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The John Butler Trio, one of Australia’s best exports, brought his ‘down under’ roots music ‘up above’ to a standing room only audience at The Vogue, Indianapolis, Indiana. JBT’s sound incorporates blues to reggae to country, and folk to funk to rock. Toss in a little Celtic, Middle Eastern, and Aboriginal influences and you’ve got World Roots Music, a category of music that John Butler presides.
"A perfect world is respect. Respect. Respect for all things.
Respect for each other."
The John Butler Trio have been touring the world in support of their latest release
“Sunrise Over Sea ” and opening shows for the Black Crowes and the
Dave Matthews Band which has given him wide exposure to a new audience. MusicPix
had the opportunity to talk with John Butler before his gig in Indianapolis, Indiana
about his music, his passions, and respect.
MusicPix: It’s seems like you are everywhere these days…you’ve had an incredibly busy summer touring the world doing festivals from Switzerland to Bonnaroo, fronting the Black Crowes and Dave Matthews in the US, you’re receiving heavy radio rotation, and you’re in Starbucks! How does it all feel at this point?
JB: It feels steady-like we’re definitely on a mission. There’s a mission and we’re in the middle of it. And luckily, through lots of hard work, we’re having results (which is great) and having lots of fun doing it… and spreadin’ some good lovin’.
MusicPix: Your music is like a warm and satisfying stew to me… like a soup! There are so many tasty things in there! Could you talk about your musical influences and how do you cook it up?
JB: I like all different types of music. I like anything that resonates some kind of truth or passion. Even some music that I don’t necessarily like, I tend to have some kind of attraction to. Like the Sex Pistols. I don’t really enjoy the Sex Pistol’s music but I am influenced by it because of its intense truth and passion. Its personal truth- there’s was no lying, there was no fooling, and there was no trying to sell you something. So I guess I’m influenced by music like that. With music that I really like- like blues, rock & roll, hip-hop, jazz, country, folk, all-time music… I see the connections between all. Being a rhythmic person, I love rhythm. Love it-Love it-Love it! Rhythms can all be added together as long as you put them in the right place. They can all actually work together. Having said that, one example would be the relation rhythmically and historically with reggae and country music. Country music accentuates off-beats. And reggae does the same really. So those two rhythms can work together. You can put a one-drop reggae beat to a country song and vice versa. Also, historically they are related because we had these songs that came over from Europe, (Celtic songs) and then we have these slave tunes that came over, and they fused in this country and made blues and formed country and jazz. And reggae is heavily influence by R & B. So you can see all of those connections. And to me, I just feel all those connections and they seem like they fit and belong together. [laughing] That’s a real cerebral way of looking at it…I just love reggae, country, and blues and they go together really well. Artists like G.Love and others have really shown that really well and with a lot of taste.
MusicPix: The duality of Zebra’s lyrics gives us a lot to think about. Life’s struggle between opposites is where we’re all at really. The last line, ‘And share it with the world if I got some balance.’ Do you think you’ve found balance?
JB: For me, personally, that’s an everyday thing… every moment. I don’t know if you just ‘click into balance’ because balance is an effort. For me (I shouldn’t speak for you or for anyone else) it’s an effort. It’s a constant effort. Sometimes it’s a struggle….sometimes it’s a mystery…sometimes it’s a constant frustration. To keep all the dualities working in harmony…I mean God! - They are ever present. As much as I love clean air and clean water and a healthy environment and choose to be a part of a positive movement of sorts, I drive this huge diesel bus around. Those things can fry your little noggin if you try to work out how you go around doing these two things at once? You can’t do one thing without the other. Obviously, you could buy bio-diesel and talk about the state of the world and the conspiracy for oil. But you know…you just try to tip the scale in the favor of the positive instead of the negative. They are always going to live together. Otherwise there’s no scale at all… there’s no yin there’s no yang, there’s no light there’s no dark, there’s no good there’s no bad…they do belong together in some way but you just try to find a find a harmonious way. I have no bloody answers. That’s why I wrote that song! [big laugh]
I could be loud man I could be silent
I could be young man or I could be old
I could be a gentleman or I could be violent
I could turn hot man or I could be cold
I could be just like the calm before the storm boy waiting for all hell yeah to break loose
I could be innocent or I could be guilty
Doesn’t mean that I won’t believe in the music I’m singing
I could be rich like a wondering gypsy
I could be poor like a fat wallet lost
I could be the first man or I could come last
It’s not who breaks the ribbon boy it’s how you get across
I could be red blue black or white sunset as dark as a day boy or bright as a night
I could be the sun boy or I could be the moon
I made it from the stars boy I’m shining so bright so I’m singing
I could be asleep or I could be awake
I could be alive man or be the walking dead
I could be ignorant or I could be informed (yes sir)
I could lead my life man or I could be lead
I could be anything I put my mind to boy all I gotta do is give myself half a chance
I could bring love back into my life
And share it with the world if I got some balance
MusicPix: Let’s talk about Australia. I’m guessing that the title "Sunrise Over Sea" refers to your home in Australia, Byron Bay, which is one of the most easterly points in Australia and is one of the first points to see the sunrise. First of all, is that true and could you talk about how Australia inspires you?
