I ride into Venice, California, on a borrowed electric motorcycle. It’s warm and the fog is pouring in off the ocean. I push open an unlocked street-level door to Rubyred Studios and find Butch Walker sitting at a console, typing into a laptop. “Oh, hi!” he says, and gets us some coffees.
Every time I visit Southern California, I look for opportunities to disprove the stereotype that everyone there is a mellow, laid-back, creative guy who spends his day surfing and riding motorcycles. I rarely find them, and today is no different. When I ask Butch what he’s been up to, amongst riding his bikes and playing some guitars, he mentions watching a wild music video that was just released for a single he produced. The single? “My Song Knows What You Did in the Dark,” by Fall Out Boy. (The song went platinum. No biggie.) After a quick tour of the studio and its equipment, and a rundown of its previous tenants (Bob Dylan was one), we focus on the back room, which happens to be loaded full of vintage motorcycles.
“I have had a couple of different bobbers, a big Harley, a couple of different big twin bikes,” Butch tells me. “But what’s fun to me is getting around on something that is lighter and more nimble. Especially when you’re in LA, you can’t be on some big, gigantic bike and split lanes without taking mirrors off.”
Butch’s music career, and life, is a fascinating one. He lost all of his personal possessions, including his motorcycles, due to a wildfire that burnt down his rented home in Malibu (Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers was the owner).
One of his first purchases afterwards was a BMW R75, which he found for sale on eBay and had restored by Apex Cycle in Georgia. “They are a husband-and-wife mechanic team, and they do restorations on old Beamers,” he says. “They made it like perfect.” With about 60,000 miles on it, it’s now his daily driver. “I’m in love with that bike. I was kind of craving a rigid again. Don’t ask me why—they hurt like hell to ride, and they’re awful for you—but there is something fun about it.”
After that, the songwriter-producer picked up a 1966 Triumph from Craigslist and sent it to The Factory Metal Works. “They turned it into a whole different bike; almost everything is custom,” he says. “Man, it’s a blast—well, when it runs, it’s great. It’s a ’66, you know? It either lets you ride it or it says, ‘Fuck you.’”
Today, it wants to be ridden. We race up and down a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway and spend the rest of the morning looking over his other great bikes. This stereotype just might be true.