I wasn’t originally planning to include a note like this, but I’ll preface this piece by saying that I’ve known Jason for well over ten years. We grew up playing shows together in the little scene that was South Bay punk/hardcore. Ask anyone who grew up in our little world and they’ll tell you the same—great fuckin’ dude.
Jason Aalon Butler is the type of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, or the type of guy who’d learn all your band’s songs in less than a week when your guitarist quits and you need someone to fill in last minute. I can’t say enough good things and I’m certainly not the only one.
His band, letlive., went from hometown heroes to signing with the biggest punk label in the business, Epitaph Records. Since then, they’ve been touring the world while redefining the meaning of post-punk and are on the brink of crossing over to the mainstream. Not to take anything away from his bandmates over the years, but a lot of this is due to Jason.
Jason is a lot of things. Passionate. Hard working. Charismatic. Soulful. He is the definition of a multifaceted creative and has been this way for as long as I’ve known him. His latest endeavor is Gentlemen In Real Life [G.I.R.L.], a brand with a focus on encouraging culture and offering products created in collaboration with a variety of makers that he’s met over the years.
While in New York at a recent stop on his current tour, Jason gave us an inside look at his day to day and spoke about his life as a musician, the punk rock ethos, and his newest venture, Gentlemen In Real Life.
TYLER W: What was the concept behind starting a company such as G.I.R.L.?
JASON AALON BUTLER: I’ve always been interested in the way of the gentleman. It seems that this unspoken code and lifestyle has an interestingly malleable quality and can be applied to people of all different walks of life. The commonality we share as Gentlemen [or Gentlewomen] is our interest in a sense of exception.
I found this to be glaringly clear as I grew more mature and began to learn more about myself and the way I operate as a man. I then began to take notice of those around me striving for the same things through different avenues. These people were my family and friends. They were people I’ve met on my own journey over the years. They were also the people I supported in their endeavors and purchased my own goods from.
Sometime around the Ides of March 2014, I was struck with the realization of how many of these people that I look up to are people much like myself and people I could share my vision of G.I.R.L. with. I’ve also held a considerable penchant for entrepreneurialism and what we call “the hustle” where I’m from. You will soon see how every product carries a very distinct quality beyond its superlative design and aesthetic. You will actually be able to feel the attention and passion put into each and every piece of this project.
How has the initial response been?
Usually when you say “surprisingly well” people then follow up with the question, “Is that because you didn’t expect much from yourself?” In this case, I expected quite a lot from this brand from the jump. Not in the way of arrogance, but more so in the way of willing something to be.
Whether that is too New Age or universally derived for some, it is the truth for me. It is how I approach the majority of my goals. That being said, with those expectations being the bar, the reception has been fantastic even to my own surprise.
What was the journey like from concept to actually launching your first range of products?
It has certainly proven itself as a separate beast from music in numerous ways, while at the same time holding very similar qualities in aspects such as gaining presence and marketing. Luckily, I’ve tackled these divisions in other endeavors so I have been able to call upon methods I’ve used prior to G.I.R.L.
Regarding the journey, it has actually been quite exciting even in its uncertainty at times or with the new difficulties I have faced. From the moment I decided on the brand’s acronym in my bunk while on tour last year, to selling out of almost all of the products I brought with me on this current tour, I have found excitement in learning about, building, and creating a lifestyle brand and I am very pleased.
It’s pretty common practice within your subculture for musicians to start some sort of clothing-based endeavor. Were you ever concerned with G.I.R.L being lumped into that category?
I have been and remain highly cognizant of that possibility, which is why we have made it a point to present ourselves in the manner we have. I haven’t a diametrical aversion to my peers that have done so and seen success. It’s simply just not what I wanted to undertake as a business. I have always been sure to authentically and organically endorse any idea we have put into effect thus far and will continue to do so.
This being the case, I wouldn’t genuinely be able to start “just another musician-ran clothing brand.” Therefore, I will not. I am launching a lifestyle brand as a musician, as a person trying to do more, an entrepreneur, etc.
Are you cautious to not exploit your position in letlive. when it comes to promoting your company?
While I do understand that having a pre-existing base is a unique and privileged position to be in, I would hope that when people discover the company, the quality, aesthetic, and essence speak for themselves and the brand holds itself more categorically than just another musician-ran brand. They certainly don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though.
Letlive. is inherently attached to me as a person as well as a creative and it is something I am extremely proud of. So, when someone discovers the band or the brand, I would love to think they help each other by widening the aesthetic scope and exhibiting the amalgamation of various cultures.
You’ve been playing music for over a decade and I know you worked your ass off to get your band to where it is now. Do you see similarities between your earlier days of the band and forming this company?
I see so many, which is why I can’t sit here and say that these two endeavors are entirely dissimilar. The hustle, in most endeavors, will hold true to its arduous character no matter where you find it. The hustle in music is daunting, tumultuous, saturated, and beautiful. I’ve been learning more and more about it for the past 13 years and every day it feels like I learn something new. This is also how I feel about starting your own brand. Admittedly, I wasn’t fully aware of all of the internal processes I would have to make work for me and the brand before I started G.I.R.L., but because of all the lessons I’ve learned in music and other hustle-heavy endeavors throughout my life, I am able to navigate through them much more fluidly and with a fair amount of confidence.
What are some of the struggles of being a new brand on the market?
