Rage, Revolution, Boundaryless Rock: Inside Fever 333's New American Dream | Revolver

Rage, Revolution, Boundaryless Rock: Inside Fever 333's New American Dream

How personal experiences with inequality and discrimination inspired letlive, the Chariot and Night Verses members' visionary supergroup
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The Fever 333, (from left) Stephen Harrison, Jason Aalon Butler and Aric Improta
photograph by Julia Dunham

The Fever 333 wouldn't exist if it weren't for the cookies. During the final days of his post-hardcore band letlive before its current hiatus, lead singer Jason Aalon Butler found himself working in an upscale Calabasas grocery store, slinging vegan, gluten-free cookies (which are still the "bombest," he says) to the Los Angeles County rich to make money before his son was born. The irony of his situation wasn't lost on the frontman known by fans for his politically charged lyrics and raucous, self-destructive performances. He had clawed his way out of living off food stamps in Inglewood and toured the world punk-rock–style only to end up 30 miles away from his home selling fancy cookies in one of SoCal's most celebrity-studded neighborhoods.

Among his customers there wound up being the teenage goddaughter of Travis Barker. She recognized Butler, covered in tattoos and sticking out like a sore thumb, and was excited to run into him. Not long after, she showed a best-of clip of some of Jason's most dangerous live stunts to Barker, snippets of letlive's early days, which saw Butler flying off stages, throwing trash cans and generally going nuts. Barker was intrigued and eventually met up with Butler at the Erewhon Natural Food market, buying him an E3Live shot and a smoothie while he was on break.

They got to talking about their mutual friend John Feldmann, producer for the Used, Saosin, and Barker's band Blink-182. The three met up Super Bowl Sunday, 2017. "We just talked about the current state of politics, music and society," Butler recalls. "Of course, I talked about my views and what I felt needed to happen, so we discussed creating a project or collective that spoke to the current climate. And that was the Fever 333."

Over a year later, the band that grew out of that conversation is making waves, onstage and off. For the Fever 333, Butler tapped like-minded musicians who came up alongside him in the post-hardcore scene: guitarist Stephen "Stevis" Harrison, formerly of the Chariot, and drummer Aric Improta, also of Night Verses. (Barker occasionally makes guest appearances.) Both bring a reckless physicality to their playing, similar to Butler's own onstage abandon — if you haven't already, check out the viral videos of Improta backflipping from one drum kit to another while in his other band. And the danger inherent in their live shows is matched by the manic energy, radical politics and freewheeling genrelessness of their music, as heard on the Fever 333's debut EP, Made an America, surprise-released in March. It's no wonder that some have already taken to calling the band the Rage Against the Machine of their generation.

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The Fever 333, Brooklyn, 2018
photograph by Julia Dunham

Butler's political outlook was formed at a young age in Inglewood's crucible of poverty and disenfranchisement. "[I became political] when I realized I was poor," he says. "When I realized I was lower class, when I didn't know if we would be eating that night. That's when I became political, because I didn't understand why my family, who were hardworking, good people, were having to struggle." His parents were on food stamps, his father was constantly away from home on tour with his soul band, leaving Jason alone with his mother in their barred-window house. When his dad was around, he toughened Butler up, giving him lessons like, "Never look a police officer in the eyes." Butler's politicization continued when, in high school in another Los Angeles district, he found himself unsure why other kids were afforded luxuries when his parents worked just as hard, if not harder, as theirs.

Alienated, the future Fever singer turned to the hardcore scene, inspired by punk's energy and exuberance, and became heavily involved in local L.A. gigs at an early age, but even there, he saw hypocrisy and exclusion. "I realized hardcore is a boys club — it's a heterosexual, white male boys club," he says, looking back. "It's not all that different from, like, being a fucking football team. And to be fair, I love powerviolence, thrash, all of it, the way it makes me feel, but I'm not there to be part of a heterosexual male's boys club. I'm there to have an experience that activates a sense of urgency within me."

On the other side of the country, in Douglasville, Georgia, Harrison came across similar issues in his scene. "Hardcore is supposed to be all inclusive, and I think it has good intentions, but I can't say it extends to everyone," the guitarist says. "For me growing up in the south, being black going to hardcore and punk shows, being the only black kid at some of these shows, it just is weird. People almost inherently react in a certain way sometimes. It was difficult in some ways, encountering ignorance. I grew up in Georgia, going to shows 20 minutes northwest, the deep south, experiencing blatant racism at hardcore shows, an environment that's supposed to be welcoming. I had some really awkward situations, and that was the climate."

Drawing from such personal experiences and seeing a need for widespread change, the band members consider the Fever to be the soundtrack to a movement — specifically, the rise of newly politicized younger people speaking out against the policies and social constructs that endanger, oppress and disenfranchise them. "I think the movement itself that we discuss and we highlight is already happening, and has been happening," Butler says. "It's a movement of the people, really. If anything, we could be lucky to write a soundtrack and be a mouthpiece for other people, offer representation, offer a large spectrum of culture perhaps, a safe space for people to invest themselves and ask questions and move the bigger conversation forward."

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The Fever 333 at soundcheck, Brooklyn, 2018
photograph by Julia Dunham

To that end, the Fever's music is outraged and aggressive, but also hooky, fun and stylistically open-armed. While letlive dabbled in soul and the Chariot crossed together any heavy subgenre with a -core suffix, the Fever 333 fully embrace elements of hip-hop, R&B and more, and Butler is now totally legible in his vocals, still screaming, but finding a balance between transparency and power. The band could sit comfortably next to groups such as Ho99o9 and Death Grips, who employ an explosive new take on rap and rock, but they also take hints from dancier acts like Sleigh Bells. "Walking in My Shoes" is noisy and catchy as all hell, while "POV" reverberates with grit and bounce, pulled along by a compulsive bass line and Butler's energetic rapping.

"My whole idea was to spread a message as best I could, and I also have a huge penchant for punk rock, hip-hop and pop music. I love hip-hop, I love R&B, I love Bruno Mars and Mariah Carey, and I understand what they've done through their melodic approach," Butler says. He does cringe at the idea of the band being too poppy, however, saying, "The idea is by no means pop-sensible at all — it's risky and abhorrent and confronting — but I certainly am employing these platforms that are easy to accept immediately. Even the way I'm doing my verses so I can make sure people can hear what I'm saying."

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The Fever 333's Jason Aalon Butler, Brooklyn, 2018
photograph by Julia Dunham

Yet, for the Fever 333, their sound is more than just a strategically accessible genre mash-up useful for transmitting their movement's message. It's also a reflection of that movement itself, of its optimistic vision for America as a place where people of all backgrounds can unite and merge.

"We're not trying to sell revolution," says Butler. "The symptoms of a revolution, the symptoms of subversion, they're all quite dire, detrimental or perilous. Everybody is dead who has tried to make a change like that. Ultimately, it's really [about] opening a sense of inclusiveness. You can't sell revolution because that shit don't pay … I'm going to use that shit in a song."