Bitter Pill
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Bitter Pill

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2016
Band Folk Rock




"Father-Daughter Band Bitter Pill"

Billy and Emily Butler are part of Bitter Pill, a New Hampshire band that Billy describes as a play on R&B — "rhythm and bluegrass." Their new album, Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line, combines classic folk elements with spoken word and poignant lyrics for a unique sound. The duo sat down with All Things Considered host Peter Biello for NHPR's Summer Music Series.


Peter Biello: Thank you both very much for speaking with me.

Billy Butler: Absolutely our pleasure.

Emily Butler: Yeah, thank you.

Peter Biello: So, let's start by talking about this album, Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line. Both of you sing on this album. So I wanted to start with you, Emily. What song in this album do you most enjoy singing?

Emily Butler: I think my favorite to sing is "Alone." I throw a little bit of theatrics and drama into it, and it's really fun.

Peter Biello: Ok, well, let's hear a little bit of "Alone."

"Alone": "Spider webs and squeaking floor dust bunnies and creaking doors. Listen closely, you can it moan. I love this house, I love this home."

Peter Biello: Emily, what theatrics do you include when you sing this live?

Emily Butler: For this one, I really like to take the mic off the stand and throw my arms around. And when I get to "utterly alone," I really [sing] "I'm utterly alone." Really hold it out.

"Alone": "I am utterly alone."

Peter Biello: Billy, you've described Bitter Pill's music as a play on R & B, "rhythm and bluegrass." How do you think those styles come together through your songs?

Billy Butler: We try to write what inspires us. You know, we never really sit down to say, like, "This is what we're writing." It just kind of comes. And all of those influences, I think, come through pretty much in every song.

Peter Biello: Well, I asked this question of Emily, so I'll ask it of you, Billy. What song do you love singing?

Billy Butler: "Tom Waits" is probably my favorite, it's a spoken-word piece.

Peter Biello: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned this one. I want to play a little bit of it. We're going to have to bleep some of it for our audience. But it's worth listening to because it stands out. So here's a little bit of "Tom Waits."

"Tom Waits": "Am I a man? I'm not just the outline of a man smoking too many cigarettes while pining the lost virtues of Generation X and blaming this new generation for their lack of vision, work ethic and taste. Back in my day, we had rocks and we liked it, goddamnit, get off my lawn with that commercial s—t. Pop rock is a candy you suck on when you need a fake and sudden rush."

Peter Biello: A lot going on there, Billy.

Billy Butler: Yeah, there's a lot going on in that song.

Peter Biello: So, where does an inspiration for a song like that come from?

Billy Butler: It comes from Tom Waits. I find myself identifying with him on many levels. And I'm such a huge fan. I mean, it's an homage to him and his style and the style of beat poetry. The song comes from a show I wrote called The BrechtTones, and it's about a beat poet, and it just fits so well into Bitter Pill's esthetic. You're like, "We're doing this song."

"Tom Waits": "...grinding out my own plays and saying my own lines, marginalized, criticized, vocalized, soberized, romanticized, aggrandized, immortalized. Skid Row Romeo on the forefront of obscurity. I'm the coolest m—g balladeer anywhere. You don't care what you want. I make my own for myself and all of my friends. I'm a problem child..."

Peter Biello: So, tell me a little bit about what it's like to be a family band, a father-daughter duo on stage. How does that work for you?

Emily Butler: We are all about just like goofing off and being silly. So we get on stage and that, like, gets amped up, and once we start playing, it's like we're all just looking at each other like, 'are you ready?' Or, 'are we moving on to the next thing?,''are you doing a solo?" It's a crazy feeling to be doing it with your dad, but also just it feels like any other band.

Billy Butler: We didn't realize we were a family band until somebody said, 'hey, you guys are a family band.' We're like, 'oh yeah, we should market on that.' But I can say, you know, I've done a lot of artistic things in my life, but working with my daughter is something that can't be topped. I can't believe I get to do this. And it gives me an excuse to hang out with my kid.