I know this is going to sound like shenanigans, but I try to worry myself with the struggles and direct those energies toward being better. As an avid follower of fashion and its surrounding culture, I am inherently aware of how many brands are out there. I see what they are doing; I am cognizant of the ever-growing industry. Bearing this in mind, it is imperative that if my brand is going to gain an identity amidst all that is already happening, I must always make sure that our products hold an integrity and a charm that will not just sell, but will hold an undeniable appeal to me and my team as we are consumers of quality goods as well as merchandisers.
What effect has your being on the road constantly had on the brand?
Aside from making the communication a little more intermittent than it would be if I were based in an office or at home, I have not yet seen the struggles most would assume a business owner in my position would face. The team is comprised of my most trusted and capable friends so that probably makes it easier to open the lines of communication when necessary and/or execute objectives.
Have you felt it’s been difficult to balance both letlive. and G.I.R.L.?
As of right now, I have felt very little difficulty to balance the two. I think this may have to do with my inborn desire to “do more.” I always want to try to do and be better and with G.I.R.L. I have found a marriage between my affinity for creation on a level outside of music and my desire to offer those creations to people.
I truly feel that in doing both letlive. and Gentlemen In Real Life I have to be absolutely certain that what I’ve created is the best it can be before offering to those that care for it.
How does the DIY mindset play into the brand?
Hugely. Everything I’ve learned through DIY marketing I have applied in some way with Gentlemen In Real Life. I consider these devices to not only satisfy the ethos by which I operate, but they also serve as the one tried and true hustle in my own life. It would be silly not to employ these methods. Duh.
Do you feel that growing up in the world of punk and hardcore has given you an advantage when it comes to owning your own company?
I’m not sure if big business and punk should exist within the same sentences, but I have no problem placing the words “success” and “punk” shoulder to shoulder. There is an abounding sense of perseverance that is intrinsically woven throughout punk rock and hardcore. It’s all about finding an alternative to survive and then creating a realm of your own to thrive and create.
On a fundamental level, I believe these characteristics would behoove anyone in just about any endeavor, and in this particular scenario it happens to be a kid from Inglewood who also listened to punk music and has always believed there was a way to be creative, ethical, and successful all at once.
Do you plan to take the traditional musician-run company route or are there also plans to exhibit the brand at the tradeshows on the menswear circuit?
I’d like to utilize all outlets as tastefully as possible. If it is something that we can align with AND promote the company, then sure. If I had to choose between typical approaches that most of my peers have employed and high fashion, progressive approaches–at the moment, I think we fall somewhere in the middle. The things I aspire to achieve with Gentlemen In Real Life are certainly beyond typical relative to my current profession, but I cannot ignore what has been, and will continue to be a part of me as a creative, and that is this artist lifestyle. Alongside this lifestyle, I must also recognize my penchant for defined style, grooming, and other rad shit. I will be sure to exhibit all these personal tinges to represent this brand.
Who do you envision as the typical G.I.R.L. customer?
Anyone that desires more. To do more. To do better in any way.
I’m not saying these products are going to be purchased and change your life instantaneously, but they are created with your intentions in mind. They’re for the person who wanted to be a part of something bigger than a brand, logo, or icon. I know this could sound a bit hyperbolic, but fuck it—we are trying to cultivate a culture within our brand. Come see about it.
Do you feel obligated to stay as “in-the-know” in the world of men’s style as you do in the world of music?
This is where I find artists, creatives, and owners alike begin to slip into the realm of contrivance. Sometimes when people subscribe to things they feel the need to instantly know all things about their subscription as opposed to naturally learning through time and experience.
Thankfully, I have had an affinity for men’s style since the days of Cross Colours and Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album, which has afforded me what I deem ample time to consistently learn and experience the world of men’s fashion, as well as music, and have that knowledge assimilate into my own endeavors.
How would you say your own style has evolved over the years?
I want to say maturely. I’ve come from a somewhat hybridized background. Ethnically, culturally, and even environmentally and I have always done my best to consider this in my personal aesthetic. In my more formative years, I struggled with fully subscribing to one cultural identity and, as I grew older and began to better understand my tastes and myself, I found a way to include many elements of style that would otherwise seem incongruent. But that’s what real style is, isn’t it? Finding your own aesthetic. Feeling comfortable in your own skin and then covering it with garb that enhances that comfortability. So, to answer your question, keeping it sartorial in the hood.
Is your personal taste and style reflected in the brand’s output?
Most certainly. That is actually one of the largest bits of criteria for any item’s production. It has to be something I not only endorse, but would also use.
What are you hoping the future holds for G.I.R.L.?
To be honest, I’ve adopted a highly ambitious mindset. Some might even call it “overly ambitious.” I just feel that, on a fundamental level, the only way anything worthwhile can come to be is by immersing yourself within your endeavors. I’d love this company to eventually become its own culture. I guess the technical term in business would be “lifestyle brand.” But considering my slight dose of megalomania in all things I do, I’m working toward a complete identity that Gentlemen In Real Life will share with all those involved.
The nearer future projects include the grooming division [e.g. beard/hair oils, pomades, etc.], both leather and vegan handmade items [weekenders, toiletry bags, phone cases, etc.], utilities, novelty gifts, and a “Gals” division for our Gentlewomen. This is only the beginning. Essentially this company will expand the exact way it began: organically, with people I respect and adore in their respective craft. This means almost anything is possible as long as it aligns with our mantra.
I guess, on a less verbose level, anything my friends or I find to be an essential and/or cool ass product, we’re going to make it by hand and better than the next guy. Too ambitious? Nah. That’s just how a gentleman works.
You can keep up with Jason on Instagram, and visit the Gentlemen In Real Life website.
All photos by James Hartley.