Arts & Culture

Music Maker Saja Butler

Urban Monk Studio’s founder infuses the NoCo music scene with a little light and laughter.

BY DAY SAJA BUTLER TEACHES banjo, guitar and ukulele lessons at her Urban Monk Studio. By night, she sings and plays with the band Lois and the Lantern. With both, she lives her truth: that music is elemental to the human experience.

Her popularity as a teacher attracted the attention of Bohemian Foundation, which hired her as a utility staff member for the Music District. In that role, Butler will expand what she’s already been doing: connecting students with teachers who think outside the box. “We’ve forgotten how much music is fun,” she says. “It’s energy and light. We need that now more than ever.”

How did you get started as a musician?

As a kid, I was classically trained in clarinet. Sonatas, concertos, you name it. I went all the way to number one in my home state, South Carolina. My whole life, I knew I was supposed to be a musician.

What instruments do you play?

Banjo—for 17 years and love it!—guitar, ukulele, piano, and I sing… and still squeak out a little clarinet now and then.

Tell us about Lois and the Lantern.

We’re bluegrass, like a female Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Really tight. I’m inspired by all those ladies and the fact that we can celebrate and support each other. I have been in other female bands where it’s like a battle. A competition. We need to get that out of the female diet.

Who are your American musical heroes?

Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, and Elizabeth Cotton—also people like Earl Scruggs. I love the community aspect of that style, like we’re all drinking ’shine and sitting together.

What about FoCo musical heroes?

Alysia Kraft from Patti Fiasco. She’s an inspiration to me because she’s really dedicated and her sound is so energetic. And she’s approachable as an artist.

Favorite recent FoCo musical development?

In recent years, we have moved out of just having bluegrass, folk, and depressed indie music. Now we have a plethora of different acts from alternative to soul, to hip hop—like Kind Dub.

What’s the first album you ever bought?

Oh! My first cassingle—remember those?—was REM, Document; first 45 was Diana Ross, “Muscles”; and first actual disc was Whodini, Be Yourself.

Any favorite FoCo hang outs?

Once a week I take myself out as a treat. I go to a really elegant place—that I can’t name because that’s classified. I sit, drink wine, and journal. In the daytime, I go to Lucille’s because it reminds me of home and I can get some real grits.

Where’s NoCo’s best open mic?

I’d say Avo’s. Or Lucky Joe’s. Mulligan’s is a great one too if you’re just beginning. It’s a really supportive crowd of introverts. Avo’s is more if you want to be seen, but you had better be ready.

Best advice you ever got?

Stop trying to be perfect. As a musician you struggle with that on the daily. I’ve sung verses twice. I once flicked a pick and almost injured somebody in the audience. I’ve bled on my banjo… you’ve just got to be yourself. That’s what the crowd really wants.

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