Butterscotch - beatboxing clever
“I’m not about doing what’s the most impressive or the most technical,” says beatboxer Butterscotch as she prepares to make her UK debut at Edinburgh Jazz Festival this weekend. “I want to make a beautiful sound and encompass all these different instruments so that people might want to take my music home and listen to it.”
The artist formerly known as Antoinette Clinton knows quite a lot about the instruments she impersonates, as well as the real ones – piano and guitar - she plays onstage. Growing up in a home where watching TV was kept to a minimum and where her older siblings’ trumpet, cello, trombone, and clarinet were readily available for hands-on experimentation, the baby of the family quickly learned how to emulate her big brothers and sisters as well as keep up with the piano studies that her piano teacher mother made sure the whole family followed.
With dad listening to Motown, mum listening to classical, and the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, indie rock and hard rock booming through the various bedroom doors, it would have been hard to escape music in the Clinton household. Butterscotch listened to it all and went through similar musical phases to her peers but it was the sounds she heard at her grandparents’ house that stayed with her.
“I didn’t really listen to jazz as a child but my grandparents always had jazz records playing when I went over there and when my grandfather died, I got a pile of his CDs and really got into them,” she says. When she went on to a performing arts school, where a second instrument was mandatory, she added saxophone to piano, initially joining the school orchestra but shortly afterwards being invited to play in the jazz band.
“I wasn’t that good on saxophone but I could read music and get around the keys and actually, one of the big attractions in playing jazz was the people – they were all so passionate about the music,” she says. “We played quite a few concerts and festivals and it was a lot of fun.”
Then another ingredient was added. A new kid arrived at school and demonstrated his beatboxing skills. Butterscotch was flabbergasted that so many sounds – bass drum, hi hat, snare drum, wah wah guitar et al - could emanate from one mouth. She was hooked and started working on her own version, adding saxophone, trumpet, and scat singing.
“It seemed to fit perfectly with jazz and I started incorporating it into the school jazz band,” she says.
For Butterscotch, beatboxing isn’t about volume and tricks, as it can be with other exponents. She’s really worked on the tones she creates and although the judges on TV show America’s Got Talent initially might have thought they were witnessing a novelty act, she soon showed them that she was using beatboxing as a natural part of her music, similar to the way Brazilian singer and guitarist Badi Assad uses her vocal percussion as an extension of her singing and playing.
“I was a bit sceptical when the producers asked me to go on America’s Got Talent,” she says, “because I’m not exactly a fan of the show and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. But my dad convinced me to do it, just to see what would happen, and although the first instalment was crazy and I was really nervous – I’d been on local TV but this was a national audience of millions - I got more comfortable as I got through the rounds.”
She reached the final, one of four contestants, and although she didn’t win the $1 million prize, she genuinely felt that everybody was a winner. The exposure certainly hasn’t harmed her career.
“No, I’m glad I took my dad’s advice and while I wouldn’t want to claim credit, I think there has been an increase in the number of women doing beatboxing since I did the show. When I started there were only a handful of us, as far as I could discover – one in Australia, a couple in Europe and just a few in America – and it was very much male-dominated. But I notice more and more women are doing it now.”
The amount of beatboxing she does in concert can vary.
“If it’s a young crowd, I do more,” she says. “I generally just see how people react. I’ve done all sorts of gigs now, playing at schools and colleges through to hip hop clubs and jazz festivals, where the audiences can be a little more conservative. Whoever I’m playing to, I like to involve people. It’s not a me and them situation and I like to vary the programme and surprise people, give them something they’re not expecting from a beatboxer.”
From The Herald, July 22, 2015.