IN CONVERSATION: Rest Ashore’s Erica Butts Talks Growing Up in Hoboken, Moving to Brooklyn, and Sappho’s Influence on Their Excellent New Album Erotomania

When Erica Butts falls in love she falls hard. She began her lifelong romance with rock and roll at age ten after becoming obsessed with Jack White and the White Stripes. She got a guitar and lessons at Hoboken’s Guitar Bar for her eleventh birthday and knew she’d be rocking in some capacity for the rest of her life. Erica started penning songs that’d end up on her band Rest Ashore’s debut album as early as sixth grade, where in her middle school Rock Band Club her and two friends planted the seeds that would become “Jawclip” and “Ambulance Crash”. She spent the next four years honing her sound and writing some more songs before releasing Rest Ashore’s debut album The Human Error in 2016 with a line up of Erica on lead guitar, Franklin Savulich on rhythm guitar, Gabriel Bond on bass, and Isabelle Baker on drums. While there have been several line up changes over the groups history and while Erica musicianship has certainly grown a bit over the years, it is remarkable listening back how dialed in she was to her unique math punk sound on The Human Error, a sound that has continued right through to the band’s newest record Erotomania. “Chinese Opera” is the lead off track from The Human Error and continues to be among the bands most popular songs. Erica mentioned that she named the track “Chinese Opera” because she was trying to make a track as layered and complex as she was capable of at the time, like the complexly layered Peking operas that were the pride of the Qing dynasty. It is ferocious and freewheeling and catchy as hell. It also showed that from the getgo Erica had a penchant for acerbic takes on both politics and romance, opening the track with the lines, “If fame is just the way to your heart // let me lead you to the stage that’s made of dismembered body parts //if fame is just the way to your heart then let me lead you to the stage that’s made of cocaine opium scars.” 

The band’s second record, Pornoviolence, which kept the same lineup as the first, saw the Rest Ashore going a bit more instrumental direction, with several tracks without vocals. While it features some of the strongest tracks in the band’s discography including the herky jerky “Hjarta” the group seemed less focused in knocking every song out of the park as much as they seemed concerned with continuing to hone their craft. A lot had changed between when Rest Ashore released Pornoviolence in 2017 and when they released Psychogore in 2021 however. Erica was in the process of moving from Hoboken to Bushwick after graduating college and she brought together a whole new lineup for the band featuring Francisco Garcia on bass and Alberto Chamorro on drums, who she credits with much of the song writing on the record as well. Erica said moving to New York City was like going from the AAA Minor Leagues to Major League Baseball, and felt like she needed to step her game up as a result. She conceptualized Psychogore as a magnum opus, trying to write music as ambitious as “Chinese Opera” was. Erica wanted to make sure that when you saw Rest Ashore live that they were unforgettable. She continued to hone her guitar work, elevating the band’s math punk sound with a lot more complex two handed finger tapping work. The record was an undoubted step up from Pornoviolence in every respect. Not only did Erica get more technical but there are some gargantuan undeniable hits on this record. “Devotion” starts slow before quickly building a belter of a chorus. Erica once again showed that her fierce songwriting is as defining to Rest Ashore as their math punk sound is, as I can’t stop thinking about the concept of love being guarding another’s sanctity forever, I mean how chivalrous. The song’s video is currently going viral in Japan in anticipation of Rest Ashore’s upcoming Japanese tour with Ungulates Records wildly enough, even getting some love from the lead singer of Tricot who Erica sights not just as a seminal influence but as personal hero. The record also features “I Wanna Be Your Man” where Erica once again sings about somewhat unrequited love with the intensity of a nine-alarm fire. The sheer ferocity of the back half of the song makes you know this came from a real place, like Erica thought that if she belted “I WANNA BE YOUR MAN!!!” loud enough to close out the track that she could have won her beau over.

