John Butler

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John Butler

John Butler has just released his latest album entitled Flesh and Blood. A combination of his previous works, Flesh and Blood is Butler’s most ambitious release to date. Produced by Jan Skubiszewski – longtime collaborator with Owl Eyes – Flesh and Blood is taking a different direction. Off around the country in support of the album throughout March and April, I recently got the opportunity to sit down with John to have a chat about the different direction and sound of the band.
From listening to the album over the past couple of weeks, this release seems to be a lot more focused on the electric guitar than the acoustic to which Butler has become infamous for since the days of busking in Fremantle in the early stages of his career. “I think that really, Flesh and Blood features the same amount of electric guitar playing as April Uprising – and I’m playing it better so you can hear it,” Butler laughs.
The catalyst behind the decision was fuelled from Butler’s original love of a Silvertone vintage electric guitar whilst on tour in America, the anecdote of which brings a smile to Butler’s face as he reminisces fondly. “We were on tour in America and the guitarist in the support band had just bought a Silvertone catalogue guitar that was really cheap and I played it through my Marshall amp and it was just like I was under the spell. I stumbled across the guitar and then after a bit of research saw that The Black Keys and The White Stripes had been using them for years. Before then, electric guitar just didn’t feel right, but maybe it’s the blues legacy of Silvertone that has got me hooked.”
The songwriting for Flesh and Blood after talking to Butler seems to have followed a really natural and organic process, as opposed to his previous releases. This can be seen from how Butler penned one of the funkier tracks on the record, ‘Livin’ in the City’. “I was sitting in the backyard eating some lunch and playing with my kids when the riff and the main hook came into my head. I think the main influence behind it is either the early Spearhead album Home or De La Soul. It also features an instrumental piece off the last album if you listen really closely.”
With six studio releases under his belt, you may be led to think that the Flesh and Blood tour will feature mainly the new album on the setlist – but John has different ideas in mind, as he relates. “I just try to play good songs, and we are going to play almost half new stuff. It’s always important if you’re starting a new chapter. As an artist you need to create a connection with the audience and the new material. That said, I really do love playing ‘Betterman’, ‘Zebra’, ‘Funky Tonight’, ‘Ocean’ – and the setlists are getting longer and longer. You will definitely hear songs that you know and love, but I will be rotating the setlist so each audience gets a taste of something a little different.”
Over his career John Butler has played some big shows, and in the beginning of his career busking on the streets of Fremantle, John sold 3500 self-funded cassettes which served the foundation to becoming Australia’s most successful independent musician ever. Looking back in the weeks leading up to the tour, Butler never thought that any of the acclaim that has followed him since would happen to him.
“In the early days, I really just wanted to be a gypsy. I wanted to earn enough money to get an inflatable busking trolley and travel around playing music. I met Phil Stevens and started playing at Mojo’s and things started to take a drastically different direction. It’s been a great journey and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter with this new band holds,” Butler said.
Although the process to writing and recording hasn’t changed much over the years with the different line-ups of the trio, the end goal was to write something that is both natural as well as a killer song. With that said, I asked John Butler whether he thought that Flesh and Blood was his greatest work to date.
“I think every artist thinks their latest album is the best because it’s where they are at in that particular moment. There are some great musical moments in terms of the trio. I’m singing the best that I ever have and this set of songs is the strongest I’ve ever written. From a subjective point of view, I guess, yeah, this is the best album I’ve done.”
Heading out on the road (starting off in WA in late March), Butler will tour around the country with support from Emma Louise as well as Mama Kin. Be sure to snap up your tickets now for their Palais Theatre performances because the tracks are sounding as lovely as ever and these tickets won’t stay around for long.
When&Where: The Palais – April 1 & 2
Written by Tex Miller