Ryan Butler pulls up to the vacant lot outside Studio Vegas Recording Studios in a black, tricked-out Mercedes with shiny rims. When he steps out of the car, his black wraparound shades sparkle in the sunlight, and his body is covered in tattoos. Believe it or not, Ryan Butler is a grandma’s boy.
Butler, 27, who grew up in LA in the early ’80s and moved to Vegas mid-decade, never knew his father. His mother was, in his words, a “junkie whore” who left for a pack of cigarettes in 1985 and never came back. At the age of 12, Butler was held up at gunpoint in old Henderson by thugs who wanted his skateboard.
But this isn’t one of those stories.
“Can I just start by saying that I love everyone?” cracks Butler through a smile while lounging in the control room of his studio. “I can’t watch people suffer.”
Butler’s fate was altered by the hands of two family members: his older half-brother Clay (now the drummer for The Mapes) and his grandma Lily. The former handed Butler a four-track recorder around the time of the skateboard incident, claiming, “I’m not gonna learn how to use it, so you better.” The latter used money from her California distribution company—at one point, the sole West Coast wholesaler for Fruit of the Loom—to raise both boys safely. For his part, Butler opened Studio Vegas last November. “I’m repaying her now,” he says.
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Las Vegans might already know Butler as the drummer for defunct hardcore band Faded Grey, but these days, he’s more of an entrepreneur. He learned the art of recording from “years and years and years of just trial and error.” Between gigs as a construction worker, security guard and tattoo artist (the name “Lily” is featured prominently on his neck), he’d buy equipment, learn new things and tinker. Now, in addition to running Studio Vegas, he’s got several other budding ventures in the works: a hip-hop label, a film production company and a potential guest spot on MC Hammer’s upcoming A&E reality show Hammertime. “I’ve always had the plan,” Butler shrugs confidently.
Part of the plan involved Digital Insight, one of the big studios in town, where he helped engineer recordings by Britney Spears (“she didn’t smell great”), Rihanna (“an angel”), Céline Dion and Kanye West. Seeing celebrities drop top dollars prompted Butler to open his own studio, with the same equipment, at discounted rates. “That’s my whole business plan,” Butler says. “Undercut everyone!”
Yet negativity continues to find him. Three years ago, he learned he has a form of cancer growing in his eye, which could spread to his brain. “I’m not scared of any of it,” he states. “My only fear is not living life to its fullest.” He also swats away concerns about potential privacy issues. “Run it all—I don’t give a shit.”
Ryan Butler lights up a cigarette before throwing on a pair of Vans slippers and walking out toward the street. He tells another story about his grandma, who, at 85, still lives in Vegas and “cusses like a sailor.”
“She could’ve put me and my brother in a home, but she didn’t, so … I’m taking care of her,” he says. “Some people, I think, deserve what they get, and other people don’t.”