Rest Ashore’s newest album Erotomania feels to its predecessor Psychogore what Pornoviolence was to their debut The Human Error. Not to say that Erotomania lacks ambition, as it is may be the most complex and best written album in the band’s discography, but in that Rest Ashore feels much more comfortable on this record than they did on the previous, making music because they love making music more so than making it to prove themselves to “the scene”. The name of the record Erotomania is in reference to what Erica described as her sometimes disease-like compulsive obsessive love which has been a boon for her songwriting but a bust for many a previous romantic relationship. The record follows the trials and tribulations as she met and began to date her current girlfriend, giving time and space to both the soaring highs and the difficult lows. Erica particularly got inspiration from Greek antiquity, citing the female poet Sappho in particular as a muse for the record. Sappho wrote frankly about lesbian love with all the same fervor that Rest Ashore does, so Erica naturally saw kinship with the poet. The album’s ripping opener “Call to Aphrodite” is a reference to Sappho’s most famous poem “Ode to Aphrodite” where Sappho calls for Aphrodite’s hand in arms on the battlefield of love. While Erica has certainly grown as a guitar player, this record really shows off how much she has grown as a singer, as “Call to Aphrodite” is one of half a dozen tracks that she absolutely belts on this record. Rest Ashore keeps the momentum going strong into the album’s second track “Nostalgia” a concept which Erica also described as a disease. It is a song about being obsessed with the memory of someone that you can’t even talk to in the present day, and how we need to let go of the past to move on. Unfortunately for Erica however she just has this girl “Still stuck in my head” as she lets us know in one of the catchiest choruses in the band’s discography. Erica is an extremely emotive singer and you can feel how excruciatingly angry she must have been with herself when she wrote this song. We then move right into “The Chariot” yet another banger and Erica’s personal favorite song on the record. It is once again inspired by the Ancient Greeks, this time ruminating on the divine madness love can cause as was discussed in Plato’s Symposium Phaedrus, effortlessly slowing down and speeding up like a heartbeat. The song that has really been lodged in my subconscious from this record has to be “Swordswallower” partially because it is a bit of an anomaly in Rest Ashore’s discography. Erica had been listening to a lot of slower music and wanted to challenge herself to record a track under 180 BPM as she cheekily put it, which gave her the room to emphatically wail out at the beginning and end of the track. It is the closest the band has come to a ballad and punches you in the gut as hard as anything in the band’s oeuvre without sounding like anything they’ve ever done, and shows what the band can accomplish by forcing themselves slightly out of their comfort zone.

Erotomania’s release saw the band once again in a state of flux, as Alberto and Francisco left Rest Ashore shortly after recording the album. However Erica feels so comfortable playing these songs with the bands new members, Owen Greene on the drums and Vincent Reyes on bass, that they feel like part of the fiber of the album in the same way Alberto and Francisco do, especially seeing as Vincent contributed bass parts to the record as well. Erica went as far as to say that this current line up may be her favorite rendition of the band yet just because of how comfortable the three are with one another, both with song composition and with the less glamorous logistics that go into being a DIY band, and that she sees a clear path forward for the band continuing into their next record. I will be enjoying Erotomania for as long as it takes them to come up with that record though, it is just comforting to know that that for years and years to come you’ll be able to find Erica Butts and Rest Ashore somewhere in the Tri-State singing her heart out and tapping guitar strings to their physical limits. After all, rock and roll has always been her first love.   

I talked with Erica about growing up in Hoboken, the band’s upcoming Japanese tour with Ungulates Records, and the process of putting together their excellent new album Erotomania

REST ASHORE: My name is Erica Butts. I am a Black and Latina lesbian woman. I like programming as well. That’s my job, and I have a master’s in software engineering that I finished in May. I play guitar, sing, and write songs for Rest Ashore.

GSC: What are your earliest musical memories? Who was playing music growing up? What were they playing? 

RA: My parents can’t play any instruments or do much singing themselves. When I was like 10, I got really into the White Stripes. Jack White was my hero, so my Dad got me a guitar for my 11th birthday. I started taking lessons at Guitar Bar in Hoboken. It’s still there, I love Guitar Bar. I got my first guitar there and had my first lesson there. My first guitar teacher there showed me Nirvana, so Nevermind was my favorite album in sixth grade. From there I took lessons until I was 17, mostly learning songs. I did a little tiny bit of music theory, but not too much. I prefer songwriting, I don’t know how to read music or anything.

