There is no doubt that John Butler is Australia’s most successful independent artist, whether backed by his rhythm section or in the solo setting he’s a fascinating performer who captivates his audience and loves to share special moments with them. Originally introduced to the Australian music scene with his unique chord bending skills and his distinct blues and roots style, he initially performed solo before forming the John Butler Trio.
JOHN BUTLER TRIO
‘FLESH & BLOOD’
Release date Friday February 7th 2014 on Jarrah Records through MGM
John Butler sits in his studio. He’s surrounded by then and now. And the future.
It is a corner of the world in Fremantle WA, that he has grown with not just equipment and instruments – and be sure there is plenty of that – but with love and energy. And it is this nook that is the birthplace of the new John Butler Trio album, ‘Flesh & Blood’.
“It’s a pretty surreal, humbling luxury to have,” he notes. “Without fail, every time I open the door to this place I feel like a kid in a candy shop and I feel very thankful for it. It’s a dedicated workspace and a great vortex for creativity.”
No expectations. Just vibrations. Returning from the JBT’s biggest tour yet of the US to gather with bass player, Byron Luiters, and drummer, Nicky Bomba, in mid-2013, there were to be no premonitions about what this new album would or could be. It was built from the ground up: three musicians, confident in the abilities, each other and their love of music and letting the songs grow branches from mere seedlings. What strikes quite immediately is the often darker, dub-based climes evoked by Luiter’s synth bass and Bomba’s African feels.
“Whatever sounds good,” Butler says. “That’s the rule. Whosever idea is best and holds water, that’s what we go with and synth bass just gave this foreboding, glacial, attitude to some of the songs. And Nicky brings his amazing library of beats that he loves.”
“April Uprising (2010) was a really great first offering; now let’s get into the shit we’re really into. Let’s bring these elements, these colours, in. So we wanted the grooves to get deeper and thicker and as a songwriter I wanted the songs to be a lot more guttural and fleshier. I wanted to smell it and feel it a bit more. And I wanted my voice, now and always, to be more convincing.”
To Butler, “songs are like wild horses, wild beasts.” He is in their employ and it is his role to take them out into the world. His intuition is such that he can capture what their needs are. “There’s something really exciting about that moment when you’re writing a song and it’s flowing and you stand back and look at it and hear it and you feel like it explains things that you’ve been trying to explain all your life, or it expresses something that feels universal,” he says.
Yet this time things were a little different in how the Trio worked with the songs at their birth.
“This is the first time I felt, for want of a better word, mature enough to open up the songwriting process and not hold the reins so tight and be so much in control,” Butler says
. “Maybe I let go of my ego, I don’t know. The musicians really bled their colours. And I was sure enough and ready for them to bleed with mine a bit and see what happened. We got in the room and we jammed for weeks. It was a case of, ‘don’t bring your songs to the jams, John. Let’s just see what happens what we do, when we do, what we do’.”
From these feel-based sessions deep grooves such as ‘Devil Woman’ and ‘Blame It On Me’ came to life.
“We had the feeling that if they were good, they were gonna last,” Butler states, and as such the more delicate likes of ‘Bullet Girl’ and ‘Spring To Come’ stand tall for very different reasons. Yet the album flows within its own kind of unison.”
“It happens in a very organic and natural way via the nature of my skill-set as a songwriter… and a song-capturer,” Butler says. “I wouldn’t say I’m a dextrous kind of guitar player or singer, I have my limitations and those limitations end up becoming my style. They sculpt the overall cohesion.”
“My music has always been so eclectic. It’ll go from an ambient, folk-love song to a pretty heavy Soundgarden-inspired angry song about a politician. My strong-suit is the eclecticism of it.”
It’s an eclecticism that has evolved over the years, with the knowledge that personal struggles and stories are as worthy as any worldly issues. The 21 year-old John Butler, who first stepped out on tour in the late ’90s, knew that anger was an energy, but not perhaps that it wasn’t necessarily the strongest.
“I’d tell him to chill the fuck out and not worry so much,” Butler laughs when asked what he’d say to his younger self. “I’d say, ‘you think your anger is your strongest asset and is what makes you powerful, but it’s actually your weakest link. Your vulnerability and your honesty and your patience and your trust are your strongest attributes. So stop being angry and maybe just learn how to communicate a little bit better.’ I came into this world with pretty strong opinions, but I’ve made that work for me rather than just being a bull in a China shop. Well, I’d like to think I’ve learnt that.”
Back here in the present (and future) new drummer, Grant Gerathy, has taken over the drum stool from Butler’s old friend, Nicky Bomba, who is focussing on running the 26-piece Melbourne Ska Orchestra. Gerathy features on the track, ‘How Do You Sleep At Night?’ is all rehearsed up with Butler and Luiters and ready to roll.
“I hate to say we sound better than ever because I don’t want it to sound derogatory to anyone we’ve ever played with,” Butler enthuses, “but it sounds like how we should sound, right now. Which is cool.”
Responsibility for the sound of now also lies in the hands of producer, Jan Skubiszewski (Way Of The Eagle).
“Working with Jan was everything I hoped for and more,” Butler says. “I saw him in action when my partner, Mama Kin, recorded her album with him.
“I really loved his musicianship, ideas, communication skills and the sounds he was pulling. His suggestions were always spot on and he really became the fourth member of the band. His experience with the wide variety of music he’s made and produced was just perfect for the eclectic band we are. We love Jan ‘Skubes’ big time.”
Flesh & Blood captures the John Butler Trio working up old strengths and finding new ones even at a time of change. For fans of the band, there is much to take from this, their sixth album.
“I hope they go on a journey with it or take it with them on a journey.” Butler reflects. I hope it can be the soundtrack for some cool moments in their life and some shit moments in their life and I hope it can be there for them at the ebb of their energy wave and at the crest of it. In the loud times and the quiet times.
“That would be nice, and I think that’s what all good art’s done for me. It’s been there for me, in one way, or another.”
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