Peter Biello: That must feel great for you, Emily, to hear your dad say that.

Emily Butler: Yeah, I've seen him like my whole life on stage doing all this cool stuff. So to finally be able to do that with him is really awesome.

Peter Biello: Let's listen to another track from this album. This one is called "Land of the Lost."

"Land of the Lost": "Tightly wound, slightly worn, torn and tangled like the bangles I adore. Growing old, being bold, like a fleeting kind of love often sold."

Peter Biello: So, Emily, you wrote this one.

Emily Butler: Yes, I did.

Peter Biello: What's the story behind "Land of the Lost?"

Emily Butler: So, I kind of noticed - I'm a really big bluegrass folk traditional fan - and all the big bluegrass singers, they all have these beautiful songs about women that they fall in love with. And then the woman doesn't love them back. So they bring them to like a river and push them in because they know they can't swim or, you know, take them and shoot them, like, they just murder the women that they love. So I was like, I'm going to do it from the female perspective. So my lover, my boyfriend, he betrays me, so I smother him with a pillow and then I bury him in the desert where he can't be found.

Billy Butler: Hashtag so proud, Dad.

"Land of the Lost": "You couldn't breathe. You coughed and hacked and let out one last wheeze. That's when I knew that deed was done. That I didn't have to use my old shotgun."

Peter Biello: Before we close out, what's a song that we should listen to on the way out?

Billy Butler: "Desperate Times."

Emily Butler: Yeah, I was going to say that too.

Peter Biello: "Desperate Times," the namesake of the album here. All right. Well, here is "Desperate Times" from the album "Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line." Billy, Emily, thank you so much for speaking with me. I really appreciate this chat.

Billy Butler: Thanks. Thank you very much, Peter. It's a pleasure.

Emily Butler: Thank you.

"Desperate Times": "I saw a billionaire shooting up in an alleyway. These are desperate times. A housewife microdosed, found the meaning of life. These are desperate times..." - NHPR


In this everchanging world, full of double talk & minor infractions, little rationalization is needed to understand why Bitter Pill‘s new single “Desperate Times” is the exact pick-me-up we were looking for. Released in late March, this release falls on the eve of their upcoming second full length, Desperate Times on the NH State Line. A macabre outfit; paired with severed heads & white face paint, are always eager to make sure their audience is paying attention. Full of what reads as stage antics & whimsy is actually an homage to late vaudevillian heroes such as Cab Calloway & blues artists like Lead Belly. Their inaugural release Prepare Your Throats, a collected work of originals & traditional folklore tunes, is pivoted for the staging of William Shakespeare’s bastard son “Titus Andronicus”. If Tom Waits & Dusty Springfield needed to meet in an undisclosed location, beneath the city in a wind tunnel, Bitter Pill would be the backup band playing in the terminal. Thematic & enveloping, Bitter Pill is a whole mood to get lost in. With a new age of virtual concerts, this band of undead banjo thumpers are keeping up & giving you more than you bargained for. Are you ready to swallow this Bitter Pill?

From a housewife micro-dosing on psychdelic mushrooms to gulping an Orange Julius in the White House food court, Bitter Pill sets the stage for happily affirming the utter weirdiest of today’s social current climate. Heightened by homegrown anxiety & hope for political unification, we find ourselves letting loose to Bitter Pill’s raucous guitar riffs – each full of swing & the kind of shake that you could only do in the comfort of your own home. Listening to this song, accidentally on Spotify shuffle with my other “Liked Songs”, just after The Clash’s “Know Your Rights” seemed eerily deliberate on my algorithm’s part. This song is conjoined to an outcry. It’s meant to help us feel more together in a brand new age of “AH! Live music is under absolute siege!”. Seamingly just a changing of format, Bitter Pill’s managed an easy transition, manuevered well with quick slight of hand.