GSC: I find Hoboken to be such an interesting city. It has a thriving arts scene, with good rappers and bands, Maxwell’s was the place to be back in the day. Then there’s also this crazy meathead bar scene where St. Patrick’s Day and SantaCon are as debaucherous as it comes. Did you like Hoboken growing up? What are some of your favorite spots around town?

RA: I loved growing up in Hoboken like it’s so walkable and the city is beautiful. I love the pier, it has the best view of New York City. The culture in terms of rock music and stuff, it’s a yuppie town, Hoboken doesn’t exactly have a lot of DIY shows happening. White Eagle Hall in Jersey City is a great venue and they’ve been getting big celebrities over there. Then there’s Pet Shop, which is basically the only DIY venue in Jersey City. They put on great shows, but they don’t have a stage, it’s a bar first and foremost. That being said, there are so many great artists in Jersey City who keep the scene alive who I am so appreciative of. I just wish we could even out the hipster to yuppie ratio in Hoboken and Jersey City I guess.

GSC: I remember Eli Manning moving to Hoboken when he was the Giants quarterback and that being a big cultural thing for Hoboken at the time. 

RA: The city was never the same after that.

GSC: You were into punk and grunge from age 11 on, but when did you get into math rock and emo specifically, the genres you dabble in most?

RA: In high school I was a bit of a scene kid. I liked Warped Tour bands like Pierce the Veil, Paramore, Dance Gavin Dance, Under Oath, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, MCR. Then I got into Mars Volta, Fall of Troy and Chon, and that’s when I started to do more mathy stuff with the sweep picking. When I got to college, I heard Tricot, who are my favorite band of all time. They’re the best band on Earth. I’ve seen them three times, once in Japan while I was studying abroad there and twice in New York. They opened for Diet Cig before either was big at Cake Shop, and they crowd surfed right over me while playing in this tiny intimate venue, that was one of the craziest shows of my life. Then Tricot opened up Chon’s tour with TTNG and Polyfia which was also incredible. Tricot are my heroes. It’s my dream to meet them and play a show with them or something.

GSC: Speaking of Japan I saw that Ungulates Records helped organize your upcoming Japanese tour. They’re such an impressive group Ungulates, they put out the new record from 7th Jet Balloon, a band from Nagano I interviewed and who you’ll be playing with at Ungulates Fest on November 11th. How did you get linked up with Ungulates and how excited are you?

RA: I do not know how Ko and Ungulates are doing it. They’re booking our hotels, travel, all the shows, the whole nine yards. We are so used to booking everything ourselves in the US, this tour is the most professional tour we’ve ever done bar none. We couldn’t be more excited to be coming out to Japan and we couldn’t be more appreciative of Ko and all of them for having us and making this tour happen.

GSC: How many shows are you playing?

RA: Five. We’re playing a Tokyo show, then the Ungulates Festival with a bunch of bands in Tokyo, then Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya. Ko offered to book a larger Southeast Asian tour too which would be incredible some day but we said this is our first time playing outside the country, let’s get this Japan tour under our belt before going on a world tour.

GSC: Back to your history, it sounds like you knew that you wanted to play music yourself from a young age, I’d imagine you knew that you wanted to form a band for a while. I know Rest Ashore started off as a solo project before it became a band. How did you start as a band and how did you go about forming the group that is Rest Ashore now?

RA: I had this teacher in middle school who had this club called Rock Band where me and my two friends learned a bunch of Metallica songs. We performed them at Maxwell’s, they rented it for the parents and stuff. Me and those two guys wrote the beginnings of “Jawclip” and “Ambulance Crash”. So those were started before I was in high school, which is wild. They kind of stopped playing instruments, so then I met some kids in my high school. We played together for six or seven years, quite a long time before that didn’t work out. So then I was kind of like, back to myself. Then I met Alberto and Fran around the third album, we did the third album together which was really good. I was playing with Alberto for about three and a half years, doing shows in California and Memphis and whatnot. I worked with Alberto on the new record but he’s had to step back from the band which led me to recently start playing with these new guys, Vincent and Owen, who I met through our manager, Kayla, and this is maybe my favorite incarnation of the band so far. I just feel like we just get along so well, it’s really light hearted. It’s  hard to get that balance right between so many people, which is why we are keeping it at three people. It’s hard to keep logistics together in a band like this with more than three people. I feel like I can be open with them and they can be open with me, both with musical stuff in the band and helping with a lot of social media stuff and all the other things that go into being a band.

