THE JOHN BUTLER TRIO
Sunday, May 13
Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul
Catching up with John Butler before a four-month tour begins in his home town of Fremantle reveals an interesting side to the master of blues and roots.
Ahead of the tour, which will take in 15 dates in Australia (including Bluesfest), Europe, the US, Japan and more, Butler took time to chill out in a most un-rock'n'roll fashion - around the campfire with his family, reading The Hobbit, no less.
He says his family - wife and musician Mama Kin, their daughter Banjo and son Jahli - hit the road in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, "decked out for its sole purpose to go off the grid" and headed down to Blackwood River, in Western Australia's south-west. Highlights, he says, were the hammock, playing backgammon and listening to Kin read.
"My wife usually reads a book for about an hour every night, as the kids go to bed. We're reading The Hobbit this time; it's so awesome," Butler says.
He says the life he lives - some 20-plus years as a musician - requires contrasts.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to his life in hotels, buses, planes and music venues is time out in the bush. Living simply, he says, is a much-needed balance and counterweight that revitalises him, "even though that sounds very green and very hippie".
As a frequent campaigner on environmental issues, including last year's successful fight against a $45 billion gas hub in the Kimberley, it is a given Butler would be a fan of outdoor pastimes.
A more surprising side to the singer-songwriter, however, comes to light with the John Butler Trio's sixth album, Flesh + Blood. Here Butler turns inwards, finding a raw, gutsy edge that digs into angsty issues such as drug addiction, relationships and depression.
The shift, he says, represents the "next great frontier" for him, which is the human psyche and the heart.
"When you think about the ailments of the world - politically, environmentally, socially - they start at home, they start in the heart and they start in the mind," he says. "That's just a lot more interesting and there's so many stories that . . . we can all relate to."
The last track, You're Free, is a strong signal that the album has been a purge of hidden emotions.
"Music for me is a kind of diary entry," he says. "It's how I relate to the world; it's how I express how I feel about the world and all the things that are going on inside me.
"So, in many ways, You're Free is one of my favourite songs on the album. That song and a lot of other songs definitely traverse things that have been sitting like sediment at the bottom of the pond.
"There's a bit of a stir-up and you see things for what they are."
Another surprising twist for Butler is that he makes a very good zombie in the video for Only One - the album's first single and spirited love song - wearing spooky contact lenses and bloodied make-up.
"The song is a very light, happy, earnest kind of song, but I had this idea of a zombie love story. There's a quirky kind of way to bring in this strange, dark element and still find love in it, and I thought it would be a great juxtaposition," he says.