Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Butler intent on serving purpose

As trio return to our shores, Australian roots rocker reveals he's still in pursuit of what makes us tick.

John Butler (left) brings his earthy, guitar-based songs to Auckland tomorrow along with bandmates Grant Gerathy and Byron Luiters.
John Butler (left) brings his earthy, guitar-based songs to Auckland tomorrow along with bandmates Grant Gerathy and Byron Luiters.

In the 18 years since John Butler was first noticed busking in Fremantle, Perth, the trio that bears his name have gone from promising locals to international regulars, even launching their sixth album Flesh & Blood with an American tour earlier this year.

Their name has become synonymous not just with their particular brand of earthy, rhythmic, guitar-based songs, but a series of life philosophies which revolve around peace and love and generally chilled vibes - and though Butler's signature lengthy dreadlocks are now gone, their image still fits well with that of the modern gypsy rocker.

But they've continued to base themselves in Perth and still see Australia and New Zealand as a key source of their musical inspiration, so they're pleased to be heading back Downunder this week for their first show in Aotearoa since their 2012 summer vineyard tour, and looking forward to showing off their new Flesh & Blood tracks.

It was recorded at their own Fremantle studio, and though there's plenty of rich, dark qualities to the sound, ranging from deep grooves to more guttural vocals, the recording seemed to be a particularly easy breezy process this time around.

"It does seem to be getting easier - or this one was easier anyway," Butler said. "Usually it takes us two and a half months to record an album, and this time it took us 20 days. It was a lot of fun. We worked with a great producer, Jan Skubiszewski, and we were all on the same page, we were all bringing the goods, so it was painless.

"We are incredibly thankful to have the wonderful luxury of our studio though. I feel like a kid in a candy shop whenever I open the door, and it's just a great vortex for creativity."

There's no particular formula for Butler when writing - ideas come when he's doing the dishes, sleeping or even when working in his garden shed, making toys for his kids (the album cover photo is his eclectic shed space). This time round, though, he was really interested in fully exploring the human condition.

"Relationships of all kinds, love, and what makes us tick as these emotional beings. And you can transport yourself, make up characters and situations, and customise the journey you want to write about, rather than being too literal or too personal. Sometimes you can be more personal by not speaking about your own experiences."

He still enjoys the eureka moment he gets when realising he's penned a song that explains something he's been trying to decipher for a long time.

"Hopefully you're getting a hint or a taste of that in every song, but occasionally it really hits you. Songs should be able to convey some sort of universal feeling that everybody can feel. I don't mean you should always try to write a song that everyone is going to relate to, but I think there can always be an inkling there, when you get to the bones of things."

As for what fans can expect on stage tomorrow night, Butler isn't giving much away, but there won't be any major surprises. "I'm not going to come with any scantily clad women hanging from the ceiling, or any pyrotechnics. But we're gonna do what we do, and that's make music with a great trio. Every time you play you're hoping to remove all division between the band and the audience, and between you and the song. You're just heading for that oneness, and that can happen anywhere."

Live preview

Who: John Butler Trio
What: New album Flesh & Blood
Where and when: Performing at the Powerstation tomorrow night.

- NZ Herald

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