GSC: The not so glamorous parts of rock and roll.

RA: All that stuff is what kills the love for the art. But if you distribute it amongst yourselves, you can find ways to keep it fun.

GSC: It’s so interesting to hear that some of these songs were written as early as sixth grade because you have had your math punk sound down pat from the get-go. What was your life like at the time? What were you drawing from with these songs on the first record?

RA: From middle school and all my life, I struggled with depression, I struggled with bipolar disorder into my adult life. Music was, and still is my escape. It’s my coping mechanism. It’s where I go to have fun. I get to make friends and express myself in my songs with them in the crowd and listen to them do the same with their art. lt is so enriching to my life. I can just scream. Also through my life, I struggled with ideas about myself, ideas about the world, ideas about violence and justice, you know, suffering, love, and also dealing with a lot of breakups. Not just with relationships, but with friends as well. I’ve felt a lot of pain and witnessed a lot of pain, qhich ties into Erotomania. I had this obsessive love thing that I struggled a lot with throughout my life starting from middle school. I would feel so close and in love with people, when it wouldn’t work out or they didn’t requite it, I would just despair. I felt those like I was dying, I felt like I was kind of being stabbed in the heart. Even though I know, rationally, people don’t have to date you. And obviously, I’ve rejected people too, rejection as a part of life. But I’m very dramatic. So I turn it into music and let that be my outlet.

GSC: “Chinese Opera” is the first song on your first album and is a free-wheeling ass kicker that can and does go in a hundred different directions. Do you hear a song like that in your head altogether? Or do you put these songs together piece by piece if that makes sense?

RA: It does, and it’s funny you bring up “Chinese Opera”. It’s our most popular song and I feel it does capture the spirit of Rest Ashore throughout the years. I love that song. The name “Chinese Opera” to me at the time, I was trying to write a rock piece as complex as I could. I wanted to write a number of eclectic parts trudging forward with a lot of energy. When I write songs I tend to write a lot of guitar parts on voice memos where I remember the key that the parts are in. So I’ll have, like, 20 random voice note demos that are mentally labeled E major seven or something. So I’ll try to see which parts go first and what kind of vocals would sound good. Then I start playing it with the guys and feel out where we’re going and get their feedback. Then we try to start performing it. I feel like once you start performing a song you find your favorite parts, and the parts you don’t like you take out. So it’s piece by piece.

GSC: I loved Psychogore from two years ago. What was your life like when that was coming together? You were still in Hoboken right? Or had you moved to Bushwick?

RA: It was recorded in the midst of that move you could say. Me and Alberto were jamming and putting that album together. When I moved to New York, I realized I was in a huge pond. Jersey, it’s a small pond. Everybody knows the other bands and everything, and there is an advantage to that. Once you get to New York, you’re like, oh man, nobody knows me. I’m a nobody. There’s all these really really good bands who came here to be here, you’re competing in the big leagues, so it was intimidating but inspiring at the same time. For me, my reaction is like, I have to do something crazy. I have to make a magnum opus, I have to make my greatest work, and that’s where I came up with “Blackball” and “Anti-Sex League”.

GSC: Such a great name for a song too, just unforgettable.

RA: I was thinking exactly that, I have to be unforgettable. When we perform these songs I want whoever’s there, even if it’s just the bartender, to be like “Oh wow, that was crazy.” My motivation for Psychogore was to be very guitar focused. I started doing a lot more tapping, because in the first two albums, I’m not really doing the two handed stuff. I really developed my own kind of tapping style where I felt like I really knew okay these parts all sound like Rest Ashore songs.

GSC: It has a lot of my favorite tracks of yours including “Devotion” in particular, that was the lead single on Psychogore right?

