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:: Spotlight :: John Butler Trio - Living it Out Quietly...

By: Allison Griffiths

From busking, to touring the US, to having a live album, ‘Living’, debut at No. 6 on the ARIA charts, the John Butler Trio continues to impress audiences. John Butler continues his quest to share his music with the world. With new daughter Banjo happily shrieking in the background, John takes some time out from visiting his father in Perth to share a little more of his world with us.

Why release a live album?

‘It was basically to capture a time and place really…in the bands sound really. We’ve been playing those songs for quite a few years and it’s just to capture those songs live and capture where the band was then. And so we could move on at the same time.’

So you felt it was time to close one chapter and start another phase?

‘Yeah, definitely. That’s a beautiful way to put it.’

How did the title of the album ‘Living’ come about?

‘The title came about…I was trying to name an album rather than just ‘live’ or ‘a live’ or something like that. It seemed fitting, that’s what we’ve been doing, that’s how we’ve been living the last four years. So it seemed the most fitting.’

‘Living’ has debuted at No. 6 on the ARIA charts, a fantastic achievement, particularly for a live release of previously released material. D o you sit back and think ‘wow, the album’s really successful – it’s No 6 first week in the charts.’ Is that a measure of success for you?

‘Yes and no. Success is all about people acknowledging your music. It amazing how many people acknowledge it and enjoy it. So on that level I’m very, very grateful and thankful for that. That so many people see enough in the music to go out and buy it and play it. It’s an honour to take that place in people’s lives, I guess. I mean, I’ve always listened to music and it’s always done amazing things for me so it’s amazing to do the same for other people. Really, it’s a real honour.’

What would be the ideal situation/surrounding to listen to ‘Living’?

‘If you’re going to listen to the whole thing, I guess the best thing to do is to take out a couple of hours and sit down on the couch and relax. I think is the best thing to do or get in your car and take a long drive.’

The live versions of the songs are a lot longer. They are a bit crusier with the instrumental bits…

‘Yeah there is a lot more improvisation. It just allows the music to breathe a little bit. Sometimes it allows the music to breathe, to take a run, fall asleep and wake up again. It definitely allows the music to do what it wants.’

Is song writing an easy process for you?

‘Its getting easier. It’s definitely getting easier to write songs. At the same time its evolving as well, so I’m just trying to get better at my craft really. That takes a certain amount of effort, for sure.’

Do you co-write any of your material?

‘I haven’t really. I mean, I have a lot of my own music that I want to get out. So I’m just trying to get that music out. At the same time, I’m interested in doing it but I haven’t done it yet because I just haven’t found that chemistry I guess.’

So if you found the right person, you would be interested in co-writing something?

‘Yeah, I mean not a whole album, but a song here and there. It would probably be interesting to collaborate.’

There is a lot of political and social content in your songs. Do you hope that through your music you can influence others?

‘No, not really…to a certain degree. I just really want to express my opinion. I think that’s essentially what the music is about, its about somebodies personal slant on any situation whether it be love or hate or politics or food…or anything. It’s just my opinion. But through my music I like to contribute to a better world. Whether that means I donate money from my gigs to certain causes or have certain causes like The Wilderness Society coming to the gigs, and doing some speaking. I definitely like to contribute. For me it’s not really good enough to concentrate on my career, I often concentrate on helping, helping out. So I’m not really trying to influence people and make a message, I’m just speaking my mind. But through doing that there are certain ways I can offer help with money being made or a certain amount of media access, whether it be through websites, pointing people through links to other websites, stuff like that.’

Is that where the recycled album covers come into the scheme of things?

‘I think that’s making a difference on a real direct level. How I go about conducting my business in this world. Definitely making sure its as friendly as possible.’

How is the next studio album going?

I am ready to record it in May. There are lots of good songs. I’m really happy with the new batch of songs. I’ve done a bit of jamming with a couple of musicians and I really like the way it’s sounding. I’m really looking forward to it. I think its going to be a really good evolution and I’m really enjoying playing that music.’

Will it be a similar sound to ‘Three’ or will it follow a different direction?

‘I think some of the same and some new. My music has a sound of its own to a certain degree and at the same time there is a new sound that I want to look into. I’m doing that as well. It’s the same but different. Hopefully I want to evolve it and be something a little different at the same time. It has the sound of my music but in different ways. I might wanna give it more of a funk element or give it more folk. There are definitely different avenues I want to go down and express.’

Are you going to bring in different musicians for the recording?


When can we expect the next studio album to be released?

‘Maybe late this year or early next year.’

In light of the success of ‘Living’ do you have high expectations for the next album or do you take it as it comes?

‘I try and take it as it comes. I think everybody has a certain amount of expectations. I try to keep those down to a minimum so I can be surprised and happily surprised and not let down. I have hopes and I pray for good things for the album. But I mean everything so far has exceeded all my expectations. I just try to take it day by day and realise that if things were all to change and no one wanted to listen to or buy the album, I’ve still experienced an amazing thing so far. I’ll always have my music. Music is always music. It doesn’t really matter if it’s popular music or not. I’ve already had many dreams come true.’

You have toured a lot overseas, particularly in the US. Is it one of your main goals at the moment to break the US market?

‘I definitely have an ambition to share the music. I think that so many people liked it in Australia, well you know…I think other people would like the music as well. Essentially I’d like to share it and id like for it to have a life in other places than just Australia. But if it doesn’t that’s alright as well.’