Check out Bitter Pill’s Facebook page below for their upcoming VIRTUAL CONCERTS on May 9th, 16th, & 23rd! They will be gradually releasing singles from their upcoming album over this medium, making it easy to enjoy a nice bottle of wine while eating some load mashed potatoes, & listening to some saucy, locally grown tuneage that makes you forget about anyone’s white blood cell count. Take a moment to remember, “these are desperate times”! - Lowell Spin

"The Top 20 albums of the year in Seacoast music"

Bitter Pill, “Prepare Your Throats”

There’s a lot to love about this record. You can’t not be intrigued by a theatrical troupe that soundtracks their own production and then cuts that soundtrack live in a studio. That’s exactly what Bitter Pill did whilst in the process of producing their rendition of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus Musicus” last summer. The walked into The Noise Floor in Dover with their instruments in tow and cut the record on the spot. Good stuff. - Seacoast Media Group

"’Tis the Season for New Hampshire-made Music"

Had enough “Silent Night” this time of year? Bitter Pill may have the antidote.

Recorded at The Noise Floor in Dover, Bitter Pill’s “Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line” is a collection of smart, dramatic, visual, evocative compositions that cross genres and casts shades of Tom Waits and Shane MacGowan throughout.

Evocative of what? Loneliness, addiction, cons, poverty and desperation. But don’t think it’s an overwrought confessional. Billy Butler (vocals, cello and piano) and his daughter Emily (ukulele and vocals) bring a wink, a nod and a giggle to the heavy themes. - NH Magazine

"Chris Hislop's Seacoast top 21 best music list of 2020"

One of your favorite bands you haven’t heard yet (well, some of you have ...). An apt ode to the year that wasn’t, “Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line” leaves it all out there in its gypsy punk folk glory. This ain’t a slice of the floppy hat, fancy boots, folk boom throwback found at vacant pop-folk festivals ‘round the world. This is the real deal, punch you in the gut and keep you coming back looking for more goods. Get some. -

"I will Restore to Thee, The People's Hearts"

An album and video launch from Bitter Pill brightens up
the music scene with prudent Shakepearean darkness
Bitter Pill was birthed when musician and songwriter Billy Butler put together a theatrical staging of his songs to premier in October of 2016 at The Players' Ring Theatre in Portsmouth New Hampshire. The group has now grown into a rotating creative team self described as "21st century vaudevillians comprised of musicians, singers, circusers, artists, actors, and awkwards". Their album "Prepare Your Throats" is intriguing, creative, humorous, raw and not all that wholesome...we give this creative venture two mighty severed thumbs up."
With Butler at the helm, the group recently produced a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s "violent, bloody, grotesquely, ridiculous, abomination of a play", Titus Andronicus. Titus Andronicus Musicus - The Bitter Pill theater production ran earlier this year in Portsmouth prior to this newly released recording of Prepare Your Throats. The album features Butler's original music and lyrics from the stage performance, along with a couple of folk and hymn classics, and it was all recorded live in one day at The Noise Floor in Dover NH. The choice to record it live with no overdubs, auto-pitch or additions gives it a perfect sparse reality and a pleasant fibrous and organic sound that is fitting of this (new?) genre and style.
The entire album is so pleasantly weird, it's endlessly refreshing in a music scene overtly full of tight classification. The opening song, Titus Bitterus roars in hard as a glaring play on vaudeville, pirate culture and musical theater, and it opens the door for, let's face it, the near-pure genius of Butler's modern take on this neglected bloody Shakepearean play about tragedy and revenge. Butler's daughter Emily enters the voice fray on the second song from the album, Am I Born to Die. Her voice is fitted well for this sultry classic folk track. Much like the rendition of Lead Belly's In the Pines on track 5, her youthful voice has some slight imperfections that make it unrelenting and relatable. By the third track there is a bit more awareness that there is a musical theater experience going on here. The Keeper unfolds the story, and Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair seals the overall up and down mood that make it a allegory worthy to follow.
The banjo sounds of Michael McKay and the guitar tracks from Michael Wingate Seavey along with the ukulele blend the vibe so well and lean the sound to a more modern Folk-Americana, with just enough subtle musical fuckery that the songs are not fully falling into that, or any, specific genre. The age gaps in the players and the family connections are an asset that give more authenticity to this project with several personal influences creeping in exactly when they need to. Woe Lavinia is probably one of my personal favorite tracks on the album... Jesus Christ Superfolkstar? I walked away from the listening session with a heavy Woe Lavinia ear worm...I may have even acted some of it out with huge arm guestures in an aisle at the North Berwick Hannaford and got some stares...but Titus wouldn't give a shit, so I do not either. The instruments blend so perfectly on this track they are permissiably hard to distingush as one more important than another... success.
Emily's voice shines brightest when she's in the 40's jazz mode on the later tracks Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out and Too Many Vampires. She has more control over her voice and it falls more naturally into itself, there is enough of an old soul shining through that it's not unrealistic to consider the fact that you may be listening to the dawning of a big break for Emily as a young solo artist should she continue to tame and explore her own voice and see it as the gold it should be. Maybe the Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow brings us back to the musical theater influences with all the players truly shining as a group with the vocals having a much more humorous and darker Rocky Horror-street feel before entering us into the closing song that winds back to the ending with a beginning ... Titus Exitus ends the story with tragedy and horror, just as promised.
Billy Butler's take on Shakespeare airs a deeper understanding of not only the play itself, but the comedy and the tragedy of the experimental place the original play came from. Just like Bitter Pill, Shakespeare was experimenting in real time with influences coming from the scene around him. With folk and Americana being rather popular in the Seacoast, Bitter Pill manages to make fun of it while doing it better... They are taking it to a new and intelligent level and incorporating unexpected influences, again...refreshing. It's also unwavering and risky...and they manage to nail it. What they choose to do with what they have in the future to either develop this particular project to gain a larger reach, or add something new to make it unignorable and more epic is up to's certainly awkwardly lovable for all of us that really appreciate the darker and weirder side of life. - Modspoke