RA: Yea it’s a nice poppy catchy hit right there.

GSC: I love the imagery, somebody guarding your sanctity forever, it felt like medieval knights or something, you know?

RA: That’s the image I have of love at least. That was a song from SoundCloud that I had from 2017 and I math rock-ified it for Psychogore.

GSC: That’s so much fun. Did it take on a different sense of meaning on the newer record? Do you feel differently about the song now than you did then having reworked it and replayed it?

RA: I think it’s like the best that it could be like, I made the most out of it. I still like the song so I think it was a successful math-ification.

GSC: Another track on that record, I really, really enjoy is “I Want To Be Ur Man”. So poppy, so so catchy but where again, you’re still so freewheeling. How did that track come about?

RA: That was another one that I had an idea for for a while, but it didn’t have its moment yet. I wanted to make an angry punk song, going more in a hot and heavy direction. I was dating someone in college who wasn’t out. I had a hard time because I was like, I’m all in, I’m out here under your balcony with like roses and a lyre, and she wanted to keep things secret. I felt like I was trying to profess my love, but it was just not accepted in the way I wanted it to be. In hindsight, I should have just moved on, but in the moment, I felt like I was in love with her. I also wanted to have one that people could really jump to, more of a marching driving song.

GSC: Moving into your newest album, Erotomania has some of my absolute favorite songs of yours. What were kind of like your goals for this record? What was your headspace like?

RA: It was a time of transition. Alberto and I had recorded Erotomania before he left the band, and from there I met and really started playing the record with Vincent and Owen. They learned the songs so quickly and gave such life to them before they were even out where they feel like part of the fabric and the life of the album, Vincent did record bass on the record too. I really feel so good playing these songs with these two, I feel like we have a real springboard going forward too. With Erotomania the magnum opus was over and I was like, I want to keep my tapping style and I want to keep my guitar style, but I want to have more pictures in your head with the lyrics, creating images with the songs. I wrote about these last two years coming to New York and falling in love with someone who I’m still with now and our journey. I wrote about when we met and we were just friends and growing together from there. We had low times like we all do so there are sad parts but then there are triumphant parts. “Call to Aphrodite ” is very triumphant but then “Vengeful Spirit” is very sad and languid but in the end, to me, it was all worth it.

GSC: Starting off at “Call to Aphrodite” you are undefeated at album openers. How did this song come together? And what inspired Aphrodite’s presence in particular?

RA: I got obsessed with the Greeks the last two years. I started reading Greek philosophy. I love Plato and the Platonic Dialogues about love, Symposium specifically. Sappho also was a Greek. She was a very famous female poet from antiquity, around 650 BCE, like 100-200 years before Socrates. Socrates and the Greeks, they loved Sappho. She never wrote down anything, people just memorized her songs and passed them down for hundreds of years, at which point then they wrote them on papyrus, and we only have fragments of these scrolls left. Sappho, she was very very passionate. Her songs are explicitly about female love, same sex, lesbian love, and I just felt like, wow, these would be great in a Rest Ashore song. She inspired me a lot. I read all the fragments that she has out. I idolize her. She also played the lyre and had her own meters called a sapphic stanza. She came up with her own rhythms, and doing that is math-magical right there. She has this one poem called Ode to Aphrodite, her most famous poem. It’s basically her invoking the goddess and saying please, please help me win this woman’s heart. Please be my ally in battle. If love is a war you ask the Gods to help you in those battles too. Then Aphrodite says to Sappho, right now she’s running from you but soon she’ll be chasing you, and right now she’s rejecting you but soon she’ll be accepting your gifts. I wanted to bring all that into a song.

GSC: “Nostalgia”, the track right after “Call to Aphrodite” is another ass kicker. How did that song come together? How do you know the end?

RA: Erotomania is the word that I use to describe that obsessive love, the compulsion. It’s almost like OCD. You’re thinking about someone 20 hours a day, 24 hours a day. It’s like a disease. Nostalgia itself is a disease, you’re looking back on these past memories with rose colored glasses and getting addicted to the memories more than the actual person. You love all these memories, but you can’t even get along with the person that you’re remembering. It’s this madness, the compulsiveness of memory, the nonproductive festering. Wanting to appreciate something that happened but realizing that you need to let it go to move forward. For me, everyone who’s in your life right now is supposed to be in your life. Anyone who’s not is not.