JB: Well, that is true. Byron Bay is the most easterly point…the first place to see the sunrise. The title of the album is from a song called Peaches & Cream, which is about my daughter coming into my life, and our life, and how it was a whole new beginning for me. I was a different person. I became a father. I took six months off the road. I started a new band. I made a new album with new musicians. The whole thing was all very new and it was a brand new day. It was a new way of approaching life and looking at life…a new attempt. That title comes from Peaches and Cream and it also comes from where I used to live on the east coast (Australia). I don’t live there now but I did. Australia. Yea, the land influences me. Even when I drive through this land… I had a very nice moment on top of a hill in Sugerbowl- next to Reno. For me, I very adamantly believe that the earth is alive and that we come from the earth and we have a very strong biological, spiritual, and physical connection to her. In ways that I don’t understand and it affects me. Obviously, we affect her. Yea, Australia influences me being that’s the place I spent most of my life…spending a lot of time in nature. But at the same time, so does here (US). Any place that I go in the world that the land seems to be too desecrated or its spirit has been too disrespected, it seems to move me. Even when I go into a place like Reno, which is a bit of a hole, it affects me. Here (US) and Australia…there are places that are kind of void of natural spirit. It’s a scientific, biological, spiritual and mental connection.
MusicPix: You’ve formed ‘The JB Seed’ to offer assistance to the more traditional art forms, but also to the more cutting edge/fringe ideas out there. Could you talk more about your involvement? As well as give an example of a fringe idea that’s been planted by The JB Seed?
JB: Sure. My career started around the same time when there was this huge campaign in southwest of western Australia to save the last of the old growth trees from a multi-national company who were just going to fell it, trash it, and leave the land totally destructed and then take all the earnings and bugger off with ‘em! To me, there was just this crossroads. What do I do? What is more important… contributing to society or contributing to my career? I realized that they are both important things- to live your dreams and at the same time contribute. That’s where the JB Seed comes from- with that intent. For a long time, me and my wife wanted to do it but we just needed to have the funds and the assets to be able to do that. Through many years of hard work and success, fortunately we have the money to start it and also the people we met through the years to help bring it to light. We started a thing where we wanted to contribute to artists. I’ve received many grants in my time that has helped me achieve my goals…one step along the way… I thought, God, in this day and age where there’s so much good art and so little funding with so many artists just trying to make it without having to spend forty hours a week at a job they hate. Sad. I wanted to contribute. So, we put fifty or so grand a side and made some categories. My wife got together with a guy..Carlos and a woman Jackie (I think) and they were the committee of it and we put five categories together…Indigenous Music Program, Social Activism through Arts, the Multi-Cultural Arts Program, Music Marketing Program, and there’s one more…..hmmm, Music Management (I think). We gave out thirty grants this year, so it’s great.
MusicPix: We think that’s fantastic and we really applaud your efforts. It’s so needed in our world…we’ll be watching and listening.
JB: Sorry for the long winded answer…but the one project that comes to mind as far as a fringe one…a woman who is designing billboards that have social commentary on them. One of them says, “Bring Back Backyard Abortions.” It’s a really full-on comment, a full-on statement about our governments on trying to band abortion and taking away women’s rights and putting women in a very dangerous position if they do need to make that choice for whatever reason, be it rape or whatever. So that’s one of the fringe, cutting edge ideas that we funded because I just felt that it needed to be said and be put out there and make people think a little.
