The Big Issue story: John Butler Trio, September 2010

A story for The Big Issue #362: a profile of the Australian roots/rock act John Butler Trio ahead of their Australian tour throughout August and September 2010.

Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

John Butler Trio profile, 'Riding The Rails', by Andrew McMillen in The Big Issue #362

John Butler Trio: Riding The Rails

Over the past 15 years, John Butler has strummed and sung his way to his present status as one of Australia’s most recognisable musicians. But people’s perception of the 35-year-old, who was born in the US and moved to Australian when he was 10, can vary widely, as Butler is all too aware.

“I think to some people I’m a blues artist. Some people think I’m a sensitive new age guy who writes songs about his children and his family. Some people think I’m somebody who’s lived in Australia for 24 years, and is Australian, and loves Australia but still has an American accent, he laughs. “I’m many things to many different people. I think some people hate me, some people love me and there’s probably a lot of people who don’t give a shit – and that’s probably a healthy thing.”

“I’ve tried to let go of what I hope people see in me, because for quite a long time I felt misunderstood,” he says. “I have these ideas: I do care about peace and justice, the truth, my country and its land and culture. For that to be pigeonholed; for that multidimensional point of view to be put into a single point of view of a ‘tree-hugging hippie’ was frustrating, for a long time. I felt that a lot of these things are not fringe issues. They concern us all; they’re everyday people stuff.”

Maturity has lent a new perspective to Butler’s interpretation of such misconceptions, though. “I’ve learned not to care so much about that misunderstanding,” he admits. “There’s bigger fish to fry. I’ve got two children who are amazing. I’ve got an amazing band. I have a fantastic, amazing wife. I need to worry about what they think about me more than how the general media is going to misconstrue me to make it more palatable to a reading audience.”

The Big Issue caught up with Butler in the midst of an intensive European tour, which immediately followed a triumphant series of shows in the United States. The US highlight was the Trio’s first headline show at a capacity Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, a buzz that Butler likens to his skateboarding background.

“When I used to skate really heavily – I still skate, but when I was riding and trying to get sponsors – I’d climb these eight-stair handrails and ollie, 50/50 grind on ‘em. I was thrilled by it, I wanted to do it, it excited me, and at the same time it scared the fuck out of me. I’d played Red Rocks seven or eight times before and always opened up for other people. To be headlining that show and playing to 8,500 people – the biggest audience we’ve ever had, anywhere in the world – it came like a huge fucking wave, a big wave that I dropped into and I was just trying to make sure I didn’t fall off. It was exhilarating, scary, exciting and daunting; all those things. It was like an eight-stair handrail.”

With so much time spent overseas, how does Butler retain his connection to Australia? He replies: “I know this almost sounds like a Qantas ad or something,” he replies,”But wherever I go in this world, I’m taking the spirit of our country with me… It’s like when they see AC/DC or The Cat Empire, or whoever else: we’re all ambassadors for our culture. Every time we play, we’re like – in a slightly, kind of defiantly arrogant way, but with great respect – ‘This is how we fucking roll. This is recipe and this is how we cook. Come to our kitchen, and let’s get it on!’”

The John Butler Trio song ‘One Way Road’ has been used recently on the One HD sports channel. How does Butler feel about being associated with TV advertisements? “I see these things as kind of like infiltration. I’m not really a sports fan, but I don’t have anything against sports.”

He starts singing the song’s lyrics to himself – They come, they take / It’s never enough because they can’t relate / To the real world, thinking that the oyster is just for the pearl – before interrupting himself. “Oh, big lyrics! Of revolution and progression. For that to be on a mainstream TV station?” He laughs: “I’ve infiltrated these mofos! I don’t have a problem with it. In a way, I’m using their forum to spread a message that I think is important. I feel like, okay: the revolution will be televised!”

But one thing should be made clear: Butler keeps control of which ads his music will appear in. “It doesn’t mean it’s a slippery slope to doing a BP ad, by any means!”

by Andrew McMillen

The John Butler Trio are touring Australia through late August until late September. For more details, visit

Elsewhere: the full transcript of this conversation between John Butler and myself, which was published on The Vine.

More John Butler Trio on MySpace. Music video for their song ‘Revolution‘ embedded below.

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