The project that Jim Button calls Continents has included a variety of lineups since he started it in 2008.
On Friday, at the Riot Room, Button will be joined by Casey Burge on bass and Rusty Scott on drums. Over drinks at McCoy's on a recent Monday, he says the current trio is the most stable incarnation of the group that he has yet assembled to play his songs live. But Button's comfort with Continents' fluctuating membership suggests that it would not be astonishing to see him joined by an entirely different group of guys the next time the band plays live — whenever that might be.
"It wasn't until the end of recording the first record [Land of Plenty] that I realized I wanted to be playing these songs live," Button says. "So then I had to find some people to play with me. Over time, I got into the habit of just booking shows and then after the fact saying, 'OK, who's going to help me with this show?' And since I ended up playing with lots of different people, every show ended up being different. Which was cool to me. I could kind of decide what I wanted the next show to feel like by picking the lineup."
The common denominators, of course, were Button and the hazy, psychedelic guitar pop that he tends to record. Continents' second release, the EP Spiriting, is out later this month, and the songs are at once hypnotic and dazzling. Button is expert at making melodies out of monotones, of giving a lively sense of purpose to a drone.
"I like bands who are arty as hell, but the genius to them is that they make it accessible in a weird way," he says. "I used to be really into prewar blues and Bob Dylan, but gradually I realized there was some really great stuff coming out that I was missing. That's when I got into bands like Caribou and Deerhoof, and psychedelic stuff like the Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators. I finally realized how incredible Kraftwerk was. And Can — my favorite band is probably Can. I'm just really into those Can type of drum rhythms."
Button grew up playing the drums. It wasn't until the mid-2000s, isolated in a Florida technical college, that he picked up a guitar and started recording. "I was just messing around with different sounds, trying to make this really lush, reverb-y stuff," he says. "Casey [Burge, of local band Minden] and I started e-mailing songs back-and-forth. And I kind of looked up to Casey because he's been writing songs for such a long time. It turned into this fun, competitive songwriting thing where we'd try to top each other."
In 2008, back in Kansas City, Button started recording in the basement of his apartment in Hyde Park using the basics: a drum kit, a bass, a guitar, a couple of keyboards. "When I recorded the song 'Land of Plenty,' I was really pleased with the way it turned out, and I started to feel like I could do more songs in that vein," he says.
A little more than a year later, he self-released eight songs as the Land of Plenty album. ("Eight songs, two years — I'm not a fast songwriter by any means," he says.) Button attracted interest from a few national labels but ended up rereleasing Land of Plenty on the Record Machine, which is also putting out Spiriting.
Button still prefers to record at his house, not yet having found a studio where he feels totally comfortable. "Eventually, maybe," he says of going a more professional route. "There are certain sounds that are just outside the realm of a home recording. Like that last Dirty Projectors record, which is just so powerful and amazing. I couldn't possibly get those sounds in my basement. But at the same time, by doing it all myself, I can make it uniquely my own thing. My hands are on it all the way. There are limitations, but at least I can fully realize what I want from my recordings."
Button also balks at the music-industry infrastructure of labels and touring. He prefers to book his own shows, make all the posters, shoot all the videos. "Some of these indie labels I was talking to would say they're going to sink $10,000 into promoting the album," he says. "And I just felt like, 'Wow, that's a lot of money. Do I have to pay that back?' Figures like that frighten me."
Besides, the usual venues bore him. He prefers to play at nontraditional spots, such as art galleries. "There's something to be said about paying your dues out on the road, but I like to operate in more of a community atmosphere," he says. "I don't feel like I need to be a part of a national scene. Like, I always loved Ghosty and Ad Astra Per Aspera growing up. I thought it'd be so cool to play shows with them. And now I get to. That's the fun part. The idea of touring eight months a year, playing to tiny crowds, isn't very appealing to me.
"What gives me joy is getting sucked in recording for nine hours at a time at my house," he continues. "I'm a homebody, you know? And I have very specific ideas for what I want my music to express. I feel bad about that sometimes because if you play with a band or work with a label or a venue, other people will want you to do different things. But to me, it just comes down to what kind of life I want to live."