Like many during the lockdown phases of the coronavirus pandemic, the members of San Antonio indie rock band Buttercup had a lot of time to think.
Songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Erik Sanden turned introspective, thinking of each member of the four-person band as a song. The result is a new, unusually revealing album, titled Specks: An Autobiographical Record, to be released with a festive concert Wednesday at the Japanese Tea Garden in Brackenridge Park.
The 7 p.m. concert is free and open to all ages. Food vendors, a cash bar and an art exhibition by Specks cover artist Jeff Wheeler will round out the evening. A portion of food and beverage sales will go to the San Antonio Parks Foundation to further preservation efforts of the historic tea garden.
Libby Day, the foundation’s director of communications, described Buttercup as San Antonio’s “beloved life-affirming art-rock band” and said the newly reactivated tea garden provides a “joyfully serene backdrop” for the band’s intimate approach to songcraft and performance.
Day said Buttercup is one among several local bands interested in expanding beyond traditional entertainment venues such as bars and nightclubs “to be able to create a really unique, novel experience for their fans.”
The songs of Specks in themselves provide a novel look inside the inner workings of the band, the core of which has been together since the early 2000s.
The first track on the album, “I Luv My Voice,” describes a hard-won moment of self-acceptance. Listening to the lyrics is like watching Sanden sing to himself in a mirror:
Why do I hate my own voice?
Why do I loathe it so?
Is the voice a reflection of the soul?
And if so, does my feeble throat mean my soul is weak?
Is it a tunnel to what makes us unique?
My voice my little voice
The song is both literal and metaphorical, about his actual singing voice and about finding one’s own voice.
“There are all these things that are really personal, but should be universal” for listeners, who might relate to how they regard their own faults as potential strengths, he said. Any perceived flaw “might be the most interesting part about me, if I could just own it.”
The song “Practice Room” gives a wobbly glimpse inside the rehearsal room, with low-key banter usually cut out of recordings, and “Middle C” pokes kindhearted fun at guitarist Joe Reyes, apparently as endearingly talkative during rehearsals and long tour drives as his lead guitar is expressive during performances.
“Bonny Claire” recounts an unfortunate moment in the life of Buttercup’s newest member, drummer Claire Rousay, who experienced a break-in and the loss of most of her possessions, including $20,000 worth of musical equipment. A GoFundMe campaign quickly raised more than $33,000 from 791 supporters, however, which Sanden said showed the positive side of the occurrence.
“There was this beautiful thing,” Sanden said, “where this one awful person set this moment up [and] revealed how many good people there were that really love Claire.”
The song “Us v. Them” is an ode to the bassist known simply as Odie, who co-founded the band with Sanden in 2000. Sanden sings:
I know you, you know me
Everyone who’s watching can see
The lyrics reflect how open the band tends to be onstage, expressing familial comfort among band members, a rapport that can now deepen with the personal songs of the Specks album.
“We’re trying to pull back the veil,” Sanden said. Listening to moments, such as a full minute of pre-song banter that was kept in the “Practice Room” recording, listeners will get the sense that “this is a band that loves each other,” he said.
Audiences will have the chance to experience that metaphorical embrace in the outdoor setting of the Japanese Tea Garden, with special seating provided by furniture store Period Modern for those who arrive early enough to land a mid-century modern vintage chair — or, perhaps most appropriately — a love seat.