Are you looking at remaining an independent artist in the US or might you sign with a major label?

‘I try to keep that open. Being an independent to me is about have a certain amount of control, creativity and also the way its marketed, things like being on recycled paper and to have control over my copyright and control over how I record my music. That’s the most important thing to me really…to respect the spirit of the music. If I can do that with a record label I don’t see it as that much different as being independent. Independent has always been about doing what I want to do. If I can do what I want to do and not compromise the ethics of the music, I don’t really see that being a bad thing. There are many artists that I respect that are signed by record labels and I don’t see it as a bad thing. As long the music is being respected and that’s not always the case, but it’s definitely not always the case that music is being disrespected at the same time. So, I’m open to that. I was independent over here because I had to be. Because we wanted to be ourselves and no one really approached us. That’s not really why I write music. I don’t write music to get somebody else’s recognition. I write it just to play it and to share it. If other people want to help me share it and that falls in line with the way I want to do it I’m happy to do it, at least I’m happy to do it if that works for the music. We’ve spent 5 years over here touring non-stop to share our music the way we have. I don’t.. to do that in America I’d have to probably spend the next 10 years touring straight. And I don’t want to live in America, I want to live in Australia. To maybe have a bit of help might be the right thing to do for the music, so that I can have time off, and I can live in Australia. We’ll see. I’m open to that as long as the music and the integrity of the music is kept.’

A lot of artists are willing to compromise their integrity to achieve their goals. It ‘s quite inspirational for young artists to see you not willing to compromise your music or what you believe in. It’s great to have that role in Australia…

‘I think that will never change in the industry. If I had of compromised my music or the way I do things I wouldn’t sign. That’s the main thing. I will never compromise that. At the same time, it matters what you want to achieve. Essentially I think music is about playing music that is purely from your heart and if you can get that out there and you don’t have to compromise, that’s success right there. If you want to become famous or be rich well you may as well get into the stock market. That’s not why people should be playing music. So if you are compromising your music to do that, then that’s not right. If you are able to get your music out there and not compromise it, that’s definitely a good thing. I don’t think that anyone should be fundamental in any headspace. You can’t be an extremist…an extreme independent, you can’t be an extreme defined artist, you can’t be an extreme Christian or anything. All those things can end up being pretty one sided and not balanced. I think its about balance. You can’t judge any one thing. You can’t go hey, signed musicians are selling out or independent musicians have more integrity. I don’t think it works that way. There are plenty of musicians like Bob Dylan and such who have a lot of musical integrity who are signed. I think its really important for young musicians, and myself, and all musicians just to stay true to the music. If that means success, that’s great; a beautiful side note. But success is not what it is about.’

In the early days, when you started busking, is this the kind of success you dreamed of?

‘When I started busking I just wanted to travel around the country going to small festivals and busking. To be able to go to every city and busk on the main street, that was a dream. Then it just grew and it grew. And it has a life of its own now. It’s exceeded my dreams by far…by far.’

How has becoming a father affected you musically?

‘I still write the way I write. I think being a father has affected my life, I think my life affects my music. Essentially, being a father hasn’t affected my music but its affected my life. It’s made it a lot more deeper, and in a lot of ways, a lot more meaningful. To have deeper and more meaningful music sounds good to me. It’s still early days, it will still change me and have its affects in years to come. It’s such early days, its really hard to make a definitive description of how its changed me right now.’

Essentially, to a certain degree not really because I’ve always wanted to have a good world for every child to grow up in. And have a good world for me to grow, so I still want the same things for the world. I guess I have a bit more of a concern about the world she’s going to grow up in. Also I have a lot of faith and a lot of positivity as to how things could be. All I can do is try and make my world as good as possible. I really believe in a lot of ways, not in all ways but a lot of ways people make the world they want to live in. I want to make my world and my family’s world a good world to be in. I think if everybody does that including George Bush and John Howard the world would probably be a better place. I’ve always had concerns for the world and the environment and the politics of it and other things and I don’t think that’s changed as much. As I say, it may just get deeper as the years go on and have more of a profound effect on me. But I’ve always been pretty much in turn, or very concerned with my environment, whatever that be, whether it be the home environment or otherwise. I think that if every individual looks after their environment the best they can, that’s the best they can do. That’s what I’m going to do with my family.

Five/six years ago you got your first paying gig. Where do you see John Butler Trio and indeed John Butler in another 5 years?

The way its going now…for what my environment my music is in…essentially music is a very personal thing, its something that at the end of the day is very personal and insular kind of thing. And then when you kick it out to performing you start sharing it, its another thing altogether. I think music at home or music in front of 10,000 people is just as worthy. Now that we have decided to share it and give it to people, I just hope that grows and I’m able to share it with more people. I hope I’m able to express my feelings as freely as I have done in the past and get better at that and able to communicate that to other people. Once you take music to the people its about communication and so I just want to get better at communicating it and would like to communicate it to as many people who want to listen to it. Really see how far we can take it, how many people we can share it with, as long as it doesn’t encroach on my personal freedom and my happiness. I just want to share it, share the music. I guess that’s what its about when you get on stage, the sharing.

Check out the John Butler Trio website at “Living” is out now through MGM Distribution

:: John Butler Trio
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