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Asking the big questions

Terrible Buttons perform tonight at 8 at nYne Bar & Bistro. (Kristen Black)
Terrible Buttons perform tonight at 8 at nYne Bar & Bistro. (Kristen Black)

Terrible Buttons tackle faith, doubt, power on full-length CD

As far as The Terrible Buttons are concerned, there are two eras of Macklemore: Before “Thrift Shop” and after.

The Terrible Buttons were fortunate enough to work with “Thrift Shop” producer and Spokane native Ryan Lewis before the song became a hit in every corner of the population, from hipsters to soccer moms.

“Our first EP was made with them. That was pre-‘Thrift Shop.’ They did the whole thing for an incredible deal and they did an incredible job,” said Buttons bandleader and frontman Kent Ueland.

Once “Thrift Shop” blew up it was tough to get Lewis on the horn, Ueland said. But that led to the relationship he made with producer Pete Steward, who helped make the Buttons’ full-length debut, “Runt,” released tonight at nYne Bar & Bistro, 232 W. Sprague Ave.

“We wanted to make another record with them but they said they were too busy and told us to hit up Pete Stewart. Working with Ryan was sort of like going to camp. He gave us so much advice. But he introduced us to our musical soulmate,” Ueland said. “We ended up flying Pete back to finish our new record. He has won a Grammy and has a bunch of Dove awards for Christian music but from what I can tell on the Internet he became an atheist and that closed some doors.” 

Stewart was actually one-third of the production team that worked on “Runt.” The 12-track album was also produced at the studio owned by the Minnesota label they signed with, Plastic Horse, as well as local producer and musician Caleb Ingersoll (Cathedral Pearls) and the co-creator of The Bartlett music venue-in-the-making.

Despite having three hands in its production, “Runt” is a coherent collection of densely orchestrated songs with a recurring theme of questioning faith.

At tonight’s album release party, the usually seven-piece Buttons will appear as an 11-piece band, with hired guns to cover the tuba, cello and other parts that were added on the album.

Lyrically, “Runt” retains the sentiments of religious doubt and challenging the status quo, which have been present in previous recordings, Ueland said, but “Runt” is not a concept album.

“I wasn’t trying to make a big statement. These were just the things that were on my mind,” Ueland said. “It’s still about what it means to be human, but on a micro scale instead of a macro scale. It’s asking, what is wealth? What is power? What does it mean to be strong versus weak? That’s why we called it ‘Runt.’ What is strength? Is strength being rich? Or is strength what you have left when you’re not rich? It’s all different angles of the same question throughout the record.”

Aside from the deep questions about faith and power, there is also a song on the album about Bon Iver.

“There’s the story of this tortured loner chillin’ in the woods making a record but that’s not necessarily how it went down,” Ueland said. “We try to be honest with our tunes and where they come from. We are just friends who like to party together and there is this other echelon where it’s about making this persona, true or not, for sales. I love Bon Iver’s tunes, but his publicist is the reason it’s Bon Iver and not some other guy.”