INDEPENDENT NEWS

Guitar/roots Rock Legend John Butler In Concert This Weekend

Published: Thu 13 May 2021 06:47 AM
Australia’s highest selling independent artist of all time, guitar/roots rock legend JOHN BUTLER, will perform in two very special concerts this weekend – the first international performer to cross the border without quarantine in 12 months!
He will perform in two iconic locations, the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch on Saturday and Powerstation in Auckland on Sunday. Check out www.johnbutlertrio.com for venue and ticketing details.
The tour caps an extraordinary few years for this multi-award-winning artist who was to have headlined Bluesfest at Byron Bay last month which was ultimately cancelled due to a Covid lockdown.
The John Butler Trio’s seventh studio album HOME debuted at #1 on the ARIA Charts and was nominated for ‘Best Independent Blues & Roots Album’ at the 2019 AIR Awards.
It was a fitting accolade for Australia’s most successful independent musician with the record exploring new sonic territory with expanded instrumentation and experimentation with new genres whilst still retaining the core of the JBT sound.
John is a journeyman and has developed legions of fans along the way.
“I started playing the guitar when I was 16, and I’m 43 now,” he recalls. “I began busking instrumental songs when I was 21. As a teenager I used to write songs just for myself, so it took me a while to make my first demo tape. I remember the first person who asked me for a tape came back two or three times – and when I still didn’t have one, she walked away shaking her head. I realised at that point that I really had to get off my butt and do it.”
That first cassette sold over 3500 copies – a number that a fair few signed artists would be happy with, let alone a busker. Most of us would have stopped right there, content to jam our youth away, but Butler knuckled down to building a profile.
“It was a gradual progression from busking to playing in bars and clubs,” he remembers. “I did gigs in the week and busked at the weekends, but as more and more gigs came along, I just wasn’t around to busk anymore. I had all these songs written, so I decided to share my act with drums and bass, and formed the John Butler Trio.”
Butler’s recorded catalogue has paved the way to major success, although he’s never rested on his laurels. In the mid-2000s he set up his label plus a charitable organization – the Seed - which provides grants to artists and musicians. His involvement in a long list of environmental campaigns is as integral to Butler as his music.
“Ah, don’t get me started!” he chuckles. “I’m laughing here, because otherwise I’d have to cry. The hydraulic fracking that’s going on in Australia and the UK and USA is out of control, and completely evil. They’re messing with our water now, and I like clean water and clean air. Does that make me a fundamentalist? I don’t think so. At least the environment is a mainstream issue now, not a left-leaning concern as it used to be. Personally, I pick and choose where I can be involved, and where I can be most potent to a campaign.”
Add Butler’s perspective and worldview to the new songs on HOME and it’s no wonder that they add up to such an immersive experience. There are crowd-stirring anthems in the form of ‘Tahitian Blue’ and ‘Running Away’, as well as atmospheric drones in ‘Wade In The Water’ – and if you’re looking for big country-rock sounds, look no further than ‘Miss Your Love’, of which Butler explains, “The boy walking around in a man’s body is a recurring theme that I had been unpacking – and ‘Miss Your Love’ was my way of processing my own journey.”
The heart of HOME, though, is Butler’s acoustic approach, allowing his vocals – both applied to a single line or as part of a wash of layered harmonies – to fly. ‘Just Call Me’; ‘Faith’; ‘Tell Me Why’; ‘Coffee, Methadone & Cigarettes’ – these are all wondrously understated songs in which the melodies are given the space they deserve.
Musically, there’s a whole feast of sounds at play on the album. Butler’s vocals and roots instrumentation are the bedrock of the music, of course, but the palette of other elements is far-ranging. The electronic beats and bass in ‘You Don’t Have To Be Angry Anymore’ and the title track give them a compact, modern sheen that perfectly suits the tight arrangements, for instance. Butler is arguably at his most effective when the two approaches mesh seamlessly, as they do on ‘Brown Eyed Bird’ and ‘We Want More’.
“I’m trying to incorporate all the different sounds that I love into something that sounds like a natural song – and hopefully not like some Frankenstein creation,” he says. “After all, I love Skrillex as much as I love Dolly Parton, and I love Beyoncé as much as I love Gillian Welch, even though the way I play guitar is so old-fashioned. I’m using old banjo techniques and Indian picking techniques, but all the music I like is really modern. I’m just the folk musician in the middle.”
Summing up the album, Butler states: “What you’re hearing is the destination – but getting here felt like an odyssey; a rite of passage that I couldn’t go around, couldn’t go over, and couldn’t go under. I had to go through it.”
Asked how HOME compares to his previous work, he explains: “It’s just evolution; something I’ve been thinking about and trying to create for years. Have I mastered that moment? Probably not, but that’s the journey – you never quite master it. You’re always headed towards the horizon, but you never make it there.”
Could he have made HOME as a callow youth, back in 1990s Fremantle? “No!” he laughs. “I would have liked to, but philosophically speaking, I can only be where I am, and the journey that has led me to this point was one I had to take. I’m actually glad I didn’t try to make this album 20 years ago, because I didn’t have the maturity. After this many years I’m finishing my apprenticeship, and I’m glad it’s taken 20 years – because I think I’m just starting to get decent at this thing!”

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