Despite being in the process of a recording a new album (yes, it’s true!) and preparing for some of the country’s biggest festival sets, John Butler was still gracious enough to shoot the breeze with Erin Bourne.
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John Butler has just been announced for both Woodford Folk Festival and Bluesfest and like many musicians, he says when he was finding his feet, both those events were like the holy grail of festivals in Australia.
“Those two are kind of cultural hot spots as far as a culture and community in the true sense of folk music. To be part of that and still relevant in that framework and tapestry I think it’s maybe what you want as an artist who wants to share your art,” Butler said.
And all these years later, he never takes those festivals for granted. He was stoked to be there at the beginning and stoked to be there now.
“I thought I was going to be an art teacher or in the army or some shit dreams all together. Then when I became a professional musician and was able to feed myself I thought ‘wow, success’. Then feeding my family and end up touring the world and playing Woodford 20 years later, yeah I’m still just as stoked as ever to be able to do this creative thing,” he said.
When we speak, John Butler is in the studio recording a new album. He’s not convinced those new songs will be ready for festival ears at Woodford, but they certainly will be by Bluesfest.
“Usually I go into this thing where I write them, then I develop them and it’s like a holy alchemy to get them on stage. You go through this process from squeaking and humming and mumbling the songs as you’re writing them to performance-ready which is like that whole other level.”
And after all these years if there’s one thing Butler knows, it’s that he is not in charge when it comes to releasing new music (spoiler alert: that means he doesn’t know when the new album will be released).
The album is in charge, and the album is boss and it’s something I’ve learned over the years – that although I thought I was the leader and in charge I’m second to the song. Whatever the song wants the song gets and so does the album,” he said.
“I’m still in that process kind of on my knees in front of the album and in front of the songs and they kind of will dictate my timeline.”
Just two months ago, John Butler Trio released single ‘Bully’ which will not appear on the new album. Butler said it was just time for that song to come out.
It’s about a BULLY mindset that is so greedy for more control, power and dominance that it’s willing to use violence against innocent citizens and in the process, killing the planet and life upon it, just to feed its voracious appetite.
“Politically and socially I thought the song really resonated with where the world was at… and I didn’t want to see the song get lost on a B-side or lost in the vaults,” he said.
Butler said it’s difficult sometimes to not take politics personally.
“I don’t recommend that’s the way to be a political activist by any means, to take it all personally,” he said. “How I choose to get involved is when I feel personally affronted by it. I mean all the issues you can be affronted by, they all affect humanity, the goodness of humanity.”
“For example fracking, when companies come to your own state and your own town and start drilling through your own aquifer and potentially poisoning it, I take that personally. I take it as a personal affront to what ‘s coming out of my tap and what I consider to be my human right having a clean water source.”
In ‘Bully’ the lyrics say ‘you can hit ‘em on the head with the facts and it doesn’t make a goddam dent’ so how does John Butler make a dent?
“Just be decent to the people around you. Change the world, think global and act local, change yourself. All these clichés are true. How to make a dent? Be a good teacher, be a good parent. Treat people how you want to be treated, that’s how it starts. Not desensitise yourself and see the world as a commodity to serve you. Because that’s when you can stand by and let atrocities happen from afar is when you think it’s separate to you. That thing that Michael Franti says, ‘stay human’.”
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Interview Erin Bourne. Story Samantha Morris