GSC: Another one of my favorites on this album, “Swordswallower” starts and closes relatively restrained instrumentally by a Rest Ashore standard to really give you the space to belt. How did that song come together?

RA: I wanted to write a song that was under 180 BPM. I was just trying to challenge myself because I only write fast songs, especially because I was listening to a lot of good slow music. It came from the time where I was not with the person that I was in love with. They were with someone else at the time, but I was still in their life. I was struggling with feeling a connection towards someone, but it’s not the right time. So all you can do is just sing really loud.

GSC: That has to be cathartic to perform live.

RA: It is! I love the belt. Every time I feel a rush of intense emotion.

GSC: “Swordswallower” again has an unforgettable name. Sounds like the guys in the circus.

RA: When we first met she went to Three Dollar Bill and randomly saw this clown show that was really dirty and sexual. Not to get too deep into it, but there were funnels and all sorts of things.

GSC: Do you have a favorite track on the record outside of what we discussed?

RA: “The Chariot” for sure. Going back to the Greeks, there’s a dialogue by Plato called Phaedrus. This Greek guy is like, Love makes you crazy, and longing is illogical so it’s bad. Then Socrates was like, hold on. You’re all wrong. Being crazy in love is amazing. It’s called divine madness, and it helps you make the best art that could ever possibly be made. I was like, look, he rationalized bipolar disorder. So that is where I got the title. I love “The Chariot” the most because it’s so boppy. When I’m walking around I feel like I’m at a disco. It’s a fun one to play live, this whole album is honestly.

GSC: Have you played any particularly good shows recently? 

RA: We played Our Wicked Lady with Good Looking Friends. That was really fun. We played with Cloutchaser at  The Tubs which is a house in Brooklyn where there’s good stuff happening.  

GSC: Who are some of your other contemporaries that make you excited to be playing music? 

RA:I think I love Japanese bands the most like Tricot and The Cabs, but they’re not around anymore. Cloutchaser, any of the modern math kids right now I’m rooting for them. Space Corolla they’re from Puerto Rico, Johan, he’s awesome. Backseat Driver, they’re also from Puerto Rico. They’re math rockers and I’m half Puerto Rican. So we played a show together last year. Some other bands from the Tri State I love include but are not limited to Beeyotch, The Vaughns, THEMME, Bummer Camp, AvatarEden, and Jasper Ocean.

GSC: What is the best show that you have gone to recently?

RA: Palm but they’re already famous and they’re breaking up, but they killed the Knockdown Center. I had played a show with them in 2016 at Cornell before they blew up, that was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played. They’re math rock but not in the math rock scene, I think they call themselves art rock, they couldn’t be cooler. You can’t even define them. Like you can groove to their stuff and you’ll sit there trying to count it just completely unable.

GSC: Do you think that there is a relationship between people who do software development for a living and people who are in a math rock? I feel like there’s some corollary.

RA: Nerds! The answer is everyone who loves math rock is a nerd. In the Venn diagram, nerds and math rock fans are the same circle.

GSC: Are your coworkers supportive then? Do they pull up to shows? 

RA: They do! They’re based in California so when we went out there, they were some of the only people there, and they all bought shirts. The cool thing is it’s a flexible job. You can take PTO when you need it, which is one of the only reasons I can tour like I do. Very appreciative of it, I did not have that flexibility as a lab tech. 

GSC: What is something outside of music that brings you joy that might surprise people or that people might just not know about you?
RA: I really like writing. I like reading fiction. It’s something I’m trying to do more. My partner is really good at making zines and she’s actually made books out of the poems I wrote for her. That would be a really cool goal to try and self publish a short story or some poems or something. I don’t know where to start there though, I am trying to figure out what kind of writing I want to do. I like writing like sci fi horror stories, but I also really like philosophy. I feel like there is a way to get them together somehow.

Thanks to Kayla Nguyen for the picture at the top of the piece!

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