Will Butler + Sister Squares | s/t | MRG840
Sara Dobbs and Jenny Shore used to work summer stock theater in St. Louis, Missouri. They’d do
the hand jive with TV stars past and future; they’d get coldly corrected by the ancient, legendary
choreographer Gemze de Lappe. Sara went on to Broadway, including a run as Anybodys in West
Side Story. Jenny went on to choreograph in the independent dance scene of early 2000s Chicago.
Julie Shore is Jenny’s sister. She’s always made music—playing Chopin, writing songs, making
bands with her friends. She’s had the archetypal Millennial journey of entering adulthood in the ’08
financial crisis and figuring out what stupid series of jobs you have to take to pay rent while
keeping an artistic life alive.
Miles Francis grew up in New York City with Backstreet Boys posters covering their walls. An
extraordinary drummer since youth, Miles thrives in collaboration—whether producing artists in
their West Village studio, performing with artists like Angelique Kidjo, or powering protests with a
big marching drum.
These four—Miles, Julie, Jenny, and Sara—are Sister Squares. What made them a musical unit was
working with Grammy winner and Oscar nominee Will Butler. They’ve all just finished a new
record together: Will Butler + Sister Squares.
* * *
“I met Jenny—my wife!—in college, the year before I joined Arcade Fire. She was a choreographer;
my roommate was a dancer. He convinced me to come to an audition, though I had never taken
dance. Jenny was impressed—but she didn’t cast me,” says Will. They went on to collaborate on a
series of shows: Will (and friends) providing music, Jenny (and friends) providing dance. They
married in 2007.
“When I needed a band to tour Policy [Merge, 2015], I asked Julie to join because I trusted her
musically. And I asked Sara, Jenny and Julie’s childhood friend, because I knew she was super
talented,” says Will.
“Antibalas (who I was drumming for) opened some Arcade Fire shows,” says Miles. “I was
captivated by Will’s performing. He was creating all these micro DIY performance-art moments
within a massive arena show, and I wanted to know everything about it.” Miles offered to play
drums anytime Will needed.
Will, Julie, Sara, and Miles jelled on tour. Julie and Sara showed Miles how to do eye makeup
backstage; everyone worked on vocal arrangements. All along, Jenny contributed to recordings and
general performance ideas, and she joined onstage in 2019.
* * *
“After Generations [Merge, 2020], I considered making a weird solo record. Me alone in the
basement, etc., etc. Mostly I realized that what I wanted was the opposite,” says Will. He
increasingly turned to the band for feedback on lyrics and song structures. He asked Miles if they’d
produce the record.
“Will and I organically discovered our relationship as a production duo through making this album.
We didn’t have to talk too much about things as they happened, because the music just flowed,”
says Miles. “As a producer, working with Jenny, Julie, and Sara is the dream. They connect so
innately. In one motion they can conjure a mood, or get at the root of a feeling.”
The band played a run of shows in August 2022, airing out studio ideas in live rooms. After coming
home, the band regrouped at Figure 8 Studios in Brooklyn.
“I could tell from the physical energy that it was going to be good. We were dancing during takes,
taking cues from each other. At one point, Sara and I had our tap shoes on,” says Jenny. The album,
broadly, is equal parts from Figure 8, group experiments from Will’s basement, and sessions in
Miles’ Synthia Studio.
“I had quit my band Arcade Fire very recently, after 20 years—maybe the most complex decision of
my life. I had spent the preceding two years at home with my three children. I was 39 years old. I
was waking up every morning and reading Emily Dickinson, until I had read every Emily Dickinson
poem. I was listening to Morrissey, to Shostakovich, to the Spotify top 50. I had unformed questions
with inchoate answers,” says Will. “But, honestly, I was feeling great about the record.”
The album projects widescreen emotional landscapes. Lead-off single “Long Grass” is like a Harry
Styles song with 20 more years of life behind it. Standout track “Saturday Night” has a beat,
according to Miles, “with that robot-alien-dancing-at-a-haunted-dive-bar feeling that we were going
for.” The back half of the album is a danceable, weird choral record with harmonies both beautiful
and dissonant. Closing song “The Window” is the comedown after the party—Julie playing a Chopin
Nocturne on a three-years-out-of-tune piano, slowed to half-speed on tape with Will singing over it
in a voice exactly as tired as he was. It’s a record with a warm, humane soul.
Miles, on a moment of synchronicity captured to tape: “It came out uniquely ours, a tiny bespoke
musical bloom that can never be exactly reproduced. Those kinds of moments between all of us are
embedded all over this album.