MusicPix: You have many creative outlets and music is just at the forefront for you right now. What else are you currently (if you have time) into and where do you see yourself 5-10 years down the road?
JB: To me, there just seems to be endless possibilities for the music thing as far as contributing and healing and being apart of a positive change. I was given this bookmark years and years ago. I’ll get it out and read it to you… [drops the phone to get the bookmark]. It was given to me by a musician friend of mine and you can replace the word with God with anything…I’ve never been into God too heavy- you can use the Universe, the Earth, whatever you like. Music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man so that he can proclaim the word of God. So for me, God, music can really bring something positive to the place and you could really do a lot with that. Sounds really inspire mean and if you put some positive words to that, that’s even more powerful. So if you go on with visuals-making certain colors and certain backdrops…really making a concert a multi-dimensional experience of healing and celebration and experience of creating love. To me, that’s what I’m heading towards… a place where I can best make a gig a multi- dimensional experience. Color emits certain emotions and images…have you seen Baracca? It’s this great footage of animals and human beings…moving images. For me, I guess I’m looking toward combining all of that. On our next tour, we’re going to have an Aboriginal elder doing music with spoken word. He needs a bit of a law man so I’m just trying to bring him into culture, and to the gigs, so we can share their stories- the native people’s story and spread that throughout society. To make the experience of going to a gig more than getting off your face.
MusicPix: I’m fortunate because I’m a lucky American who has visited Australia and I’d say that Aussie’s are some of the kindest and happiest people that I’ve ever met. You’ve lived in the US until you were 11 and have been ‘down under’ ever since. Could you talk about the differences in culture and music?
JB: I’ll start with music. Most of the world is heavily influenced by American music. I mean, you guys have had the fortune of being the spawning place of blues, jazz, country, rock & roll…it’s pretty heavy to compete with…so we’re all influenced by that. Australians have their own approach to it, whether it be AC/DC or Midnight Oil, or Powderfinger… it’s hard to put a cultural twist to it. Sure, there are people who play didgeridoos in their music, but that’s one style or one act. So culturally, I guess we have a bit more British overtones because we didn’t have independence…we’re not a republic. We have so many nationalities that come to our country. We didn’t have the slave thing which really enriched your culture on the positive side of things at least. God? Yea, we’re different…there’s this thing called The Tall Poppy Syndrome which is interesting that you don’t get in America. When you become really successful in Australia and you’re doing really well, you get subjected to this thing called The Tall Poppy…which means you’re getting too big for your britches and we’re going to cut you down to the same size as everyone else. That can be a positive thing at times to keep everybody’s feet on the ground but it can also be a real negative thing. It also has an unfortunate effect on somebody’s goals, dream, and careers because people are jealous of that. In America, you don’t get a lot of that. If somebody’s doing something good, America is pretty gung-ho. They’re like, ‘Yea, GO. GO. GO…’ and in Australia, it would be like…”GO…GO…hey, hey…come back down, come back here, you’re getting too big.’ So that’s one really big distinct difference that I notice. At the same time, we’ve had heaps of support. You probably get that anywhere…it’s just prevalent in Australia. I don’t know why that is…if it’s our convict history or whatever it may be. We’re different and we’re the same…we all speak English. We’re mostly white; we trashed our indigenous people… a lot of time I look at Australia as the 51st state. It’s really sad to see our Prime Minister trying to follow George Bush so adamantly…so there’s a lot of things that could be built upon. But like a lot of the world, we’re becoming homogenized void. It’s a bit of critical way of looking at it but there’s some great things going on too. But it’s hard to delineate between those two things I guess…
MusicPix: The Gulf Coast Disaster is on the top of everyone’s mind and heart right now. How are you personally affected by this tragedy and do you have any specific plans to join the relief effort?