"Prepare Your Throats" 2018

"Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line" 2020

"livin aint easy dyin aint free" (coming in 2022) 

"Children of the Grim" (children's record coming in 2022)



Self-described as “rhythm and bluegrass,” Bitter Pill is a tight-knit family, (literally father and daughter) who play a dark and anachronistic twist of folk, blues, jazz, rockabilly, and country – mixed with original spoken word as well as reading from literary classics. They released their first album, “Prepare Your Throats,” in the fall of 2018. A collection of traditional and original songs from the soundtrack of their staging of William Shakespeare’s violent, bloody, grotesquely ridiculous abomination of a play, “Titus Andronicus.” They released their second album May 2020, “Desperate Times on the New Hampshire State Line,” a whimsical collection of foot stompin’, hand clappin’, spirited cross-genre tunes. Now available for purchase and streaming on all the streamers.

They just finished recording their third album, “livin aint cheap, dyin aint free” and will be heading back into the studio to record their new children’s album, “Children of the Grim.” Both due out in 2022. “Children of the Grim,” a neo-gothic musical play of original and traditional children’s stories, nursery rhymes, and folk songs will have it’s theatrical premiere in May at The Players’ Ring Theatre.

“Smart, dramatic, visual, evocative compositions that cross genres and casts shades of Tom Waits and Shane MacGowan.” NH Magazine

“A perfect storm of fearless bluegrass.” Hippo Press

“Exhilarated. Stimulated.” NHPR

“Intriguing, creative, humorous, raw and not all that wholesome.”

“This ain’t a slice of the floppy hat, fancy boots, folk boom throwback found at vacant pop-folk festivals ‘round the world. This is the real deal, punch you in the gut and keep you coming back looking for more goods.”

Nominated for 2018 Song of the Year and Best New Act of the Year by the New England Music Awards. Most recently nominated for 2021 Best Live Act and Best in NH.


Emily Butler – Vocals, Ukulele
Billy Butler – Vocals, Cello, Guitar, Accordion, Piano
Tomer Oz – Acoustic Guitar
Mike McKay – Banjo, Mandolin
Jon McCormack – Electric Guitars
Dave Hamilton – Drums

Band Members