After 30 years of hard work, John Butler has etched his name into Australian music and pioneered genre-bending melodies alongside emotive words.
From driving around with his mother listening to the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joel to busking on the streets of Western Australia and chart-topping the Australian and international charts, Butler has inspired many of the new generation artists we hear on our radios today.
“My definition of success is; do what you love and love what you do and pay the rent and feed yourself,” he said. “If you can do that, then that’s success.”
The John Butler Trio has just released their eighth studio album Home in 2018 and have a long list of tour dates ahead of them.
“In the early years, everything was full steam ahead,” he said. “I worked for 10 months of the year for 10 years on the road with two children and my wife, and rock, Danielle and just made a career around the planet.
“I often tell people who are just starting out; you should do non-stop touring for a decade so you can have a career in three decades. If you don’t build the garden, then plant it, compost it, sow it, there’s going to be no fruit the next season and if you want to do season after season after season, you always have to work. That’s what I did and I guess that’s why I have the garden I have.
“To me, it was awesome but I was always head down with tunnel vision; I was pretty driven, single-minded and obsessive-compulsive.”
Butler’s impressive musical talents are self-taught. He was influenced by a wide variety of music growing up and would listen in awe to the likes of Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, Bob Marley, Celtic and Indian songs and – most surprisingly – The Beastie Boys to find his own sound.
“I found the guitar at age 13 and I really got in at 16,” he said. “The minute I knew four chords I was writing songs. It was more of a hobby; a friend I could tell anything too. Instead of having a diary I had songs to write my teenage angst in to.
“I played eight hours a day, every day busking and when busking season was on I’d play all day. I found my voice on the guitar.”
Butler’s words have created awareness about the natural world and human impact. He has used his platform over the years to talk about the past, present and future and has delivered messages about Australia’s sacred environment across the world.
“In the early days I’d literally write about a forest campaign or saving the trees or about stopping uranium mines,” he said. “I’m still very passionate about all those things but I think I’ve written those songs and it’s made me more interested in what makes a human do what they do?
“I can write about love and I do; I love love and love is amazing and love will save the planet. But there are so many other intricate stories about us as human beings at the moment and how we see ourselves and how divided we feel within our own bodies and our own societies.
“I think there’s a lot to write.”
Butler admits it took 20 years for him to step back and acknowledge the garden he built, planted, composted and sowed, but today he can appreciate the hard yards he put in.
“There was 15 years where it was never enough and I guess that’s what drives you,” he said. “It was like; I can see the top of the mountain, let’s go to the top of the mountain and then you get to the top of the mountain and you see another mountain.
“There are times in my life where it was always about the next thing. About five years ago I was like; you’ve done well and I’m proud of you for what you’ve done and I hope you enjoy this because the biggest journey for me now is the journey within.
“Is there other places to adventure to? Sure, but I look forward to the journey and not the destination as much.”
John Butler will take to the stage for Byron Bay Bluesfest which runs between Thursday, April 9 and Monday, April 13, 2020. Tickets are on sale now via the festival website.
Written by Kim Price