JB: First, I think like many, I was stunned and awestruck by it. Obviously, I’m reminded of how powerful the earth is, and then I was awestruck by the devastation and heartbroken by what I was seeing. And then, I was heartbroken by the government’s reaction. That really broke my heart to see those people for four days… with one of the strongest military might’s in the world and not get in there for four days, it just broke my heart. I think a couple of days afterwards, we started handing around buckets at our gigs…we’ve only had one gig where we could do that so far and those buckets filled up really quickly, it was quite amazing. We’ll do the same thing tonight if we can. We donate the money we make from that to the Red Cross just to help….just to help in some way. At the gigs, I dedicate an instrumental song to them as a prayer to encourage everybody to send some good stuff during that song. There are no words so they can have their own theme. That’s how I react as I can-think globally and act locally. That’s how I feel about it. I just sat in front of the TV and cried for an hour yesterday. Wow…Wow… I don’t cry about how powerful the earth is…it actually makes respect the earth a bit more and reminds me where the hell we’re living. I’m crying because of how cruel human’s can be to one another. It just spins me out…it spins me out. We can go across the world and trash other people’s culture and say we’re bringing freedom and we just let people just sit and starve. It just breaks my heart.
MusicPix: [Deep breath] We share that…
MusicPix: Moving on… Trio (the word) is more than apart of your band’s name, and Three (the word) is more than an album title to you. A triad has a special meaning to you…could you talk about why?
JB: I don’t know if I could…it’s one of those mysteries in my world that I’ve just noticed the pattern and I respect it. It’s come up plenty of times in several different ways. It just keeps coming up. Especially, in 2001…that’s when Three came out. That’s when we made Three, that’s when me and my wife became three…had a daughter. It was a pattern that came up and I started realizing it more and more. I can’t explain it. If I understood it, I probably wouldn’t be playing music. I’d be doing something else. It’s a rhythm, it’s a cycle. It’s a number. However you want to see it…I respect it. There are other cycles out there too. There’s the 12 and there’s the 7. But for me, it’s 3. It’s prominent and still is in lots of ways.
MusicPix: We have a series of questions that we ask every artist we interview called the MusicPix Six:
MusicPix: What is the first musical instrument you played and at what age?
JB: The ukulele, at probably around 2 or 3 years old.
MusicPix: What artist/performer influenced you the most?
JB: The most…ahhh, oh man, that’s bit tough. The most? One person? SFX: ummm, growl, gurgle….
MusicPix: If you’re really struggling, we’ll give you a couple more…
JB: There’s really too many. I’ll say one is Jeff Land, a singer/songwriter from Australia. He’s just an amazing writer and guitar player who influenced my whole rig and my guitars and everything. So that’s pretty huge. And then, Bob Marley, U2, Rage Against the Machine, Jimi Hendrix, so on and so forth…
MusicPix: If you weren’t in your current band, what band would you like to play in?
JB: I would love to be in an old time Bluegrass band. If I could, that would be cool. I saw this band called The Real Time Travelers. They were the most amazing thing. They were like food for my soul. It was like the difference between highly chlorinated water and good, clean creek water. They were just the creek water. They were beautiful. If I could be a slide player, a singer, and a banjo player in one of those bands, I’d be a happy man. I’m a happy man already. But if I didn’t do this, I’d be wanting to do something like that.
MusicPix: What are your 3 ‘desert island’ albums?
JB: I think I would have to have… Bob Marley- Live at the Roxie, Gillian Welch’s Hell Among the Yearlings…Ooh, now we’re getting into really tough territory here…the last one. I got my reggae, I got my old time…ahhh, I think I would have to take it to the intensity of Jimi Hendrix- Band of Gypsies-Live at Fillmore East.
MusicPix: Who do you think is the most over-rated in the music industry?
JB: Long Pause….[whispers…who is the most over-rated in the music industry over and over….] The television. I think it takes a big part in something that they don’t even make…it’s a funny thing. Between Reality TV and (Empty) TV… I don’t know.
MusicPix: What’s your ‘perfect world?’
JB: First of all, I don’t believe in perfection. So that has to be stated right there. I don’t think that we would have come about if the biology was perfect. Mutations are essential and wanted. Thank God! A perfect world is respect. Respect. Respect for all things. Respect for each other.
The Set List-The Vogue, Indianapolis, Indiana, 9/17/05
Home is Where The Heart Is
Treat Yo Mama
What You Want
Peaches & Cream
Something’s Gotta Give
Bound to Ramble
John Butler Trio
John Butler-vocals, guitars, percussion
Shannon Birchall-upright bass, bass guitar, vocals
Michael Barker-percussion, vocals
John Butler -1998
JBT EP -2000
Living 2001-2002 -2003
Zebra EP -2004
Sunrise Over Sea-2004