John butler is passionate about making his music meaningful,
valuing audience participation at his shows.
You are touring the album and coming to Port Macquarie in May. How long does the tour go for, and how far are you travelling?
We start in New Zealand and then come over to Australia, and we are touring for a couple of weeks. We’ll be visiting towns that we haven’t really gone to before and are planning on keeping, to spread the good word to the fine people of this land.
Do you have anything new planned for the show in Port Macquarie?
Well yes, we do. We have a heap of new songs, that no one in Port Macquarie would ever have heard us play live. We also have new songs that aren’t on any album and have only just been recorded and written recently.
The new album April Uprising reflects a huge period of change in your life. What were the changes and personal journey that took place?
I did an SBS program called Who do you think you are? and learning so much about my heritage and my roots and ancestry was quite a pivotal time in my life. When you find out where you come from in that deep way, I think in a lot of cultures they say you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from. So in a way, finding out about my heritage and my great, great, great grandparents and things like that was life altering.
I also changed my band and got together with a new trio, and that in itself was a significant moment in time – and the new band has a great chemistry and a great love for each other and music. So between those two things, that is a massive shift in a lot of different areas in my life.
Did any of the revelations end up making it into the new album?
Not in specific details. More as a spirit-power, and the focus and the pride that I gained from that experience was transposed into the music and the spirit of the album and the name of the album, April Uprising. It comes from a battle that my great, great grandfather fought in Bulgaria in 1876. So it influenced in many, many ways, but not lyrically specific.
Last year you were performing to huge crowds in America. How does it compare to these small shows you are doing in Australia?
Everything is different, but one of our best shows in a long time was actually in Coffs Harbour just recently, on the national tour that we did – and it was awesome. There were only 1,500 people in an RSL, but it was a true little Rock gig.
So bigger doesn’t always mean better, and as I said earlier, it’s all about the contribution that everyone makes to the night, not just the band, but the audience and the crew. So when everyone puts in 100%, it’s kinda hard to have a bad show.
It’s really important for all audiences to know that when you come to one of our shows, it’s a group participation event – you know I don’t want them just to clap for me and for me to play for them. I want to create something with them that is special.
What is one of the most memorable experiences you have had while touring?
We have had the opportunity to play in some amazing places throughout the world, and some of the places we have played at have been so memorable … there are so many, whether it is the 80,000 crowd at Wave Aid, 60,000 people at the SCG or the little dinky folk festival in France … there are so many moments.
I have been lucky and blessed to have several.
Where do you get the inspiration from for your lyrics?
My songs are mainly written about in reference, in one way or another, even if it is only subtle, about Australia and the way we talk about things, and the way we look at the world. A song like Revolution is so much so about what is going on in Australia, as much as it can be easily referenced about what is going on in the world. I mean, in the song Revolution, singing “Big Heavy Pirates man digging those holes, messing with something that they can’t control.“
There I am talking about BHP ripping off indigenous land and messing with uranium that not even they know how to deal with! So whether it be that or Soldiers Lament or One Way Road, I am dealing with things that are happening around me in Australia – especially One Way Road. We have such a huge boom going on in my home state of WA; it’s almost grotesque in our greed to make more money and spend more money and get more in debt and use more energy and more water.
It’s definitely going the wrong way down a one way road … so I write what I see around me, and what I see around me is Australia. It’s where I have a chance to have a rest, grab my guitar and start writing. Australia is infused in everything I do.
You are passionate about making music with meaning both for you personally and your audiences. Off the new album, which song are you most proud of and have the strongest connection with and why?
Yeah, sure. Ragged Mile is a real favourite. If there was any one song that was most about my ancestry, then it would be Ragged Mile. That one was written after Who do you think you are?, so it has a lot of soul and spirit and speaks a lot about my ancestral spirit in a lot of ways.
It’s written from a guardian angel point of view, so that song is one very close to my heart and one that I really enjoy. And then a song like Revolution is very succinct about how I feel about the world, so I think between Ragged Mile and Revolution, they are my faves.
As a musician, you started out busking and made your way to the top through hard work and persistence. Knowing the challenges young musicians face, Danielle (your wife) and you established the JB seed grant program. How does the program work, and why was it important to create it?
Yeah, we actually changed the name last year to ‘The Seed’, got my initials off it, now that it has a bit of credibility and so it better represents some of our other donors, whether it be Paul Kelly or Missy Higgins or other people in the past who have donated, other than just myself. It’s going great – it’s in its sixth year and has distributed over half a million dollars to over 230 different projects and artists, so it’s done amazing things and it continues to keep on doing amazing things.
We are working with the management company that manages Grimworl and Skinnyfish to bring new music out to remote Aboriginal communities – and especially festivals. A lot of the bands that play at these bush festivals don’t get paid, so we are starting an initiative where bands do get paid.
We’re doing publicity programs for people we have worked with in the past and also management workshop programs – which are in their 6th year and also doing amazing things and is something we’re very proud to be a part of.
Giving back is important. We have had so much abundance in our lives and had a lot of generosity, that it is only the right thing to give back.
Aside from all the touring, how do you maintain a good work / life balance?
That’s the struggle for almost everybody in the world (laughs)! I just try and make sure I have the right amount of time at home, the right amount of time off the road, with myself, with my family – it’s a constant balancing act.
I mean, when I am at home, I like to spend a lot of time with my kids. We have a shed out the back and I make them little wooden bows and arrows and fake knives and toys and such. Dan and I have a studio, and we have been spending some time in there recording her demos.
Essentially watering the garden: whether it’s the family garden, the relationship garden, the personal garden or the musical garden; it’s about nurturing all those different aspects.
Thank you John.
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