesser bands that would achieve far greater success, despite a development deal with the major-indie label, Metal Blade, and despite trying everything to make it happen, the Junk Monkeys never quite achieved the critical mass of intangibles that they needed to break through.
When the Junk Monkeys finally called it quits as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, Boutette was at loose ends.
“I was 29, had three part time jobs and I’d been living hand-to-mouth for a decade,” he said.
He enrolled at Eastern Michigan University, but he never lost the music bug. He got a gig playing the local farmers’ market every Wednesday and, to even his own astonishment, realized that he could barely string three chords and a melody together on an acoustic guitar.
“It seemed like something I should be able to do, but I just couldn’t,” he said. “But I stayed with it and before long, I found I was getting a feel for it.”
Anyone who knows Boutette wouldn’t be surprised to hear this story. In spite of being about the nicest guy in show business, he’s deadly serious about his craft and, from informal song circles to the choice gigs he plays across the state, he always finds a way to deliver his best.
It turns out, he said, that for all fun he had playing with the Junk Monkeys, who still occasional reform for fun and to raise money for charities, turning solo was the musical move he never knew he needed to make.
On his own, he can follow his instincts, which, over the course of four fine records, have sharpened dramatically.
“I really like being responsible for everything,” he explained. “In a band, there are so many different personalities and so many compromises, that it was nice to be in charge of everything for a change.
“(Some of the earlier efforts) were about me learning how to be a solo artist,” he said. “I was excited when I did them, but when I was writing a song, if a lyric or a chunk of music didn’t quite cut it, I just left it in to fill the space.
With experience and confidence and an editor’s approach to getting to the heart of the matter, Boutette said, he’s reached the next level in his songwriting.
“I have a better idea of the construction and arrangements that make a good song – the things that keep the synapses in the brain firing,” he said. “I’ve learned the little things that keep the listener interested in the song.”
Good thing, too, because there are some big questions looming. And, one can guess, some seriously good songs brewing.
“I haven’t hit the bulls eye yet,” he said. “But I can feel myself zeroing in on it.”